Mohammad Moghaddam has been exceeding expectations since his first day of kindergarten.
When his parents enrolled him in Hobbs Municipal Schools, teachers questioned his English proficiency, in part because he’s shy and wasn’t a big talker. He was placed in a special program to learn English, but when he came home that first day, he was upset.
“We asked him what was wrong?” his father, David Moghaddam, recalled. “He told us, ‘The teacher doesn’t think I know English.’”
That prompted a conversation between parents and teachers. Mohammad was given a chance to prove his proficiency and ended up being made a teachers assistant, helping his schoolmates who were struggling with language proficiency, David said.
“The teacher said, ‘I’m sorry,” David said. “‘He knows a lot of things I don’t know.’”
And Mohammad continues confounding expectations to this day. Last month, at just 15 years old, he graduated from New Mexico Junior College with not one, but two associates degrees — one in arts and one in science — all while working to complete his high school education via homeschooling.
In the fall, Mohammad will head to Socorro to study aerospace engineering at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, commonly known as New Mexico Tech. His accomplishments really don’t come as a surprise, though, given the importance placed on education in the Moghaddam family.
Both Mohammad’s parents — dad David and mom Marzhe Gholizadh — are educators. And his older sister, Narges, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology from Texas Tech in Lubbock this year, after negotiating a similar path as Mohammad. Now 18, Narges graduated NMJC at the age of 16 and is now working in genetics research at the university hospital in Lubbock.
Mohammad’s journey started during the summer between his seventh and eighth grade years. He didn’t exactly feel challenged in his classes and, having seen Narges’s success at an unconventional educational route, approached his parents.
“Seventh grade was boring,” Mohammad said. “I didn’t really want to go to high school.”
Narges’s journey didn’t really influence his decision, Mohammad said. But watching her made him confident he could accomplish what he set his mind to.
“It was kind of more that I know what I’ll be doing, rather than I know I want to do it,” Mohammad said. “She didn’t inspire me directly, but she’s the one who let me know … that I can do it.”
So he was 12 when he walked into his first college class that fall. Mohammad said he wasn’t scared, exactly, but the experience was a little bit daunting.
“I remember in my first English course, we had to watch a video and write about it,” he said. “It had some — graphic imagery.
“But the professor said, ‘Everyone here is an adult,’” Mohammad recalled. “Then he pointed me out and said, ‘You’re an adult, too.’”
Through it all, Mohammad still found some time to be a kid. He enjoys video games in what spare time he has between his studies. And he enjoys hanging out at David’s business, Hobbs Trailers, where he does paperwork, answers emails and gets his hands dirty installing wheels, replacing axles and generally helping out in the shop, he said.
“I did have to do (school) work ahead of time to have (free time),” Mohammad said, “but that’s a good skill to have.”
His age-group peers accepted Mohammad’s educational journey also, he said. That didn’t change even though they attended different schools and, while they were aiming for high school, Mohammad was finishing his first years of college.
“My friends are my friends even though I’m in college,” he said. “It didn’t really matter on a personal level.”
Mohammad didn’t feel too much pressure from his parents to pursue college at his young age, he said. There was no doubt in his mind mom and dad were encouraging him, but it was presented more as an opportunity, Mohammad said.
“It’s such a big chance you’d feel bad rejecting it,” he said. “But it’s fine if you reject it anyway.”
“We have guided him with his success and he’s in the middle of adults,” David said. “We found somehow to use the system and be educated and also be successful.”
Mohammad has two more years at New Mexico Tech to earn his bachelor’s degree. He knows he wants to live in the dorms while he’s there, to be close to the camaraderie and collaborations available with other students. But, past that, he isn’t 100 percent certain what he wants to do next. He said he’d eventually like to work for NASA in some capacity.
“I’ll figure what I want to do in the next couple of years,” he said. “After I graduate from New Mexico Tech I’ll see what I want to do.
“I think I’ll have to work my way up to NASA,” Mohammad said. “And in order to work up to NASA I’ll need a lot more education.”