Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A Little Physics Goes A Long Way

In the four days I have been home, I have witnessed more examples of the ways in which my experience with Ivy League Connection at UPenn has altered the way I live than I ever expected. The month I spent in Philadelphia has changed the way I think about the learning process, applying to college, and the world around me.

Since I have returned, friends and family have asked me how my trip was. I feel bad, because in most cases I think they were just trying to be polite and expected my answer to be something like "Oh yea it was really cool, I had a lot of fun and I learned a lot. The end". What they invariably got instead was a ten minute long shpeel about systems neuroscience, single photon diffraction, cosmic rays, Bill Burner's amazing demonstrations, UPenn's dorm food, my amazing roommate, the frozen yogurt in Philadelphia, and a handful of funny stories about the people I met. It was kind of amazing when my parents picked me up from the airport. I almost didn't realize how many stories I had to tell until they couldn't shut me up the entire car ride home.

In fact, even when I am not asked, nowadays it is hard to get me to stop talking about physics. The month I spent learning from Bill was a real-life, tangible example of learning for the sake of knowledge and discovery rather than a report card and that experience leaves a mark. Now when I look around, I see opportunities to learn and teach all over even when there will be no letter grade at the end. When my friend showed me something on her computer yesterday, I spent about three minutes describing how the liquid crystals in her screen polarize the light differently based on the electrical signals they receive and that is how the image is made. By the end all she could say was "That's great, now let me show you this video." I have found that my colleagues here are a little less eager to learn than those I encountered at Penn.

That alone was a bit of a culture shock. After spending a month with a group of kids who were willing to sit through lectures for a third of their summer, it is hard for me to imagine that someone would not be excited to learn. Returning to high school is going to be strange. I have forgotten what it's like not to be surrounded by ultra motivated science freaks. Hopefully, I will be able to spread my enthusiasm to my classmates and get them excited about the subject instead of doing the bare minimum to get an "A". Now, I am more excited than ever to go to college where I know more and more people will share my passion for discovery.

So excited that on my second day home I dumped out the cluttered drawer I keep all the college information I get in the mail and sorted it into piles based on how interested I am in attending the college. Many of the letters I found in that drawer I had barely even looked at, but now I have a new motivation to continue to research colleges. I also have enough information to know where to start applying for scholarships based on my conversations with alums over dinner and our meetings with college administrators as well as the discussions I had with my room mate and other people on our floor. Many of the students I met talked about starting their essays for the common app as soon as they got home. Their motivation and organization has inspired me to take initiative and deal with the daunting task earlier rather than later.

The people that I met were inspirational in more than one way. I had been told that I would be meeting people from all over the world, but I didn't really think about what that would entail. I got to talk to people who's lives are incredibly different from mine in some respects, but I also saw that many experiences and ideas teenagers have are universal. Being around so many different cultures opened my eyes and helped me understand how big the world is. The international students that I talked to were absolutely the most driven people I had encountered. Not only are they generally fluent in English (and in most cases, multiple other languages), they are working hard in intensive programs like international baccalaureate in order to broaden their horizons beyond the colleges of their own country. The Ivy League Connection stresses that its goal is to help students realize that they are not limited to California. I now know that I am not limited to the United States. My roommate even offered to help me through the international application process.

It is only after I have learned these important lessons that I understand fully what exeptional program the Ivy Leage Connection is. I hope to broaden its impact by getting my fellow classmates involved with it and using the presentation skills I learned during my course to show younger students how fun science can be. I plan on working through the high school to schedule lessons at elementary schools like Fairmont where we can show the kids variations of the demonsrations Bill showed us in order to teach them about the basic concepts of Physics. I believe that learning it from someone who truly enjoys the subject will improve the odds of them getting interested as well.

It is amazing to think that it was in the span of only four short weeks, but my experience at U Penn has opened my eyes to a new way of looking at learning: appreciate the knoledge, don't stress about the grades. I believe this state of mind will not only help me enjoy my final year of high school, It will help me find a college I can thrive in and get me genuinely excited about the process.

I Learn Every Day

The time that I spent in Pennsylvania and on the East Coast in general was valuable to me for many different reasons. First off, my time on the East Coast was valuable to me because it was really fun. I also found that I really learned much more than I expected to during my class. However, I also learned a lot outside of the classroom about college which will be very valuable to me in May when I am signing a certificate of intent to attend a college wherever that may be.

