Cornell senior Tariq Kane is taking more than 30 credits this semester

He’s taken a year’s worth of credits each semester he’s been at Cornell

For most students at a university like Cornell, an important aspect of one’s identity is being smarter than most people – but what if you are the smartest around?

Tariq Kane has a life story strikingly similar to the titular character of Good Will Hunting and is comparable in terms of raw ability. There are several individuals who are academically impressive, even by Cornell standards, but Tariq manages to go beyond them in many ways. He consistently takes more than 30 credits of Graduate Physics, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Computer Science, and Mathematics courses a semester, taking at least a year’s worth of credits each semester he has been at Cornell.

Tariq is a senior in the Engineering College, double majoring in Electrical and Computer Engineering and Computer Science. He is involved on campus with club basketball and Underrepresented Minorities in Computing.

I spoke to Tariq about his life, his abilities, and his future. He was recently in an accident so he was still recovering when I spoke to him.


How does one take 40 credits at Cornell? How is that done?

Well, I am not taking 40 anymore, I dropped a couple because of my concussion. Right now, I am in 34. Yeah, uh, I mean, I guess it comes naturally to me. I mean, I do not put that much time into assignments like other people. Like the CS 2800 assignment took me like 30 minutes, but in that example I already knew most of it. But even in other classes, it more or less is like that.

So, say for a class where you do not know much about, like a Graduate Physics class, would you say you have a good background or do you just learn the content very quickly?

Oh, I transferred here, so I studied Physics in my other school and I took Graduate Physics courses my freshman year there. Almost to look good for this school. So, I do have a pretty good physics background. I haven’t really taken a course here where I didn’t feel I had a strong basis for already – besides Nano-Biotechnology, which was new to me because I did not want to take an intro Bio course, so I decided to take a graduate Bio course.

I consider myself particularly inquisitive and am drawn to the idea of what you are doing, but in many ways this is beyond me. Why take so many courses? What is the motivation behind this?

Well, I kinda take a lot of courses because I actually like to learn. I only take courses that I really feel interested in. There are a lot of interesting courses at Cornell, so I end up taking a lot.

Tariq as a Kid

That makes sense. So, tell me a bit more about your upbringing?

Yeah, so I am from Brooklyn originally. My mom and dad were divorced, so I grew up with my mom, but I was sorta raised by my brother. She was an immigrant from Japan and she didn’t have a job or anything like that. I mean she had a job, but she quit her job because she was not making enough, so she want back to school, community college for two years.

So, during that time, she would go to school and work some other job and I grew up going to the daycare being raised by my brother. I saw her leaving at like eight in the morning and see her again at 10 at night. And then, even when she got her job after school, it was still like that because she wanted to make enough money for us to go to college.

Sometimes I feel like I take a lot of classes because I would look at the work that she did and I would say to myself, what I am doing now does not even compare to what she did because I do not work from 8am to 10pm every day.

I can only imagine doing that for so many years of my life and I only have four years here.

I definitely relate to that and I feel like many first generation college students also share some obligation to make up for how hard their parents worked for them to go to college. Now, you said you transferred here, where did you transfer from?

I transferred from Hunter College because…[long pause] The reason I wanted to go here was sort of a joking reason. I used to watch The Office and one of my favorite characters was Andy Bernard. So, when I went to high school, I would never go to class because I did not feel like it was really useful for me. I mean I learned Calculus I,II, and III and Physics I and II the summer between 8th and 9th grade.

So, I thought I was pretty smart and I never thought I needed school. I would do bad things, that I don’t feel comfortable talking about now, I would get in trouble a lot and I would always be playing in the basketball parks playing with people from not that great of a neighborhood.

Tariq in High School

I did not have good grades in high school. I went to summer school all the time. I kinda said to my friends, “Oh I am going to go to Cornell” jokingly and they would laugh at me because they didn’t think I could get into anything like that and I knew I couldn’t get in.

But then I kinda kept telling myself and telling people that, so I pushed myself to actually go. My girlfriend at the time told me to take the SAT and I took it and I did well on it. I had a good enough score to get into Hunter College even though I did not have good high school grades. There was a huge discrepancy between my high school grades and my SAT score because I barely passed.

I went to Hunter and its Physics department had this weird thing where you could just enroll into a class without the pre-reqs and I already knew the background physics, because I learned it when I was younger. So I went straight to some Graduate Physics courses, and I applied here.

Alright, awesome, now what about after you leave Cornell? What do you plan to do?

First of all, I want to make a lot of money [starts laughing] because I feel if I have a lot of money I will be able to fund my own projects that could help people in need, like people in underdeveloped countries.

So, grad school could be an option for that, but thinking about things I could do and can probably help people now and somehow that could generate money for me so I could fund more projects. That is something I am trying to do. I am sort of now trying to take the safe route by applying to big companies like Google and Facebook, because if the other stuff does not works out, I at least have money I can give back to my mom and my dad. That is something I would love to do.

ball is life