Thursday, June 30, 2011

Off to the East

It’s been a long day, but I’m now on the east coast with Alex, Julia, and Mr. Miranda. Our month long trip officially began at 3:15 this morning when the four of us along with Don, Ms. Kronenberg , and our parents gathered in front of El Cerrito High School to wait for our shuttle. Don was kind enough to lend out any items he had that we had forgotten or didn’t own, so I borrowed several different cables to use with my laptop during my stay.

When the shuttle arrived at school, we were all surprised because it wasn’t a shuttle. Perhaps due to a shortage of shuttles, some sort of mix-up, or out of sympathy for us having to wake up so early in the morning, the shuttle company provided us with a limousine to ride to the airport. The trip to the airport was fast and I was very excited that we were finally on our way.
Julia in the airport looking very enthusiastic for how early it was
In the airport, everything went smoothly, and I soon fell asleep and woke to find myself in O’Hare airport 20 minutes ahead of schedule. We quickly transferred onto our flight for Washington, D.C., and after a short taxi ride with great views of the Washington Monument, the Capitol, the Lincoln Memorial and more, we arrived at our hotel in Georgetown.
The Hotel's Lobby
After a bit of relaxing time, we took a stroll around Georgetown, and we walked by Vice President Joe Biden’s house. Because Vice President Biden was arriving home at that time, we were escorted back a ways down the sidewalk where we watched a large Secret Service escort and Vice President Biden’s car drive through the gates to his house. While I’ve been to Washington, D.C. before, I’ve always found it very exciting to actually see the people who are crafting, reviewing, and enforcing the laws that affect every U.S. citizen’s life.

After a quick stop back at our hotel, we took a taxi and visited the White House. I was particularly moved, although I don’t necessarily agree with their arguments, by the anti-nuclear power and weapons protesters who have continuously protested in front of the White House 24 hours a day since 1981. This form of protest is by far the most moving example of freedom of speech to me, that any citizen who has an issue with the government can openly protest in front of their highest government leaders without fear of any sort of retaliation.
A man protesting in front of the White House
After a few pictures in front of the White House, we walked a few hundred feet to a restaurant called The Lafayette. The service and the food were fantastic, and their steak was by far the best that I have ever had. I enjoyed talking with the others about the various topics that came up, which ranged from our favorite foods to green energy and politics. To top the evening off, I had a delicious piece of Nutella cake, which unfortunately disappeared long before I took a picture of it. After dinner, we took a cab back to our hotel where I’m blogging now, thankful for a smooth day of travelling, and looking forward to the fun and learning ahead.
An amazing meal to end a long day

We Embark

The spirit of adventure was in the air as I pulled up to the high school and piled my bags with my fellow ILCer's luggage. However, as it happened to be 3:00 AM, the spirit of adventure was not unaccompanied by the feeling of utter exhaustion. But when we were driven to the airport not in a shuttle or a van, but in a limousine decked out with flashing lights and a soda bar, the fact that we were all sleep deprived was temporarily forgotten and we sat back and enjoyed our luxurious ride. Of course, exhaustion did set in again in our comparatively less comfortable connecting flights to Washington, D.C.

After a short taxi to our hotel in Georgetown, and some freshening up, we took a stroll around town. I was very impressed with the natural beauty that is able to exist amongst the city life in Washington, D.C. There was an amazing amount of greenery and beautiful park trails between the streets.

After only a few minutes in our nations capital, we managed to catch Vice President Joe Biden driving home flanked by a squad of police officers on motorcycles. It was apparent that in addition to the everyday traffic, the streets of D.C. are often subject to roadblocks to make way for the numerous important officials in need of police escorts. It was fairly exciting to watch.
To end the first day of our long journey, we chose to eat at Lafayette, a restaurant only a block away from the White House that serves absolutely delicious food.

And finally, the weary travelers returned to their hotel rooms. Tomorrow we plan to tour Georgetown University and discover what else D.C. has to offer.

If today is any indication, is seems like this month will be filled to the brim with exiting experiences and great food.

And We're Off!

The long-awaited day has finally arrived – the day I left home for a month to spend a month at the University of Pennsylvania. I left my house at 2:40 AM this morning and departed for El Cerrito High School to meet with my cohort. Despite not getting any sleep that night, I was surprisingly awake, most likely because I could not wait to begin my journey.

My parents and I were the second party to arrive, the first being Don.