Occasionally, things change so suddenly that we say that they have taken a quantum leap forward. For me, going to class at Penn was a quantum leap because I realized how much more I have to learn about everything. Certainly in my high school environment I have taken the toughest classes I can and I always push myself hard, but when I got to Penn I was reminded that there is always more to learn. From the first day I struggled a bit in class, but always was able to get through it and learn in the process. Something valuable that I learned is that it is OK to be a follower sometimes. At school, I tend to always take the lead on projects and make sure that everyone does their part, but in my lab group of 4 at Penn, all 4 of us were trying to do the same thing. We quickly realized that all of us were competent leaders and that it was actually important for us to learn how to accept the leadership of another even when they were doing the lab differently than we would have. In a time of constant collaboration in business, this was valuable for me to learn.

Another thing that I came to realize during my time at Penn is that discipline is critical to achieving success. One guy in my class is the same age as me but he has taken 6 years of physics classes and knows, at last count, 5 languages. Armed only with my year of physics education and 1.3 languages that I speak (English and some Japanese), I was inspired to realize how much more I can do if I really work my hardest at everything. Certainly, some of the difference is due to opportunity, but I have recently come to realizes how much time everyone wastes. In one of my classes at school, my teacher had us all track where all of our time goes over a three week period. I was shocked to find how much time I wasted and due to that and my inspiration at Penn I have resolved to try to always maximize the time I have.

To avoid being all bark and no bite, I would like to briefly lay out how I think that the learning I have done at Penn will help me in my future. First off, I intend to be a lot more organized as a student in the future. While I have gradually realized this in high school, Penn presented the immediate need of knowing where all of your materials were and of simply organizing information so that you could use it effectively. I have also learned to manage my time more effectively. During the upcoming school year, I intend to keep track of the time that I waste so that I can become inspired to do something useful with it. Penn also taught me about setting good and achievable goals. In many scenarios, we would have some huge goal to achieve such as measuring the speed of light. We began this process by breaking it down into many smaller goals along the way. For example, we needed to build a laser, assemble the circuits, and take measurements. Each of these goals could be broken down even further into easily achievable goals such as plugging in our oscilloscope and connecting certain wires. I think that I can easily take this sort of process out of the lab by setting goals, say on a project in school, and making things more manageable by breaking the process into easy parts.

I have been handed an amazing opportunity by the ILC to learn tons about physics, college, and life in general. Something that I haven’t mentioned so far is that I definitely plan to give back some of what I have learned to other people. Many people my age blindly apply only to public California schools and ignore the other options out there. While Californian schools are fantastic, a large part of the ILC is exposing teens from California to the fact that there are so many other colleges that may be a better option than UC’s and CSU’s. To give thanks for the exposure that I have gotten, I plan to collaborate with Alex and Julia to make some sort of presentation about considering many options when applying to college to present to other teens our age. If we can help even one person to take a good look at an East Coast school and realize that it is really what they want, we can call our plan a success.

The ILC has really changed how I will go through the college application process. First off, I plan to start very soon so that I can have plenty of time to do the job right and not apply to a few schools last minute. This will help a lot because I plan on applying to some very competitive schools and the last thing I want to do is to present a sloppy image of myself. As I talked about goal setting earlier, I think the college application process will be a great place for me to set goals. While everyone talks about the application process as this giant overwhelming thing, it really breaks down into parts quite easily. Inspired by my time at Penn, I already have a calendar with some important dates in the application process on it.

On a very specific level, the ILC will help me in the college application process because at Penn I have gotten to learn more specifically what I really want to get out of college and what sort of college I want to attend. At the most basic level, I have realized that I want to attend a medium or large sized school because of the huge number of opportunities present at a larger college. For example, Penn has the resources to have hundreds of different clubs and sports that I could try. Furthermore, I have realized that a must at any college that I go to is a strong study abroad program. During an information session at Penn, I was glad to learn that Penn has a strong study abroad program and that many students take advantage of it. I could go on for hours about the details of my ideal college, but the bottom line is that through the ILC, Penn has really helped me to narrow down my college search and for that I am very grateful.

During this program, I have not been able to say thank you enough. First off, thank you to all of the people that routinely read this blog whether you are family, friends, or simply interested in what we did. Many thanks to Alex and Julia who were extremely supportive during the entire trip and made everything a lot more fun. I’m glad that I got to be Alex’s roommate because he is a fun and supportive friend that knows how to get work done and knows how to have fun. Thank you very much Mario Miranda for your organization, your fun presence, and your great taste in food. I am very grateful that you spent a month of your summer traveling and learning with us, because it really wouldn’t have been the same without you. Finally, I owe so many thanks to the Ivy League Connection and its sponsors. I have learned so much about physics, college, and myself that I can never repay it.

That’s all I have to say for now, but this program and the knowledge I have learned will stick with me forever.