Tuesday, August 2, 2011

One of the Greatest Months of My Life

It has been less than a week since I departed from Penn, but I feel like I have been away for much longer. My time in Pennsylvania really left a mark on me. Not only was it my home for a month, but it was also a place where I was part of an intellectual community, I was able to branch out much farther than I normally do at home, and I was able to live a completely different lifestyle. Not only was I able to live more independently, but I was literally fifteen minutes away from one of the most populated cities in the country. My experiences at Penn are things that I will never forget and I will continue to be influenced by the lessons that I have learned.

I feel like going into this program with prior ILC experience gave me a totally different perspective. I was introduced to the world of college exploration last year and I got a good sense of things that I did and didn’t like about colleges. Going in this year, I had a better idea of what to look for in a college that would suit me. Better yet, I knew the questions to ask. When we visited Georgetown and spoke with Bruce Chamberlain, the Senior Associate Director of Admissions, I had several key questions about Georgetown that I was eager to ask. However, he was so thorough that I didn’t even need to ask them. I had planned to ask about Georgetown’s financial aid and the strengths the universities different schools have, but I never had to ask because he had covered those topics thoroughly. He was even able to discuss at great length the opportunities, such as internships in D.C., that are available to students at Georgetown. The same was true of my discussions with Ellen Kim, the Northern California Admissions Representative at Penn. She informed me of how tightly knit the Penn community is and how focused on learning and research the university is. More on that later. Last year I was just beginning to learn about what colleges had to offer in general. Since I got that experience last year, I was able to focus on the details this time around. I was even able to pick up on some of the programs that different schools offer, such as Georgetown’s 3-2 program, which is in conjunction with Columbia where you spend three years at Georgetown and two at Columbia, or Penn’s new major that combines sustainability and engineering that Ellen Kim told me about. This is something that I want to be able to spread amongst my peers. I want to let them know about what college can offer, but I also want to let them know that you need to understand what you truly want out of your college experience when looking at a college.

Not only were the college visitations memorable and enlightening, but so was my course at Penn. The Experimental Physics Academy was the most challenging science class that I have ever taken. Although it may not have had very many assignments outside of the classroom, the class was fast-paced and you had to keep up if you had any chance of understanding the next lesson or lab that was coming your way. We covered topics that I never thought I would have the chance to study while I was still in high school, let alone understand these advanced principles of physics. I had no idea that I would study Einstein’s Theory of Relativity or String Theory while I was still in high school. We covered so many principles of physics, ranging from mechanics and motion to optics and relativity, in just four weeks, that it astounds me that we were all able to keep up. What made it easy was the support of the faculty that ran the program. Bill, Mary, Craig, Ryan, Adam, and Brian were all extremely helpful. Each was dedicated to making sure that we understood the material. It was a top notch learning environment. I didn’t feel like I was taking a class from Bill or any of the TAs. Instead, it felt like I was doing research with them. They always made class an interactive experience and I felt like we were all peers working towards a common goal. I cannot fully express how lucky I was to have been selected for such a great course. I learned skills that will help me work toward my future and, in the process, I learned from people who were truly passionate about education for the sake of education.

Learning for the sake of learning seemed to be a constant theme at Penn. Bill told us on the first day that he didn’t want to give us grades or credit because then we would be playing the game for the grade instead of actually “doing science.” This was also resonant throughout my discussions with Sam Gilbert, a grad student at Penn, and Ellen Kim during our dinner at La Croix. Sam told me that even though you have to do work for a passing grade, the emphasis in almost every class he had been enrolled in at Penn was on learning and research. Ellen Kim also told me about how involved members of the Penn faculty (such as June Chu, a Pre-major Advisor) are in helping you find your path at Penn. This is something that I find admirable about a college these days. There are so many universities and colleges that have massive class sizes that are only focused on getting the grade or being number one. However, at Penn there is a strong focus on collaborative thinking and learning as a whole. The word community is tossed around a lot when college is being discussed. At Penn, there really is a sense of community. You have the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life, study with professors and researchers, even as an undergrad, and you can get help or support from almost anyone. I really got the feeling that Penn was a huge family and, for a month, I got to be a part of that family. This is the kind of university that I want to attend. I want to be able to interact with people from different parts of the globe and actually have classes that are taught by professors. Penn helped me come to that decision, and I am very thankful for it.

My experiences at Penn would have been much less memorable if I didn’t have so many wonderful people to share them with. I was very lucky to have such an excellent cohort. Mr. Miranda was an excellent chaperone and I can certainly see why the ILC has asked him to chaperone for six years of the program. Not only was he responsible and on top of things, he was also very knowledgeable. I think of him as a renaissance man because he is able to speak extensively on so many different topics, from architecture to evolution. His wealth of knowledge made me realize the value of a liberal arts education, one where you can learn a little bit about everything even if you are focusing on one subject. Brian and Julia were great as well. Things were a little strained at first because the two of them and Mr. Miranda already knew each other, but I feel like once we got to know one another we were great friends. I was able to get to know Brian really well because we were roommates. He was always fun and (thankfully) didn’t mind when I stayed up late doing my blogs. Julia was great too. She was always lively and brought a special sense of humor to the group. However, my cohort was not my only family at Penn. Soon we befriended four very special people. Fred Kwon, Alison Lui, Abheek Basu, and Onur Soybir were my closest friends throughout the program. Despite how different we all are, we were drawn together and ultimately became inseparable. Fred was always a great person to talk with, either individually or in the group. He was fun and sincere. Abheek shared my dry sense of humor and was always good for a laugh. Alison seemed to have something in common with everyone, no matter how small it was. She could relate to and was friendly with everyone. Onur was extremely sociable. Whatever he did or wherever he went, he tried to include as many people as possible to make it a group experience that we could all share. I especially enjoyed his company because there are so many cultural differences between America and Turkey that we were able to discuss, such as differences in our schools, cities, and even food. I will always treasure the friendships that I made with the other six members of our Clique and I know we will keep in touch. Like I said, we have become inseparable, barring distance.

My adventure in the east is over. Although I have left Penn, it will linger in my mind for a long time. Of course, I wouldn’t be able to have such a great experience if it weren’t for the Ivy League Connection. This program has grown to such great heights since it began seven years ago and it would not be possible without Charles Ramsey, Madeleine Kronenberg, Don Gosney, the sponsors, and everyone who has supported or been a part of the ILC. This unique program has influenced the lives of so many students, and I am extremely fortunate to have been a part of it. Of course, I also have to thank my parents, who have been supportive of me throughout my life and especially my ILC experience. I would not be the person I am today if it weren’t for the ILC because both of my experiences on the east coast have shaped my decisions in both high school and my plans for the future. I have become more organized as a student, I have decided that I would like to attend an urban campus, I know now that not-so-well-rounded students are acceptable to many colleges, and so much more. This whole experience has changed my paradigm drastically, and to show my thanks, I will continue to spread the word about what students can achieve if they look to colleges outside of California. I would also like to organize a project with my fellow Pinole ILC scholars to spread the word about the opportunities that wait outside of California and that students do not have to fear the college admissions process. This is all information that needs to be given to the students because it can change their opinions about higher education, just as it has impacted ours. I feel like this would be the best way to put all that my peers and I have learned from our respective journeys in the Ivy League Connection to good use.

After two years with the greatest program in the West Contra Costa Unified School District, my journey has come to a close. For the last blog with the Ivy League Connection, I’m signing off. Thanks for everything.

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