Ahaan Rungta and his family moved from Calcutta, India, to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in 2001, the same year MIT announced OpenCourseWare (OCW), a bold plan to publish all of MIT’s course materials online and to share them with the world for free. Little did his parents realize at the time that their two-year-old son — already an avid reader — would eventually acquire his entire elementary and secondary education from OpenCourseWare and MITx, and would be admitted to the MIT class of 2019 at the age of 15.
“When I was five years old my mom told me ‘there’s this thing called OCW,’” says Rungta, who was homeschooled. “I just couldn’t believe how much material was available. From that moment on I spent the next few years taking OCW courses.”
When most kids are entering kindergarten, Rungta was studying physics and chemistry through OpenCourseWare. For Rungta’s mother, the biggest challenge to homeschooling her son was staying ahead of him, finding courses and materials to feed his insatiable mind.
“My parents always supported me and found the materials I needed to keep learning. My mother was a resource machine. As I got older, I studied math through OCW’s Highlights for High School program, and when I was ready for Linear Algebra, I watched all of Professor Gil Strang’s 18.06 video lectures. From the time I was 5, I learned exclusively from OCW. And I knew then I wanted to go to MIT.”
When Rungta turned 12, his family moved to Lowell, Massachusetts, as his parents realized he needed to be in a more intellectually stimulating environment. He also wanted to live closer to MIT.
For his 13th birthday, Rungta only wanted one thing — a visit to the Institute. “I stepped onto campus and it changed my life,” he says. “I will never forget the feeling of walking into the lobby of Building 7, looking up, and then touching the pillars to see if they were real. I couldn’t believe I was at MIT. My life and my ambitions moved to another level at that moment.”
Later that day, Rungta saw an Indian restaurant in the Student Center that had been closed down. He suggested to his dad — a chef who owned a restaurant in Lowell — that he look into reopening the café. His father soon became the manager of Café Spice, and the family moved from Lowell to Cambridge. Rungta studied in the Student Center every day while his father ran the café.
MIT was undergoing big changes of its own that year, with the launch of MITx, in which MIT courses would be made available online and delivered on the edX platform. Just as Rungta was ready for a new intellectual challenge, MIT once again was there for him, as its own digital learning efforts were expanding to now provide online courses in addition to course materials. When he was 9, Rungta took 3.091 (Introduction to Solid State Chemistry) through OCW with Professor Donald Sadoway. Four years later, he signed up to take it again — this time through MITx with Professor Michael Cima. He has since taken 55 MITx and OCW courses, and he now uses these online resources to supplement his on-campus undergraduate experience.
Reflecting on his journey from Calcutta to Cambridge and the many intersecting moments with MIT, Rungta is grateful to his parents and to MIT for being responsive to his needs every step of the way. “MIT has been my middle school, my high school, my entire education. That’s pretty amazing. Some people think I’m gifted, but I don’t think so. OCW was a gift to me. I was lucky to be born at the time MIT was opening up education to the world and extra lucky that OCW brought MIT and me together.”
As he ponders declaring a major next year, Rungta pauses for a moment, and then he lights up. “In an ideal world, I would want to major in everything.”