We actually arrived at the school earlier than we had anticipated, so our wait in the cold was much longer. My cohorts were not far behind me and soon we were enjoying each other’s company (and taking a few group photos) while we waited for the airport shuttle. The arrival of the shuttle was a pleasant surprise. Airport shuttles have drastically improved since I last saw one. I recall them being similar to vans or busses. This one was a stretch limo. I don’t know how or why this change was made, but I certainly do approve of it. Once we were all finished saying goodbye to our loved ones, we climbed into the oh-so-luxurious shuttle and began our drive to the San Francisco Airport.

Our time actually spent in the terminal was relatively short. We got some coffee from Peet’s and when we got to our gate it was just beginning to board. We actually spent longer in the line at Peet’s than we did in the TSA security line, but that’s a story for another day.

After the usual pre-flight procedures, I plugged my headphones into the armrest and began listening to the “Top Zune Hits” station. I can’t tell you much about what happened after that because I quickly fell asleep. I slept for the majority of the flight, only waking up for about the last hour and fifteen minutes of the flight. I could tell Julia had followed suit because when I glanced over in her direction, she was using her tray table as a pillow rest and sleeping on it. We were all pretty beat and slept for most of the first flight. Our transfer at O’Hare was quick and painless, which is a nice contrast to how I spent my time in O’Hare last year…twenty-three hours of time to be exact. This time, however, we found our gate, grabbed some lunch, and boarded fairly quickly. Our second flight was shorter and I didn’t sleep because I was well awake by that point. Once we landed in Washington DC, our day became much more interesting.

We took a cab to our hotel in Georgetown so we could check in and place our luggage in our rooms. I’m rooming with Brian, Julia is right across the hall from us, and Mr. Miranda is farther down the hall. Once we settled in, we walked up the street to a CVS for a few supplies and took a walk around the border of the US Naval Observatory. This is also the location of one of Vice President Joe Biden’s two houses. It turned out that he would be arriving at the gates about ten minutes after our arrival at the main gates. We decided to wait around and see if we could snap a quick photo of his car. Unfortunately, we were pushed back about thirty feet from the driveway. Needless to say, we were not able to get a photo. We did, however, see his motorcade and his car drive through the gates! It was quite a hectic scene when his car was approaching, so it was worth the wait.

After our walk, we returned to the hotel to rest for about an hour before leaving again for dinner. Brian and I watched some of Inception and got to know a little bit more about each other during that break. We met in the lobby about an hour later in our formal attire and took a cab to the Hay Adams Hotel, which housed the Lafayette Restaurant. We arrived about twenty minutes early so we decided to stroll over to the White House gates. The restaurant is only about a block away, so it was a pretty quick walk. We watched several groups take pictures in front of the gates, with the White House in the background, as well as listened to an anti-nuclear missile protestor who was spreading his beliefs to any passerby that would listen. After a few minutes waiting around that area, we headed back to the restaurant.

Tonight’s dinner was one of the most exquisite experiences I’ve ever had. The Lafayette is a very prestigious restaurant and has been known to serve government officials from time to time. Unfortunately there were no senators or congresspeople to be seen, but it didn’t take away from the experience in the slightest. We were seated in a dining room softly lit by candles with several beautiful pieces of art adorning the walls and soft piano being played in the center of the dining room. The atmosphere was excellent. The food was to die for. I enjoyed a bowl of creamy eggplant soup for an appetizer and lamb loin with mashed potatoes for my entrée. Both dishes were divine. The lamb was cooked to perfection and was flavorful as well as succulent. The dessert was equally amazing. I had a dark chocolate mousse with chocolate gelato. This was, by far, one of the best meals that I have ever eaten. I’m sorry, Don, but I was only able to remember to pull out my camera for my entrée. I will be sure to take photos of my remaining two fine meals though.

Today was a long day, but a great one. My journey is only just beginning and I am already having a terrific time with Brian, Julia, and Mr. Miranda. They are all excellent company and I can feel a sense of cohesion in our group. I look forward to touring Georgetown University tomorrow and with that in mind, I must be off to bed. We will be rising early tomorrow and I will need all my energy. Until then, I’m signing off.

Our luxurious airport shuttle...

O'Hare Airport...with clear skies!!!

Our room at the Holiday Inn
The White House...and huge groups of tourists...

Everybody is reviewing photos...

My dinner. Oh how I wish there was more of it...

And Then There Were Three

The weather was a not quite crisp 53 degrees but it was dark, dark, dark and according to Julia Martien, way too early.  Had we put it to a vote I’m betting the vote would have been unanimous on that one.  There’s just something about arriving at a pick up point at 3:00 AM that’s unnatural.

