Sunday, August 6, 2017

The ILC Adventure

I remember the first time anyone mentioned the Ivy League Connection to me, my mom had just been told about it by a friend of hers and she encouraged me to keep an eye out for any flyers, etc. I nodded it off, I was only an upcoming freshman and sophomore and junior year seemed so far away. Eventually, though, sophomore year did roll around, and I was invited to go to the ILC presentation. It seemed like a lot, that’s all I really remember, so I decided to wait to apply until the next year, when I’d be better prepared. 

As you can probably tell, I did apply that next year, and I was accepted to be part of the 2017 Vanderbilt Cohort. The application process wasn't easy, as was expected, I slaved over my essays, rewriting draft after draft. I wanted to make sure they were perfect and really showed why I wanted to be a part of the ILC, and I guess I was successful in my mission as I was selected for an interview.

I worked myself up a lot more than I needed to for my interview, I remember practicing questions with my parents, having my friends read over some rough responses I’d written down, and even doing a mock interview with a past ILCer. I really couldn't tell you what I said during my interview, it’s all a blur of nerves, but, again, all this hard work paid off, as I made it through the interview. Looking back on it, the interview was a really great experience, it made me think critically on the spot and served as good practice for the countless other interviews I’ll likely face in my near future.

The next big milestone event for us was the dinner, a lovely night out where I got to share a delicious meal with some fantastic people. I was nervous preparing for this dinner. I remember that the timing was a bit nerve-wracking, I had to drive home from school as quickly as possible, then get ready (I tried to make myself look a bit presentable), and get to BART with my mom in record time. Again, I’d prepared myself for the worst, I thought I’d be too nervous to talk to anyone, that I’d make a bad impression, that Don would see my inability to function in the adult world and send me on my way (goodbye ILC). But, luckily, I was wrong. I ended up having a wonderful time at the dinner, and felt like it ended entirely too quickly. I loved getting to talk to the Vanderbilt Alumni, getting to hear about why the school stood out to them and what their experiences were like during their times as students at the university. The picture of what exactly Vanderbilt is, as a school, began to come to life. And with every detail I learned about Vanderbilt, I was looking forward to boarding that Nashville-bound plane more and more.

Another important part of the ILC experience was the School Board meeting, this is where it all started to set in. I finally realized that I would actually be going away from home for three weeks, that I was really taking part in such an amazing experience, and that from then on, it would all be happening very fast.

And, from then on, everything happened very quickly. We had our cohort dinner; a night out at Zachary’s followed by a walk to Indian Rock, where we got to know each other a bit more. 

Then it was the Orientation, where I was given a lot more information than I had thought was possible, itinerary details were surprisingly intricate. This was another somewhat overwhelming moment, but I can only imagine how much planning went into it on Don's part. Even more overwhelming to think about; the Orientation was our group’s last event before Departure Day, our last stop before our final destination. 

Soon enough we were leaving California for Tennessee. Waking up on Departure Day I felt a whirlwind of emotions, I was nervous, worried, and excited, all at the same time. My time at Vanderbilt was amazing, it was thought provoking, exciting, and some of the best weeks of my life.

Sadly, all good things must come to an end. After the many months of preparation for my wonderful three weeks at Vanderbilt and those actual three weeks, it was time to go home. I was sad that it was over but happy to go home, and happy that I’d bring home with me all the wonderful memories and skills I had made and learned. 

I'm really thankful for the Ivy League Connection for making this experience possible, for broadening my view of the future, giving me a taste of engineering (which I now think I’d like to pursue in college), and for all the experiences leading up to the trip. Being a part of the Ivy League Connection made me think carefully and gave me some amazing exposure to new things that otherwise wouldn't have been available to me. 

Lastly, I’d like to thank the Ivy League Connection, including all of the donors who made this trip possible, for this amazing summer. And, I’d especially like to thank Don for all his hard work, late nights, and overall dedication to making this all possible. 

Thursday, August 3, 2017

My ILC Experience: Round Two

I think it is important to note that this was not my first time participating in the Ivy League Connection, so my experience with it a second time around is slightly different from the first timers'. As a recap, ever since my freshman year I was pretty in love with the idea of the Ivy League Connection. Having never visited the South or the East Coast it was thrilling to hear the alums talk about their experiences at these prestigious summer programs. I couldn't wait until it was time for me to apply.

Obviously the experience last year was life-changing and enjoyable enough that I decided to apply once again. Nevertheless, going into the interview room last December was just as, if not more, nerve-wracking as it had been the 3 times before that. I think part of that was due to the fact that I had a hard time getting picked for a scholarship last year, and even when I didn't let it affect my self-esteem I wasn't that confident going into this interview. To my surprise, I was chosen to become part of the Vanderbilt cohort and I was ecstatic. 

There are several things I appreciate about the Ivy League Connection besides the act of sending me across the country, full-cost covered, and those are the events beforehand. Not only does the ILC feed us for about 3 weeks in the summer, but also about 2 more times, and in my case 3 before we depart. 

