While many of her contemporaries are attending the prom or finishing high school next weekend, 17-year-old Catrina Chitjian—the youngest graduating senior at Cal State L.A.—will be receiving her bachelor’s degree in biochemistry with honors.
Chitjian, who is of Armenian-Chinese descent (her mom is Armenian and her dad is Chinese), was admitted to Cal State L.A. at the age of 12 through the University’s Early Entrance Program (EEP). She will be marching at CSULA’s Commencement on Saturday, June 11, at 8 a.m.
A Dean’s List student, she is a member of the G.E. Honors Club and CSULA’s Phi Kappa Phi chapter, the oldest, largest and most selective collegiate honor society in the U.S.
Despite her demaning academic load, which included conducting research on mechanism of life span determination in Professor Robert Vellanoweth’s chemistry lab, Chitjian is very active on campus, having served as secretary of Humanitarians on Campus, vice president of People for Animal Care and Kindness, and social chair of the Early Entrance Program Club.
“Some people are concerned when they realize that I missed the ‘high school experience,’ but I wouldn’t trade my experience at CSULA for anything,” said Chitjian.
Chitjian explained that she enjoyed being able to make her own class schedule and having guidance when needed. She said, “I love having peers closer in age and with the same interests as me. I am particularly grateful to have stopped being subjected to school-cafeteria food.”
A Monterey Park resident, she has also volunteered at the Alhambra Retirement Community and for the annual Sally Ride Festival to interest 5th-8th grade girls in the science fields.
After graduation, Chitjian plans to work part-time as a tutor while applying to graduate school to pursue a career as a synthetic chemist. For her interest in tutoring, she explained, “I’ve found that helping people learn is incredibly rewarding.”
Chitjian added, “When I consider all of the science classes I’ve taken, organic chemistry was my favorite. …I‘ve always liked creating concoctions, so I am interested in becoming [what’s most similar to] a cosmetic formulator. I want to be the person behind the scenes, pulling things from the garden, going through trial and error, with hope that people will say, ‘That’s what I used! It really helped me and I’m so glad I tried it.’”
CSULA’s EEP admits extraordinarily gifted youngsters—some as young as 11—directly into college, providing the early entrants with monitored evaluation, regular counseling sessions, and the opportunity to study with like-minded peers. Chitjian is among more than 20 other EEP graduates receiving their baccalaureate degrees this year.