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Sunday, August 9, 2020

Child prodigy continues education at Pierce

While most other kids her age are in the 10th grade and looking forward to two more years in high school, 15-year-old Lotta Mushkatblat is enrolled as a full-time student at Pierce College and working towards her associates degree.

From an early age, Mushkatblat knew she was different from the other kids. While attending grade school in Montessori Elementary, Mushkatblat did not feel like an average student.

Mushkatblat grew up in a Russian home with educated parents. Her mother has a master’s in engineering and her father has his bachelor’s in computer programming. Both of her parents were immigrants so Russian was her primary language but she learned English growing up.

She went on to attend middle school in Sosos, but she found herself bored and unchallenged by the curriculum. This also negatively affected her social life.

“I was clinically depressed and I didn’t fit in. I was bullied and the teachers didn’t like me,” Mushkatblat said.

This led to her switching from a public middle school to homeschooling.

Her homeschooling was done through the EPGY (Education Program for Gifted Youth) offered by Stanford University and Brimcom University. Her parents had her focus on supplemental English and mathematics because standardized courses were not challenging enough for her.

She progressed quickly through these courses. By the time she was 12, she finished high school English and by 13 she had finished algebra requirements. She completed many high school requirements before she came to be of high school age.

Although she progressed quickly, she ran into some obstacles with the Early Entrance Program (EEP). This program was intended to get talented kids, ages 11-16, into college early.

“When I was 13 I took the AP history exam. Then I applied to EEP at 14 and got into a summer trial, but it wasn’t the right fit for me and apparently they thought so too because I didn’t get in. It felt too much like high school,” Mushkatblat said.

Her brother started college when he was 14 and she tried following in his footsteps. Her motivation was driven by her competitive relationship with her brother. She also notes that had her parents not been too strict, she would not be where she is now.

“I’m supposed to be in 10th grade right now. It’s more than ‘I have a strong work ethic.’ Pushy parents help,” she said.

At 13, Lotta started to take college courses and began to explore her options.

“I spent the last two years seeing where I wanted to go. I took astronomy and geology. I got bored out of my mind.”

Her natural talent and inclination towards physics led her to declare herself a physics major.

“She was a great student and always involved which is actually a tough thing,” Dale Fields, chairman of the physics department, said.

Her plan is to finish her general education requirements in two years and transfer to the University of California, Berkeley. She said that she is content in a college atmosphere and that she has befriended some fellow students. She mentions that the professors have had mixed feelings about her.

“I feel natural. I like the world of academia. My best friend, I met her at Pierce. I’ve had good reactions and not so good ones. Most professors don’t treat me differently,” Mushkatblat said. “And then I’ve had teachers that treat me not so well. They got weirded out to be teaching someone so young.”

Adjunct Instructor of English Allison MacLeod, was not aware that there was a 14-year-old in her English 101 class.

“She was poised beyond her age so the whole class was surprised that she was only 14 years old,” MacLeod said. “When I found out how old she was, I thought a lot of things started to make sense to me about Lotta because she had the sophistication of somebody who is far older than she is but also the intelligence, the poise, and the writing and critical thinking skills, but there was still a part of her that was 14. She had this great sophistication but also this naivete about her.”

Beside academia, she has many interests in the arts. From gymnastics to ballet and even piano, she continues to perform in all different kinds of physical and musical art forms. Her true wish, she said, is to become an opera singer.

When she becomes overwhelmed, she said that doing any physical exercise or activity helps keep her sanity.

“Exercise, specifically dance, gives me a creative and physical outlet. I tend to go insane when I’m not actively training. When I’m overwhelmed I tend to go into a state of hyper rationalism, almost like color coding my life,” Mushkatblat said. “I make tons of plans and research as a coping mechanism for facing uncomfortable variables. Probably not the healthiest way, but it works for me. Knowledge keeps me calm. I like knowing what will happen.”

Mushkatblat wants to obtain a high school diploma to attend graduate school for her Ph.D in physics.

“If the opera thing works out, I still want my Ph.D. It’s been my goal for as long as I can remember.”

Though Mushkatblat is the youngest student she has ever had, MacLeod thinks that her presence adds to the diversity commonly found in community colleges.

“Here at a community college, we have all cultures, we have all ages and I think that adds to the richness of it,” MacLeod said. “I’ve really enjoyed having her in my class. I think she added a great point of view.”

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