Saturday, May 21, 2011

Prelude to Penn

I have already come to the conclusion that this summer is going to be excellent. Along with Julia Martien, who’s company I always enjoy at school, and Alex Elms who I am coming to know and enjoy more every time we meet, I already know that the three of us are dedicated students who intend to study hard, and have a great time on the East coast this summer. While I am very eager and excited to go study at UPenn, the events in the Ivy League connection so far have also been both informative and enjoyable; I will describe them in brief below.
After interviewing for, and being accepted to the program, the Ivy League Connection really began for me on a Saturday morning at the Hercules Public Library. There, I met with Alex Elms and about a dozen other students to learn the basics of blogging from one of the benefactors of this program- Don Gosney. Don had struck me from the start as very knowledgeable about computers and photography, but I was still impressed by how much material was packed into the space of two hours. Blazing through the basics, and quickly moving on to more advanced topics such as photo editing, what you read today is my first attempt at bringing all of the tips and information from that session together into my first blog.
The next time I saw Alex and Julia was at the WCCUSD School Board meeting. There, I also met for the first time our chaperone Mike Schweninger, an English teacher from De Anza High School. Instead of teaching three grades of students as he does during the school year, Mike will have only three of us to keep track of during the summer, so I am confident he is thoroughly overqualified for the job.

One of the most inspiring things to me in the Ivy League Connection so far was listening to students speak that were part of the program in past years. I especially enjoyed Irene Rojas-Carroll’s speech, where she eloquently expressed how the Ivy League Connection was important in exposing her to colleges such as Brown University, which she will be attending next year. I hope that the Ivy League Connection will both expose me to great colleges on the East coast, and help me decide exactly what I want to major in during college. Many thanks to Mr. Ramsey, and the rest of the School Board for honoring us at the school board meeting.

Last weekend, the UPenn group had their dinner at Scala’s Bistro in San Francisco. Although I’m not writing here as a restaurant critic, I must say that the restaurant was beautiful, the service excellent, and the food delicious. I sat at a table along with my father, my group’s chaperone Mike Schweninger, Don Gosney, and a UPenn alumni, Leslie Mah. While I learned a lot from everyone at the table, I found Leslie the most informative because of her experiences at UPenn as a student. Among the many things I learned were what class sizes to expect, what the dormitories are like, where the nicest places to exercise are, and very importantly, that the food trucks serve cheap, delicious meals. When I asked several UPenn alumni about why they chose UPenn over other excellent schools that they were accepted to, I thought it was promising that all of them said that they chose UPenn because of the atmosphere, and how friendly the other students were. On the way back from Scala’s, I also had the pleasure of talking with a current UPenn student, Cristina Pelayo, who told me a lot about her first year at UPenn.

I’ve found an interesting phenomenon when I compare my own blog posts with Julia and Alex’s posts. Although we are going through the same orientations and meetings, in our blog posts we already seem to have significantly differing perspectives. Coming from a very diverse school, I see differing backgrounds and opinions all the time. I think it’s really cool to think about how we will all learn the same material, but understand it and use it differently. Just as two different professors can teach the same curriculum in vastly different ways, I am looking forward to this summer so much because more importantly than anything else, I will get a new perspective on my education.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A Taste of What's to Come

The dinner at Scala’s Bistro with the UPenn Ivy League Connection was both exquisite and thoroughly enjoyable. As decadent as the food was, what made the night exceptional was not the meal, but rather the company. Despite the fancy attire and silver platters the mood in the room was genuinely welcoming as Mrs. Kronenberg’s opening speech was interspersed with the occasional witty comment from alumni Phil Schlein (‘57).

After the introduction, Beth Topor (‘80) talked briefly about leadership and what it takes to succeed in a leadership role – words I took to heart as they are particularly relevant to what I will be experiencing when I return from the program as I help spread the word about the Ivy League Connection.

After a speech of gratitude from Alex Elms and a delicious salad, the main course was presented and the small groups at each table began chatting amongst themselves.

I was fortunate enough to be seated with School Board member Tony Thurmond, the Assistant Principal of Pinole Valley High School Yolanda Bulls, and UPenn alumni Mahendra Prasad ('04). Each one of my tablemates had an interesting perspective and valuable advice to give.
Yolanda, having been through the program as a chaperone once before, assured me that the most important part of the trip was to make the most of my time there by submerging myself in the culture of the school and identifying the unique qualities at each of the schools I would be visiting.