Nonetheless, our UPENN cohort—chaperone Mario Miranda, Julia Martien and Brian Seegers from El Cerrito HS and Alex Elms from Pinole Valley HS—all arrived before their assigned time to prepare for their trip to the University of Pennsylvania’s Physics Academy.

Detouring through Washington, DC so they could check out Georgetown University (and the sites of our nation’s capital) they will still arrive in the City of Brotherly Love in time to celebrate the 4th of July in Philadelphia.

Their time in the physics lectures and labs will, most likely, be grueling but they’ll also have Tie-Dye Tuesdays and Wii Wednesdays to help mellow them out.
After weighing their luggage and browsing the bazaar table of loaner items their shuttle to the airport arrived.  We were all a little incredulous when we saw that instead of the normal airport shuttle van we ended up with a long white stretch limo. There were hugs all around, the “children” were admonished to stay away from the limo’s bar and they were off.

Even money said that Julia had her take-along pillow under her head before they were even on the freeway and she was counting sheep before the driver got up to the speed limit.
It was still dark and way too early.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Good Company, Good Food and a New Chaperone

Alex Elms, Mario Miranda, Don Gosney, Brian Seegers & Julie Martien
Before heading to the City of Brotherly Love later this week the UPenn cohort gathered at Salute’s Ristorante in the Richmond Marina for a social gathering to meet our new UPenn chaperone.

Mario Miranda, history teacher extraordinaire at El Cerrito High School and five time ILC chaperone, has volunteered to fill a void and escort our legion of three to the UPenn Physics Academy and other points east.

To reinforce the nature of this social occasion the dress code was casual (although I dressed up by wearing long pants, a shirt without flowers on it and shoes that covered my toes).  I left my cameras in the car and we didn’t have any scheduled speakers.  We were there just to get to know each other a little better—our three students, their parents, Mario and me.

Oh, and we thought we’d throw in a nice meal and  few selections from the dessert tray.

Many thanks to Sandi Potter who just happened to have her handy dandy digital camera handy to snap a photo.

The Road Before Me...

The day is approaching! This Thursday morning, I will be saying farewell to California for an entire month to begin my journey at Penn. As the time between now and my departure lessens, my anticipation grows exponentially. All of the preparation I’ve gone through to get to this point is finally coming to fruition. This Friday, I will be touring Georgetown University. This Saturday, I will be dining with a Penn Pre-Major Advisor and a current Penn undergrad. Most importantly, next Tuesday, I will begin the Penn Experimental Physics Academy, the program that will hopefully help me start building my career as an engineer. Yes, all of these plans and more have me extremely anxious for Thursday morning. Recent events have also caused me to reflect upon my situation…

If you’ve been following my blogs thus far (and thank you if you have been!), you know that the Ivy League Connection orientation really made it click for me that I would soon be embarking on a life-changing journey. Ever since then, my excitement has been mounting. I have had to do several things in that time that made me analyze the opportunity that I’ve been given. For instance, I’ve had to confirm my group’s plans with Bruce Chamberlain, the Northern California Admissions Representative from Georgetown University, June Chu, a Penn Pre-Major Advisor, and Margaret Wang, a current Penn undergrad. As I contacted each of our guests, I thought to myself how fortunate I was to have the opportunity to speak with them face-to-face. This re-emphasized how important it is for me to relay these encounters in my blogs because I can use my experiences to help students that do not have the same opportunities to meet college officials.

There are individuals out there who believe that the Ivy League Connection only touches those students who participate in the program. This is simply not true. With the information that the ILC is able to bring back to the WCCUSD, I believe that it has extended its influence to the vast audience of college-bound students in this district. I will continue to help the ILC communicate the importance of a college education and the opportunities that are out there to the best of my abilities. I am ready and willing to report what I learn from these encounters as best I can for my fellow WCCUSD students.

Another recent event that has made me impatient for Thursday was dinner with our chaperone, Mario Miranda. The Penn cohort, along with all of our parents and Don, met for dinner tonight at the Salute e Vita Ristorante. We were able to learn a little bit more about our chaperone and enjoy a fine meal in the process. I enjoyed a wonderful dish of Spaghetti Bolognese and an even more delicious slice of New York Cheesecake for dessert.

On par with this excellent food was the outstanding conversation, especially since we were able to learn more about our chaperone. Mr. Miranda is very friendly and knowledgeable when it comes to chaperoning because he has done it for the ILC for five out of the program’s six years. Dinner was a joy. We discussed everything from local politics to the El Cerrito Forensics Team (yes, I had to sneak in a little discussion about forensics). Of course, we also discussed several aspects of our travel agenda and important things that our group needed to know about living at Penn. Getting together as a group was certainly a treat. We even capped off the evening with a group photo of the Penn cohort. The tables were turned and even Don was on the other end of the camera with us.

