WeHo resident aims for the stars after graduating from Cal State LA

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By the time Jordan O’Kelley arrived at Cal State LA at 14, he had already made significant strides in the arts. He was a published author, had adapted his book for the stage, and was the subject of a documentary produced by his family. However, despite his accomplishments in the arts, his true passion lay in science.

“Math and physics are beautiful in a very unique way where, after studying it a while, it begins to provide a way of understanding the world and everything in it, because most systems are actually just the same idea expressed in a different way,” O’Kelley said.

Now 19, O’Kelley is graduating from the College of Natural and Social Sciences with a Bachelor of Science in Physics and a minor in mathematics.

O’Kelley grew up in West Hollywood with his parents and younger twin sisters. Identified as gifted and autistic, he and his family have been active in outreach and advocacy for neurodiverse and gifted education communities.

At 13, he raised funds for the nonprofit organization Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted by turning a book of real-life stories he published in fourth grade into a monologue show. “O’Kelley Legends” premiered at a theater in Los Angeles.

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His family produced a documentary about the show, creating a film for and by neurodiverse individuals. When he learned that the Cal State LA Office for Students with Disabilities was hosting programs during Autism Awareness Month in 2023, O’Kelley proposed screening the documentary, “O’Kelley Legends: 2e Behind the Scenes,” on campus.

“Cal State LA is almost a home away from home. It was nice to see a community of people I have been around for so long who were not necessarily part of the film festival crowd, or the neurodiversity crowd, come and see the movie,” he said.

O’Kelley enrolled at Cal State LA through the Early Entrance Program, which accepts qualified students ages 11–15 and is administered by the Honors College.

Transitioning from middle school to college was like jumping from a “hot tub into an ice bath,” said O’Kelley. His first year was the hardest he had ever worked, particularly in precalculus with Professor Sam Chyau.

O’Kelley approached his studies with unwavering dedication and viewed challenges as opportunities to refine his skills, Chyau said.

“I recognized this intense drive in his study methods during my extended precalculus-calculus office hours where he would frequently ask me which of the homework questions is the absolute hardest. Without any compunction, he’s quick to attempt these particularly challenging exercises,” Chyau said.

A network of supporters, including Chyau and others on and off campus, helped O’Kelley successfully navigate college.

“I’ve got parents who support me. I had a network of friends who would all study together. I had the Office for Students with Disabilities,” O’Kelley said. “Overall, whatever challenges I had, there was always someone there willing to help me.”

Interested in astronomy, O’Kelley worked with Cal State LA Physics and Astronomy Professor Susan Terebey for about two years researching star and planet formation.

“The research we’re interested in is organic molecules that are important to life. They’re easy to form in space and we’re exploring the idea that these molecules survive throughout the early formation of the star and planets and eventually become incorporated to Earth through comets,” Terebey said.

O’Kelley presented his research at the Cal State LA Annual Student Symposium on Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activities this year and received an Outstanding Oral Presentation Award for his project, “Simulating Organic Molecules in the Protostellar Disk to Understand the Origins of Life.”

In June, O’Kelley is presenting before the American Astronomical Society, an international organization of professional astronomers, astronomy educators, and amateur astronomers.

He has also been preparing for graduate work through U-RISE, a program aimed at increasing the participation of underrepresented groups in biomedical research leadership positions. It is part of the broader Minority Opportunities in Research programs at Cal State LA.

“It has been my pleasure to work with Jordan throughout the past year. He has enriched our community of Ph.D.-bound students, each selected for their unique abilities to contribute to the larger biomedical research community,” said Krishna Foster, chemistry professor and U-RISE director.

O’Kelley is awaiting responses from Ph.D. programs and hopes to become a researcher, either at a university or another organization.

“I am primarily interested in astronomy research, particularly in the fields of star formation or multi-messenger astronomy,” he said. “Working on research on campus has gotten me very interested in star formation, which is not something I would have thought too hard about otherwise, so I am very grateful to have had the chance to experience the field and become interested in it.”

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Joshua88
Joshua88
9 days ago

Great news for the young man.
Good luck!

BloodshotEyedGuy
BloodshotEyedGuy
9 days ago

Excellent and inspiring profile! I truly hope he becomes hugely successful.

Cy Husain
9 days ago

Congratulations 🎉 it’s good to see that I’m NOT the only one in West Hollywood with a Physics Degree❗

WehoQueen
WehoQueen
10 days ago

Nice story of someone who contributes to society rather than freeloading off the back of more successful people.

greeneyedguy
greeneyedguy
7 days ago
Reply to  WehoQueen

You’re calling yourself out…you know that, right? Yikes

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