Tony Thurmond, a resident of Philadelphia for twenty years, described the must-see places such as the beautiful walk along the Schuylkill River. Mahendra discussed the possible dorms I might be living in as well as what dorm life was like for him. He also gave some helpful hints as to how to survive the summer weather.
The speakers at the dinner and discussions at our table about both the University of Pennsylvania and each individual’s personal college experience got me more excited about the program than I have been since my acceptance. Conversing with a group of genuine and intelligent members of society who are passionate about education gave me a taste of what is in store for me this summer at UPenn.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Penn is in the Air...

Don always reminds us that we need to blog about three specific events before we head back east. These events are the “Don Gosney Crash Course in Blogging”, the WCCUSD School Board Meeting, and our group dinners. Don refers to these as “Milestone Events”, and let me tell you, they are aptly named. Last night was certainly a milestone in my Ivy League Connection experience. My peers, my supporters, and I enjoyed wonderful food and even greater company last night as Scala’s Bistro and it is quite an understatement to say that it was just a milestone.

We gathered at the El Cerrito Plaza BART station to begin the night. In addition to my mom, Mr. Ramsey, Ms. Kronenberg, Don, Brian, Julia, and my cohort’s parents, I was pleasantly surprised to see some other familiar faces that would be joining us for dinner. First was my chaperone from last year, Ms. Sewellyn Kaplan. It had been quite some time since I had the opportunity to speak with her extensively, so seeing her last night was quite a treat. I also did not expect to see Ms. Bulls last night, but thankfully I was able to enjoy her company as well. The most surprising though, was my friend and former policy debate mentor Cristina Pelayo, who will soon be completing her first year at Penn. I could tell just by the turnout at the BART station that last night would be very memorable.

I was fortunate enough to be able to talk to Ms. Bulls on the ride to San Francisco. Despite the roar of the train, we had an excellent conversation about ways that I can make myself appear unique and stand out amongst my peers when applying to college next year. We also expressed our mutual joy for the end of AP testing (woo hoo!), as well as our excitement for our respective Ivy League excursions this summer. I could not have asked for better company for the train ride over.
I was finally able to speak with Cristina on the walk to Scala’s. I was anxious to hear about her experiences at Penn, as well as tell her all about what has been happening on the Pinole Valley Forensics Team. She was able to relay her impressions of Penn, tell me a little bit about the school of engineering, and even give me a few tips concerning where (and where not to) go in the area.
Upon our arrival at Scala’s, we were escorted through a dimly lit, but exquisite dining room into the grand foyer of the connecting hotel, and from there to the wine cellar dining room. Mr. Ramsey strategically seated us at our respective tables and then the evening really began. I was seated with my mom and two Penn alums, Luis Chia and Beth Topor. Luis graduated from Penn in 2007, currently attends graduate school at Stanford, and in his spare time, conducts interviews with prospective Penn students. Beth also graduated from Penn and is an Admissions Officer at Penn, who primarily conducts interviews with prospective students. I could tell from the moment that we sat down that I was going to be able to tap into a wealth of information about Penn that night.

I was certainly able to get two unique perspectives of Penn from my conversations with Luis and Beth. From Luis, I was able to hear about the university from the point of view of a recent graduate. He told me all about how great Penn’s faculty is and how helpful they are with regard to life after college, which in today’s competitive environment would be an invaluable asset. He also told me about his favorite types of classes, research opportunities, things to do in Philadelphia, and even about the types of students that attend Penn. I was able to relate to Luis very well, seeing as both of us have the minds of scientists, and I found his information very helpful as well as exciting.

Beth offered another perspective. She too told me about Penn’s faculty, atmosphere, etc, but she also gave me a look at the inner-workings of the admissions process at Penn. She told me that personal essays and the Penn interview were critical parts to the application because they allowed prospective students to speak a bit more extensively about themselves. Beth said that even though the interview does not hold much initial weight in the overall decision, it mainly acts as a tool used to make-or-break a student if the admissions committee is on the fence about whether that person will fit in at Penn. Both Luis and Beth were very generous to give me so much information and I appreciate the different perspectives of Penn I was able to receive. Where Luis provided a more “boots in the mud” point of view, Beth gave me a look at her view from the inside. I must say, Mr. Ramsey’s seating strategy worked out especially well for me.
The four speeches were probably the most memorable part of the night. Ms. Kronenberg opened for us by introducing everyone in the room and giving a wonderful speech about how the Ivy League Connection has united us all and that we are a family. I hadn’t realized just how diverse the group was until Ms. Kronenberg introduced everyone. In addition to my peers and their parents, there were also a number of Penn alums, district employees, as well as two generous and dedicated sponsors of the ILC, Phil Schlein (the former CEO of MACY’S) and Wally Gordon (a prestigious local architect).

