18-Year-Old UAlbany Graduate Doesn’t Shy Away From Challenge

A young man with short brown hair and glasses smiles for a portrait.

By Bethany Bump

ALBANY, N.Y. (May 16, 2023) — Christoph Cervantes was a freshman in high school when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, the coursework was a breeze, so he enrolled in classes through Hudson Valley Community College and the University at Albany as a way to challenge himself.

By the end of his sophomore year, classes had been remote for a while and he was speeding through his work in both high school and college. So Cervantes opted for another challenge: He had earned enough college credits that he could finish high school early through the New York State Education Department’s 24 College Credit High School Equivalency Pathway.

That’s how Cervantes found himself entering UAlbany as a freshman at just 16 years old with 54 credits already under his belt. On Thursday, Cervantes, now 18, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in sociology, and plans to enter the University’s PhD in Sociology program this fall.

“I’m excited to see what happens next,” he said. “Because if you had told me when I first entered that I’d be graduating now with this degree and all these experiences, I would have been like, really? So I’m excited to see where I’ll be a year from now.”

Cervantes was initially a math major, since taking accelerated math courses in high school was a way to demonstrate his readiness to graduate early. But again he found himself craving a challenge, so he started taking courses in psychology and sociology as well. In fall 2022, he switched his major to sociology, with minors in math and psychology.

“I decided to major in sociology mainly because I liked looking at things from multiple lenses,” he said. “So you can take a micro level, macro level, mezzo level approach to a ton of situations. And the research that I'm interested in has really broad applications to a variety of fields. So I think that sociology, for me at least, can contribute the most to the world and benefit it in a positive way.”

Cervantes is primarily interested in research around race, ethnicity, immigration, racism and anti-racism, which he became interested in after watching John Leguizamo’s Latin History for Morons special on Netflix. Cervantes, who is Latino himself, was struck by the historical issues the show raised and wanted to know more about how sociological factors contributed to the oppression of Latinos and other minority groups.

Under the guidance of his faculty mentor, Sociology Professor Karyn Loscocco, Cervantes completed an independent study conducting research into the experiences of racial and ethnic minority students and microaggressions in the context of their academic advising relationships. He presented the results of the study at UAlbany’s inaugural Showcase Day last month, and won the Sociology Undergraduate Paper Award through the Sociology Department at UAlbany.

A young man with short brown hair, glasses and a face mask poses next to a research poster.
Christoph Cervantes presented research on microaggressions within academic advising at UAlbany's inaugural Showcase Day last month.

Always attracted to a challenge, Cervantes said he was drawn to the issue of microaggressions in the academic advising relationship because he couldn’t find much literature on it.

“It was a real difficulty trying to find anything on it,” he said. “There were a few papers that kind of matched on the topic, but none that were an exact perfect fit. So that's what really inspired me to conduct this original research on this topic because it’s very much of concern for universities to retain and attract and graduate these students.”

Cervantes hopes to continue researching issues of race, racism, education, work and immigration during his PhD program, as well as expand into areas related to gender, health and critical demography.

Looking back on his time at UAlbany, Cervantes is proud that he overcame the initial social difficulties of entering college at such a young age.

“The social scene was a little rough to navigate because I was 16 and everyone else was 18,” he said. “I didn't meet any 16-year-olds when I was 16 here. But I was able to put myself out there.”

In addition to his schoolwork, Cervantes worked as an academic tutor for Athletics, a COVID-19 student ambassador, a welcome leader during orientation, a peer advisor for the Academic Support Center, a greeter at Shaker Heritage Society, and an intern for the New York State Youth Justice Institute.

“He is so self-directed and he has always been,” said Donna Sherry-Cervantes, his mom, who was on campus last week to watch him get his diploma. “He's overcome so many obstacles, people who stood in his way. But he has such perseverance that I'm not surprised he’s where he is today and I'm just so proud.”

To read more UAlbany senior profiles, visit the 2023 Graduate Spotlight page.