Only three days remain between now and my departure. For quite some time now, I have been counting down the days until I will be leaving home for a new adventure. Now that the final few days are here, my schedule will be hectic and the minutes will not pass quickly enough. My next seventy-two hours will be spent packing, saying good-bye to a few friends, and taking care of any last-minute arrangements. Hopefully the time flies so that I may follow my fellow ILC scholars to the East…

Friday, June 17, 2011

Show Me The Money!

You have the brightest child in the neighborhood and everyone knows it.  Any university in the country would be lucky to have your child.  Without exception, though, all of the top flight schools cost a fortune to attend.  We’re not talking about new car kind of money.  We’re talking about the kind of money to buy a decent house—the kind where you have to keep paying for it forever and ever.  The kind f money it takes a regular working family decades to prepare for.
What are you going to do?  You make decent money—at least enough to keep the rest of your family living comfortably—but it’s not really enough to keep them living comfortably and leave enough to pay for that college education.  The cost of living here in the Bay Area eats up most of your paycheck—when you get a paycheck—and leaves little to sock away to pay for a decent education for your children.
You and your child could take out loans to pay for that top flight education but what kind of life would that be for your child to graduate owing almost as much as the National Debt?
Your child could get a job but what kind of money could an 18 year old make before acquiring the skills that the college education will help provide?
What’s a parent to do?  How are you supposed to take care of your family and provide them with a quality education—the kind of education that will open the right doors once your child has that sheepskin firmly in her grasp?
What are you supposed to do?  You’re supposed to turn to The Ivy League Connection’s very own Sue Kim—a professional educational consultant specializing in admissions and financial aid counseling since 1991.
Sue has helped many dozens of ILC students and others from the WCCUSD find the perfect fit of a college and then find a means to pay for that education.  She knows what she’s doing and she’s good at it.
On Thursday June 16th Sue hosted 39 ILC and WCCUSD students and parents in a financial aid workshop where she helped point the way for the parents to find ways for other people to pay for the education of their children.
Between grants, scholarships, gifts and other options that may be available to the students and parents in our area, more and more of our students have opportunities to attend better schools than they might otherwise have been considering.
Sue explained that although California has an outstanding 10 campus University of California and a 23 campus state university system, both systems have little money to offer students in the way of financial assistance.  The cost to attend these schools is prohibitively expensive and the costs are steadily rising.
On the other hand, there are numerous private colleges spread throughout the country that have large endowments designed to help the very kinds of students we seem to have an abundance of: smart but needy.
Tonight’s session was only a primer but it laid the foundation so parents and students can start their preparations.  Once their students enter their senior year of high school, the college application process becomes a full time job requiring a tremendous amount of dedication and attention to detail.  There are openings at these schools and there is money to be had but if our students and their parents don’t do the necessary homework and prepare themselves, those opportunities may go elsewhere.  We want everyone around the world to have the option of getting a top education but if there are limited funds and limited openings, then we’d rather that our people be taken care of first.  Call it selfish if you will—and you’d be right—but such is life.

Monday, June 6, 2011


Our last formal meeting before we embark occurred on Thursday. Orientation was an opportunity for all the participants of ILC to sit together and ask any final questions that were burning in our minds.
As a group, all of the ILCers learned about the importance of being on time, being prepared, and following directions from Madeline, Don, and Charles as well as a general overview about what to expect on our respective trips. We were each given an extensive packing list to help with the "prepared" bit.

Later, when we split up into our separate programs, we were able to talk more specifically about what kinds of things we would be doing in Pennsylvania outside of our academic program. Ideas such as baseball games, fireworks displays, and of course, eating some Philly cheese steaks were discussed.

We also recieved our official itineraries for the trip and reviewed the schedule that was e-mailed to us from Penn (which inclided activities such as tie-dye Tuesday and Wii Wednesday).
Cynthia Fong, a former Penn ILC participant, was kind enough to spend some time with us sharing her experiences on the campus and in the dorms as well as on the weekend day trips. She shared her difficulties with the east coast weather, assured us that the dorms were very comfortable, and told us about her favorite activities, including seeing Les Miserables.