The next speaker was Beth, who spoke about what it means to be a leader. I think the statement that resonated with everyone is “It is not always the one who raises their hand and offers to lead that makes the best leader, but those who lead by their actions.” Her speech spoke volumes and I enjoyed it very much.

My speech followed Beth’s and I was quite nervous. I hadn’t actually given a speech for quite some time and I felt a bit rusty, so I was a little shaky. I got through it though and managed to say what I needed to without stumbling over myself. I did make one mistake however. I stated that I would never be able to repay the ILC for all that they have done for me. I would like to amend that by saying that I feel I will never be able to fully repay the ILC, but I will do my best to give back to the community and the ILC by sharing my experiences and my knowledge with the students here in the WCCUSD.

Mr. Ramsey concluded the speeches by discussing how far the ILC has come, what it is doing for students in the District, the connections it has made with prestigious colleges, and how it has played such an important role in the lives of everyone involved since its formation. Mr. Ramsey capped off the speeches very well and a wonderful evening followed.
It seemed that in the blink of an eye, Mr. Ramsey announced that we would be leaving soon. Time had flown since the conclusion of the speeches and I wished that I could have spoken with Beth and Luis for much longer. I had gotten lost in the captivating conversation and the amazing food so much that I had lost track of time. Sadly though, we had to part ways as this Milestone Event came to a close. As I said before, these events are aptly named. I learned so much about Penn last night and had the opportunity to dine with excellent company. Last night’s dinner reminded me very much of the dinners that we have back east with admissions officers (only on a larger scale) and it made me that much more anxious for my departure in a month and a half.

Once Again We Eat Well

This is what we in the ILC refer to as The Dinner Season.  This year we had six dinners where the ILC brings their 35 ILC students together with alums from the schools they'll be attending, the sponsors who finance the program, the school administrators who help facilitate the application process, the chaperones who represent the District and play the part of the doting surrogate parent to our cohorts while back East and the panelists who helped interview our applicants during the selection process.
We allow our cohorts to dress in their finest and host the events at some of the finest restaurants.  Our goal here is to acclimate our students to a life other than the fast food joints and grunge clothes they may otherwise frequent.

After a two year hiatus, this year we will be sending three of our cohorts to the Physics Academy at the University of Pennsylvania.  Brian Seegers and Julia Martien from El Cerrito High will join Alex Elms from Pinole Valley High as they show the rest of the world that the WCCUSD has the students to compete with the best.
While many of the 24 guests that joined us at La Scala's in San Francisco may have attended for the pomp and ceremony, and some for the speeches, and even more for the camaraderie with people of importance, some of us were there for the food.

With a choice of entrees that included sea bass and filet of beef, options were there for satisfying even the most selective of palettes.  While the filet looked pretty good, I'm still sure that my choice of the sea bass was the right way to go.  Then again, the individual apple pie topped with housemade vanilla gelato almost made me forget what the main courses were.
Aside from our invited alumni partners we also had former ILC alum Cristina Pelayo with us.  Cristina is always a joy but the fact that she has now concluded her freshman year at UPenn gave our new cohorts to talk with someone who could tell them first hand what it's like to come from the WCCUSD and attend Penn.
Of special importance was the attendance and participation of former Philadelphia resident Tony Thurmond.  Tony is a former Richmond City Council member and currently serves on the WCCUSD School Board.  Without the support of Tony and his fellow Board members, the ILC would have a much more difficult time to provide services to the youth of out District.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Just a Teaser

The 2011 Ivy League Connection cohorts, their chaperones and parents gather for a group photo after being presented to the West Contra Costa Unified School District on May 4th.

Stay tuned for more photos.

Our Thanks to the School Board

Last Wednesday, the Ivy League Connection gathered at LeVonya DeJean Middle School for the WCCUSD School Board meeting. That night we were to be introduced to the Board in our respective groups and say a little bit about what we would be doing while back east (what college we would be attending, courses we will take, etc).

There were several notable events that transpired that I feel compelled to discuss...

First I would like to discuss something that I had awaited for some time: I finally met my chaperone, Mike Schwinenger. Although I had spoken to Mike on the phone a few times, we had never actually met face-to-face, or even had the chance to speak extensively. While the Board was still in closed session, we all waited outside so we could mingle and get to know each other a bit better. I was in the middle of transitioning to another group of ILC'ers when I heard one of the chaperones ask "So are all of your kids here, Mike?"

