Glendale Engineering Student Accepted to Caltech

Gerard Santos

The California Institute of Technology ranks among the 10 best schools in the world. The campus in Pasadena on 124 acres of land only has about 2,100 students, 950 of them undergraduates and the other 1,100 postgraduates. The university accepted only nine local undergraduates this fall semester, and the admission rate has recently dropped to 15 percent.

People may get lost when dealing with a lot of numbers, but 20-year-old sophomore Aroutin Khachaturian can handle it. Don’t call it fate or refer it as something of a fairy tale. Khachaturian’s acceptance to Caltech has been a long time coming. At the same time he was building basic radio kits in the 2nd grade, he was declaring in his “what I want to be in the future” composition that he wanted to be an electrical engineer.

And with so much planning and hard work, why should anybody be surprised? Khachaturian has been the top student in every school he’s been to, and things didn’t change when he immigrated from Iran to the States in 2007 at the age of 18.

“People call me a genius and I don’t like it,” Khachaturian said. “I look at myself as someone who just works very hard. Whatever happens in the end is the result of hard work. This was something I was not born with.”

He enrolled in Glendale High school but was told that he would not be able to complete enough credits in time to graduate, so he was forced to drop out. He then applied for Glendale College in the winter of 2008. After setting his eyes on the highest-ranked university in the state, Khachaturian planned ahead and never looked back.

All two years of his Glendale College career he’s worked with counselor Dr. Richard Cortes, who has prepared Khachaturian step-by-step to transfer to Caltech. Cortes, knowing how Caltech prefers students with an internship and research background, suggested he work with Paul Beuhler, the Glendale College planetarium technician. Beuhler enrolled Khachaturian an internship at the planetarium and also referred him to a student independent research fellowship at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), where Khachaturian now develops spacecraft flight path design.

“It’s easy to work with someone who’s so driven,” Cortes said. “He came to me prepared with where he wanted to go, what his major was, what classes he wanted to take, and was willing to work as hard as it would take to get to Caltech.”

With two internships, Khachaturian still maintains a 4.0 GPA and has recently completed the physics and math requirements needed to transfer to Caltech en route to majoring in electrical engineering.

Squeezed into such a hectic schedule is karate school three times a week, church two times a week, researching, reading articles and practicing his C++ computer programming. Being fixated on his goal since day one, Khachaturian hardly needed any further motivation.

“I know myself and that’s the most important part. I knew my goal, and I planned accordingly. Thanks to supportive professors and family members, it wasn’t something that was impossible to accomplish. I knew what I really liked to do and so I was already a step ahead. All that was needed was to put in the time and hard work. It’s something that students shouldn’t be scared of doing.”

The Iranian native isn’t spoiled about his schools. His work ethic would not change had he been accepted by UC Berkeley, UCLA, UC San Diego or UC Irvine, the other universities he applied to. Khachaturian had only visited Caltech twice. Frankly, he says, the science program at Caltech was so good that even if the campus was run-down, he would still find a way to be studious.

As humble as Khachaturian is, he’s not shy of sharing some wise words with his peers.

When asked what advice he would give to those who struggle with schoolwork and wishes they were as smart as him, he said “Look at the final outcome. There are only a few Shaquille O’Neals in this world but anybody has the capacity to become electrical engineers. If you work hard at what you love to do, you will be successful.”