Alumni Spotlight:
Alexander (Sasha) Khazatsky

April 01, 2022

With the rapid growth of the robotics industry upon us, former student Alexander (Sasha) Khazatsky knew that he wanted to be involved in the field. “Machine learning is really taking off right now, and it’s showing a lot of potential. There are still a lot of problems that have yet to be solved. It’s an exciting field!” Sasha is enrolled in a PhD program at Stanford University for computer science with a subfield in machine learning and robotics. He received a bachelor’s degree in computer science from UC Berkeley in 2021. “The study of computer science speaks to me because it’s similar to the work I have always done to address the needs of my learning disabilities,” explains Sasha. “Computers are very much like brains.”

Although Sasha says his former teachers may remember him as a bit of a class clown, he’d like to think that they also have memories of his big heart and non-stop drive to learn. “It wasn’t out of the ordinary for me to ask for extra work or extra projects,” Sasha recalls. “They probably aren’t surprised I’m an academic now.”

Either way, Sasha looks back on his years at MMFS fondly. “I liked all my math teachers and especially my history teacher Candice. She organized the running club in middle school, which I loved.” And Sasha is grateful for having received a Quaker education during his formative years. “It helped me become mindful about what was happening in the world around me and to put things into perspective. There was always an energy throughout the school about being a good person and having morality. That has really stuck with me.”

When Sasha isn’t focusing on his PhD, he enjoys channeling his energy into active and social hobbies. “ My friends and I cook together every Wednesday night.” says Sasha. “I still like to run, and I play a lot of team sports like volleyball and soccer. I also recently started rock climbing.”

Sasha encourages MMFS students to try to see their learning disabilities as valuable assets. “It can be disappointing sometimes when you have to work longer and harder than others to understand something or complete a task,” Sasha acknowledges. “But in the long run the trouble-shooting and navigation skills pay off. Figuring out your own ways of learning helps you to figure out your own ways of looking at and doing things, and that will always be a strength and a benefit to you. I wouldn’t go back and change anything about my learning disabilities even if I could.”

Sasha advises students to pay attention now to the subjects that they find themselves putting in extra effort because it just might be an indication that they actually care a lot about that area of study (even if they feel like they hate it right now). When it comes to applying to college and considering career paths, Sasha is adamant that students embrace and celebrate their individuality, quirks and all. “I promise you, what makes you different will benefit you because it makes you stand out. Weirdness is something that garners more value over time. Don’t ever conform. Just be you.”

So what’s on Sasha’s agenda after he earns his PhD? “I’d like to apply for professorships, but I can also see myself in research and industry. You get to be creative and collaborate with others, and it’s a nice way to contribute to work that will have a positive impact on society. Like designing self-driving cars. That is definitely something I can see myself doing one day.”

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