Aaron Kotamarti, the youngest student to ever attend UTD, started college when he was just 15 years old. His mother dropped him off on campus every day, parking far enough away so no other students could see.
“If I … summarized it, it would be terror at first, but then adapting really quick and having fun,” he said.
Starting school so young, Kotamarti said he felt a “lot of anxiety” in the beginning. When he first came to UTD, people were taken aback by his apparent youthfulness or would assume he was the professor’s son.
“The cool thing is people got used to it pretty quick, so I got used to it,” he said.
Although Kotamarti kept piling on classes, he said he was always committed to sticking with the level of academic rigor he was pursuing.
“It kept me on my toes the whole time,” he said. “(It) was both stimulating and overwhelming.”
Although the first few years were full of peers outside his age range, once he began his graduate degree at age 17, he said he found more common ground with other students.
“Then, the freshmen were all my age,” he said. “I was thinking, ‘Hey, these people are just as young as me now. That’s pretty cool.’ That’s when things picked up a bit more socially with me.”
Once Kotamarti turned 18, he was able to move into Residence Hall North and live away from home for the first time. Being a more conventional college age, he felt comfortable getting involved in clubs on campus. He joined MUSNET, a music group at UTD.
“I was able to meet a lot of people (in that club),” he said. “I probably had the most fun over there, just doing music with other friends.”
Kotamarti said looking back, he wished he had slowed down a little bit from time to time, lessening academic rigor in favor of getting involved further on campus. However, he said his drive to take more classes and push himself harder long predates his time at UTD.
While he was transferring from private to public school in middle school, he had to take an online course to keep up in algebra.
“I realized, ‘Hey, I’m pretty good at these online courses. Why don’t I do this for everything?’” he said.
Kotamarti worked with his dad to create a plan to take online classes on top of his daily schoolwork.
“I was up for it. It was a healthy challenge,” he said. “The fact that I could do it made me feel like I should do it.”
Kotamarti’s fast track began in eighth grade when he started attending the Richland Collegiate Program at Richland Community College in lieu of regular high school. In this way, he was able to earn dual credit in his high school classes, giving him a jump-start on college.
“The funny thing is, by the time I joined (Richland’s) high school program, I had already finished all the high school classes by doing them online,” he said. “Rather than taking the classes like history … I did the first two years of my engineering degree there.”
When he took his first university-level class at the community college, Kotamarti remembers feeling terrified. However, he soon realized he was undergoing everything normal college freshmen were experiencing.
“Any mental barriers about socializing and talking to older students were gone when I found we were really going through a similar thing,” he said. “After a while, we connected through other ways, (like) music … and I found myself really enjoying their company.”
He left the Richland Collegiate Program with his associate’s degree.
He graduated from UTD with a double major in biology and electrical engineering, as well as his master’s degree. Although he had to choose his major much earlier than the average college student would, Kotamarti said he doesn’t have any regrets.
“I always liked building and creating things as a kid, whether it was through Legos or art,” he said. “Combined with my affinity for math and science made me a fit for engineering, where I learned how to build things using math and science.”
Kotamarti will be starting work come January, moving from academia to industry.
“I’m transitioning from school, finally, (to) real life,” he said.