Emerging at the top: Meet 13 of LI’s extraordinary seniors

Kai Kaufman

Excerpt From Newsday, June 14, 2021.  Click here to read entire article.

Propelled by technical know-how
By Michael R. Ebert / michael.ebert@newsday.com

While most children love to play video games, Kai Kaufman always wanted to do more.

The Greenport High School senior said he began by creating “silly modifications” to the popular game Minecraft — like making his characters throw fireballs — and posting them online for others to play.

He also created websites for his Minecraft endeavors, using his computer to host a world that others could join and building a tight-knit group of gamers nationwide.

“I was 10 or 11, so figuring this out was a good learning opportunity,” said Kaufman, 17, who has taught himself 11 programming languages.

From there, Kaufman’s passion for coding led him to robotics. He became co-president and lead programmer for the Southold/Greenport Robotics Team, which during his tenure twice advanced to the world championships, in 2018 and 2019.

As a freshman, he spearheaded creating statistical analysis and data collection software to improve the team’s decision-making at competitions. “This gave me an opportunity to learn things like how to write code to actually control motors, make a robot drive around, make it spin a wheel or shoot a bow,” he said of learning practical applications of programming.

Kaufman’s was also one of about 200 individuals worldwide last year to complete a reverse-engineering challenge coordinated by the cybersecurity firm FireEye; he has also initiated an international online community centered around reviving a classic computer game.

Meanwhile, he has taken every Advanced Placement class at his school, becoming an AP Scholar with Distinction. He was also a technology writer for his school newspaper and an editor in the Broadcast TV Club.

Along the way, Kaufman has undergone four surgeries to correct spinal scoliosis and eye-muscle palsy — the most recent last summer.

“Kai understands life can be difficult, but he never gave up,” said his guidance counselor, Brandi Hopkins.

HIGHER ED: Worcester Polytechnic Institute, majoring in computer science with a focus on cybersecurity

FRESHMAN YEAR: “I’m most looking forward to the ability to apply the skills I’ve learned and use them for more academic research.”

DURING THE PANDEMIC, I LEARNED … “Flexibility is essential to success.”