After listening to what she had to say and reviewing our schedules, I felt very prepared. I also came to realize that there will be very few moments of inactivity for me during my month at UPenn. While I am there, I plan on learning all that I can about physics, the college learning environment, and the culture of Philadelphia. That doesn't leave much time for sitting around.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

It Feels Real Now

This Thursday, I attended the final ILC meeting before we head off for the East coast. Students, their chaperones, and of course everyone who helps make the ILC possible such as Charles Ramsey and Don Gosney met at the El Cerrito High School library this most recent Thursday. Although students from many different groups were present in the library, each group had its own table to sit at and talk with their fellow students, chaperones and parents.

Don and Mr. Ramsey started things off by introducing several former ILC students. After some general wisdom about what to pack, and what to expect of our various programs, we each received a copy of our itinerary. Although I’ve known when we’re leaving and returning for a while, seeing the actual flight numbers and hotel reservations made me excited about how soon we will be in Pennsylvania. I also recently received a copy of the itinerary for what we will be doing during our four weeks at UPENN. While I certainly plan to study hard while I’m out East, the weekend trips to New York City and Washington D.C. stood out to me, and they are one more thing that I’m looking forward to.
After about half an hour in the library, each group split off into separate classrooms to discuss our remaining preparations for the trip, as well as the itinerary that we had all just received. Our chaperone Mike, as well as our parents repeatedly warned us about the hot summer weather on the East coast. We were also lucky enough to speak with Cynthia who went to UPENN with the ILC several years ago, and we picked her brain for advice on the dorms, food and more.
Once we were finished reviewing the itinerary, we returned to the library for some closing remarks by Don and Mr. Ramsey. Don reviewed what we should pack for the trip, and also reminded us to leave room in our suitcases for souvenirs that we’ll want to bring back. If there has ever been the question of if I love science, it has certainly been resolved now. I’ll hop on a shuttle to the airport at 3:30 in the morning to take a month of physics classes during the summer, and I’ll do it with a smile.

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Final Milestone

Last night we passed the final milestone on the road to our summer adventure. The entire 2011 Ivy League Connection group gathered at El Cerrito High School for orientation. The goal of the night was to answer any last-minute questions, give us our itineraries, and allow our parents to associate themselves a bit more with our chaperones. The night definitely achieved its purpose.
We began the night in the library. We were divided into our respective groups by Don and Mr. Rhea before any of the speeches began. This was convenient because I was able to update Mike, Brian, Mrs. Seegers, Julia, and Mrs. Martien on our plans for the pre-Penn excursion. They all seemed happy to hear that the reservations for the information sessions, campus tours, and dinners with admissions officers were taken care of. Once everyone had arrived and found their seats, Mr. Ramsey, Ms. Kronenberg, and Mr. Rhea each gave great individual speeches about the significance and purpose of the orientation.

There were also two announcements that I was rather surprised by. The first was that prior ILC scholars had been invited to offer their insight within the breakout sessions. This was a change from last year’s orientation that I found to be very strategic. The second announcement was that the ILC has partnered with a publisher. This will allow students to actually have their books, poems, and other forms of prose officially published. I didn’t think it was possible because it is already so amazing, but somehow the ILC has managed to make even more life-changing opportunities for the students of this district.
The final piece of business before going into the breakout sessions was Don’s packing presentation. He covered the list of basic things that all of us need to pack and then got a bit more specific with regard to dorm room needs. He said that each university is going to provide different things and that some of us would need desk lamps while others would need extension and Ethernet cords. Contrary to last year at Cornell, it seems that I will have to bring a desk lamp and linens for my dorm because Penn does not provide them. I’m hoping that these items are the only things for the dorm that I’ll need to pack. Of course, if I need something last-minute, Don has generously offered us access to his “bazaar” the day we leave.

The breakout sessions took place outside of the library, inside individual classrooms. Here we were able to examine our itineraries and discover that we would have to be at El Cerrito High at 3:30 AM on June 30…that’s going to be a fun morning… But we were also able to ask Cynthia, a former ILC scholar who attended a Penn summer program and currently attends Brown, a few things about the dorms, about our restrictions at Penn, as well as a number of other things about what our stay would be like. Unfortunately I did not have time to ask all of my questions, but thankfully Cynthia provided us with her email in case we had further questions.

After the breakout session, we regrouped back in the library and concluded the night. Orientation was certainly a success. I was able to have some of my questions answered, get a few things clarified, and I am even more excited that my journey is only twenty-seven days away. As each day passes, my excitement builds. I am also remembering how great my experiences were last year at Cornell and I have no doubt that Brian, Julia, and Mike will help me make these new adventures even more memorable than my previous ones.