I have documented this moment as one of the few in which I actually have good timing. I quickly turned and introduced myself to the man with which Bryan, Julia, and I would be sharing our stay in Philadelphia. It was nice to finally put a face to the voice and be able to shake Mike's hand.

We spoke a little bit before the meeting began and I learned that Mike teaches several degrees of English classes at De Anza High School. We also discussed our plan to bring back our experiences to the District, but more on that in a moment. 

Our introduction to the Board, via our chaperones, was the nicest part of the night. Each group stood up individually to thank the Board for their approval of the of the ILC and the chaperones all delivered very eloquent and heartfelt speeches expressing their honor and excitement for the opportunity to chaperone their respective students. I especially enjoyed Ms. Bulls' speech and I thought it was the best of the night. Of course, that might just be bias speaking since we both represent Pinole Valley High.

During his speech, Mike revealed the plan that we had conceived concerning how we will give back to the community. Upon our return, Brian, Julia, and I will organize a presentation to a few eighth grade physical science classes demonstrating to them the basics of physics. We hope that this will inspire them and possibly get them thinking about what kind of science classes they will pursue in high school. 

I also enjoyed the wonderful speeches made by Austin Long, Yeuming Wang and Beulah Agbabiaka. Hearing that my peers had been accepted to some of the top schools in the country really emphasized the benefits of this program to me. While the ILC has already enriched my life, hearing from them gave me a different perspective.

It was also great to once again see the sponsors being honored for their generous support of the ILC. Their contributions mean so much to so many, and I am personally grateful to each of them.

After Don took our huge, but extremely well organized group shot (my jaw still hurts from smiling that much Don) and finding my ILC certificate, I was almost ready to depart for the evening. On my way out, I saw Superintendent Harter and Board member Tony Thurmond. I stopped to shake their hands and express my personal gratitude for their support of the Ivy League Connection. Mr. Thurmond was nice enough to give me his card and tell me a little bit about Philadelphia. He said that if I ever needed any advice regarding restaurants, site seeing, etc, that I could just give him a call. Stopping to thank Mr. Harter and Mr. Thurmond was definitely a smart decision on my part.

Overall, Wednesday was the first of many great ILC events. I'm really looking forward to our dinner on the 16th. Pending any interim ILC events, I'll blog at you after that much-anticipated dinner.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The First of Many

It’s hard to believe that it has been a year since I first began blogging for the Ivy League Connection. Around this time last year, I was preparing to travel to Cornell University to study political philosophy. Also around this time, Don Gosney was teaching my Cornell cohort the ins and outs of blogging. The seven of us gathered at the Hercules Public Library for a blogging tutorial and not long after that tutorial, I posted my first blog… about learning how to blog. Ironically enough, here I am again accounting for my experience at this year’s blogging tutorial.

I arrived at the library on Saturday morning expecting a refresher course on the blogging basics that I had learned only a year ago. Thankfully, I was wrong. Saturday’s session was much more informative than I had originally thought. I had assumed that Don would just go over the basics of blogging (what to blog, how to post, etc.). However, this year’s session covered a wider breadth of the blogging experience. Don covered photo-editing, tips on constructing the blog itself (using Microsoft Word and things of that nature), uploading videos, and several other helpful points. I also learned that Blogger has improved its blogging interface, mainly with regard to adding photos to the blog itself. The tools provided last year could be difficult to use at times, although they got the job done. Thankfully it seems that this will not be the case thanks to the changes that Blogger has employed. I learned a lot more about the blog at this year’s session than I did last year, which was quite the pleasant surprise.

In addition to teaching us about blogging, Don also covered topics that are more applicable to our respective ILC dinners and for when we are actually on the East Coast. This portion of the session was mainly review, but a refresher is always good. A few of Don’s topics actually made me reminisce about my experiences last year (especially when he mentioned an unfortunate group of travelers who were trapped in O’Hare Airport for nearly 24 hours). I also had a feeling of satisfaction when I learned that Don would be covering topics concerning how we will have to live when we are on the East Coast. I was satisfied because several of my previous cohorts and I informed Don, Mr. Ramsey, and our chaperone (Ms. Kaplan) that this kind of information would have been very helpful before we actually headed back east. I am glad to see that our experiences are actually benefiting the new ILC scholars.

This just about wraps up my first blog on the 2011 ILC at Penn blog site. I’m looking forward to cataloguing my experiences to come, and I feel like this blog was a great way to begin the tale of my journey. Now that I have come full circle, I’m ready to start again. Round 2 of my Ivy League Connection experience has begun and I’m ready to tackle whatever challenges it throws my way.