Last month, hundreds of 18-year-olds walked onto the University’s campus, ready to begin a new stage of their education. One such student, however, did not join the freshmen for the opening exercises or the Pre-Rade: Dakota Killpack GS had come to begin his Ph.D. And those other 18-year-olds might be some of his students.
Killpack, a music student who will turn 19 at the end of this month, is already well-known in the local community. He began taking college courses at a local community college at the age of 9 in Colorado, until his family moved to New Jersey so he could pursue an associate’s degree at Middlesex County College. In May 2008, when he was 14, Killpack received an associate’s degree from the Mathematics-Science Transfer Program at MCC and enrolled in the School of Arts and Sciences at Rutgers University in September of that same year.
Although he began as a mathematics and linguistics double major at Rutgers, Killpack, like many of his older classmates, had a change of heart. Just three semesters before receiving his degree, he decided to major in music and minor in mathematics and linguistics after doing a math internship at Princeton.
“Math eight hours a day made me realize that as much as I like doing math, I wanted to devote a little more time to music,” Killpack said.
While a jump from math to music may seem like a far leap, Killpack said the two fields overlap.
“[Music is] a way of rationally inquiring how the structure of a product of human ingenuity functions,” he said. Since he studied music theory rather than performance, Killpack said he was still able to engage with math frequently.
Killpack graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Rutgers in 2011 but chose to stay for an extra year to take graduate music seminars to improve his graduate school applications. He chose Princeton’s music department for its “great selection of professors,” including music professor Dmitri Tymoczko, who is well-known for his work on the mathematics of tonality.
Although Killpack took three graduate seminars through Princeton’s music department last year, many of his classmates never noticed or even knew of the age difference. Daniel O’Meara GS, a third-year graduate student in the music department who took all three seminars with Killpack, said he did not know Killpack was 18 until the beginning of this school year.
“I was surprised because he conducts himself in such a mature way, and I certainly would not have been ready to jump into grad school at age 18,” O’Meara said.
Associate music professor Rob C. Wegman taught Killpack in a graduate seminar last year and said his young age did not hinder him from participating actively in the course.
“We’re very happy to have him now in the department,” he said. “He was a participant like every other graduate student, and he took part in discussions like everybody would.”
Killpack himself was also not concerned with the age difference, even though he will be leading a precept for an undergraduate course next semester. He does not believe it will put him or his students in an uncomfortable situation, even though many will be older than him.
“I was born in ’93, so I’m older than this year’s freshman class,” he said with a shrug.
Most people do not realize he is so young, Killpack added.
“Perception of age is contextual, so just from being in a Ph.D. program, everyone assumes I’m 22 or 23,” Killpack said. “I don’t imagine that it will be an issue.”
At the University, Killpack is taking a variety of courses in music as well as pursuing independent work researching the development of musical form in the 19th century. In addition, Killpack sings in a choir and composes music in his spare time.
Original URL: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2012/10/03/31369/