When Kristian Herrera walks across the commencement stage on May 3, he will be among the youngest graduates in Florida International University history.
At 18 years old, Herrera will receive a bachelor’s degree in physics, along with three minors: biology, mathematics and chemistry. And in June, the Hallandale Beach resident, who has never even cooked for himself, will move to Boston, where he has been accepted into Harvard University’s graduate program in molecular biology.
Herrera first came to FIU when he was 14 years old. Home schooled since the third grade, Herrera’s parents told school officials that their son was a voracious learner and was in desperate need of the kind of academic environment found at a research university.
â€œI just love to understand how things work, and the combination of physics and biology is incredibly appealing to me,â€ Herrera said. â€œFIU gave me the opportunity to explore my interests in a way I never could before.â€
While many 14-year-olds are struggling through their first year of high school, Herrera was a freshman at FIU working in a genetics laboratory, rubbing shoulders with graduate and doctoral students.
A few months later, Herrera co-wrote and published â€œTo what extent did Neanderthals and modern humans interact?â€ in the prestigious British journal Biological Reviews.
â€œHad the publisher of this journal known that the article he was reading was written by a 14-year-old, I doubt he would’ve published it,â€ said Rene Herrera (no relation to Kristian), professor of molecular and human genetics in the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine. â€œI am proud of all my students but clearly Kristian stands out.â€
Rene Herrera, who leads a large genetics laboratory made up of undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students, mentored the teenager throughout his years at FIU and says Kristian was able to quickly assimilate into the culture of a university setting.
Indeed, several of Rene Herrera’s colleagues were impressedâ€”some taken abackâ€”by Kristian’s maturity and intelligence.
â€œI recently saw a teacher who had Kristian for biology his first year here, and the teacher remarked, half-jokingly, but with some seriousness, how intimidating it was to have someone smarter than he was in the class,â€ said William Beesting, associate dean of undergraduate education.
Herrera’s plans are bold and ambitious: â€œI want to dedicate my life to research, no question. After I get my Ph.D., the future is wide open.â€
His mentor agrees.
â€œHis potential is limitless,â€ Rene Herrera said. â€œHarvard was only one of several schools that accepted him and I can’t imagine him not blossoming there the way he did here.â€
Still, there’s at least one topic Herrera knows he’ll struggle with after he leaves FIU.
â€œI still don’t know how to cook. But I’ll figure it out.â€
Click below to watch the video of Kristian and his professor…