The dinner with the alumni was so meaningful to me because they gave me an idea of what to expect at Vanderbilt; there's no one better way to get information about a school than from someone who attended it. Going to this dinner, I still wasn't so sure what my opinion on Vanderbilt was. But, afterward, I had so much more knowledge about what the school focused on and what student life was like. I also had a better idea of the atmosphere of Nashville itself. I could've read about all of these things, but this was just far more genuine. 

Another great thing I'd like to emphasize about the dinner is the opportunity to speak with the panelists outside of that intimidating room. I'm not exactly certain about how to put it into words but talking to the panelists, at least for me, ends up becoming a very feel-good moment because they're so proud of what we're accomplishing and they only have good wishes for us. 

On that note, I'm eternally grateful for the alumni, sponsors, and panelists that support the Ivy League Connection and take time out of their day to facilitate the program. Like I've said, for me, the program has been incredibly life-changing and I probably wouldn't have the knowledge about college that I do without it. Another group of people that ILC wouldn't be possible without and I'm forever indebted to are the people at the universities, such as one of my favorite people Rosie from VSA and Janna from CUSC. Don, of course, most of all is a very amazing individual for continuing to make this program happen. Once you're an ILCer I don't think you ever stop being one and part of that is having that support from Don. 

Being an ILCer is all about giving back and a lot of that is due to the fact we receive a lot as ILCers. We gain connections, friends, memories, and knowledge that doesn't quite compare to anything else. We also gain the opportunity to share all that we learn with our friends and classmates. Even my friends say they're happy I do this program because they get to question me all about the schools I visited and my thoughts on them. Consequently, I'm always very happy to share with them what I experience and always encourage them to apply to these schools or if they're younger, to apply to the ILC.

I know this blog is a little all over the place, but my time with the Ivy League Connection has been fantastic and there are several people I wanted to thank all at once, and I really wanted to highlight the fact that the dinners are my favorite part outside of the time being out of state. I truly believe that the Ivy League Connection works wonders in the WCCUSD and I hope to someday be one of the people that keep the ILC around or at least someone that other ILCers can go to for advice. 

Vanderbilt, From Start to Finish

It’s amazing to think at just three weeks ago I was heading off to a new state, a new city, and a new home, with four people I had only ever briefly met. I was full of nerves, not quite knowing what I was getting myself into. I was worried about making friends, yes, I knew my cohort; I knew their names, I knew the schools they went to, and I knew their basic interests, but I didn't know if we’d be tight knit group or simply be familiar faces to each other. I’m happy to, now, be able to say that my time in Nashville and Philadelphia was a truly amazing experience, from beginning to end.

Arriving in Nashville was, and I’ll be very honest, mildly terrifying. There I was in a brand new city where I would be living for three weeks, living without any family and without many pre determined friends. I tried my best to set these feelings of uneasiness aside, to enjoy the days I had with my cohort before actually going to Vanderbilt. 

Departure Day, it seems like ages ago
Those days now feel like they were ages ago, I've done so much and made so many new memories since they occurred. Even though they seem like they were so long ago, the content and experiences of what we did are still with me. I can remember exploring Centennial Park with the cohort for the first time, playing around on the swings and taking in the city. Those first few days served as a good adjustment period, they let us familiarize ourselves with the area and get a grip on what exactly our reality would be for the coming weeks.

After those first few days it was time to do what we had been preparing for for months, check in to the Vanderbilt Summer Academy. This whole process was a bit stressful, while Jennifer was there to help us check in and get our room keys, etc., we were pretty quickly directed to the elevators and sent off to settle in to our rooms by ourselves. I distinctly remember stepping off the elevator on the 5th floor, I wasn't greeted by anyone, and struggled to figure out which side of the building my room was on. Eventually I located my room and, after some fiddling with my key, unlocked the door and stepped inside. My roommate was nowhere to be seen, but she was unpacked, and it looked as if she had brought her whole house with her. I thought to myself about how unprepared I was, I didn't bring a laundry basket or throw pillows, but I was going to make due. It turned out that I wasn't alone in my lack of throw pillows, and I soon learned that the reason my roommate had so much stuff because she had driven to VSA. I also learned that I wasn't alone with that nervous feeling, and it pretty quickly went away. 
Some of the many close friends I made at VSA
VSA was divided into two main sections, outside the classroom and inside the classroom. I’d like to start with discussing my in classroom experience. I was part of a class of 16 students, which is probably the smallest class I’ve ever had, making this already a unique experience already. But, making it much more unique, each student in my class wanted to be there, they applied to the class, it wasn't just a general requirement like so many high school classes are. This appreciation to learn that each of my classmates possessed is something that really shaped my experience. Along with that, the enthusiasm that both my teacher and TA possessed concerning the subject helped to ensure I had the best experience possible. 

Concerning the content of my class, it’s truly amazing to think about how much I learned in such a small amount of time. I'm thankful I had the opportunity to take my class because of how, while it was always fun and interesting, additionally each activity we took part in served a purpose and helped us build a better understanding of either what adaptive engineering is or how it can be applied. We also got to have a lot of hands on experiences, whether that be with soldering or using power tools, I know that the exposure I have gotten to those techniques will be helpful for me later in life. 

Our finished car
Speaking of hands on experiences, our GoBabyGo project was an amazing opportunity and I’m proud to say I took part in it. Just being able to learn about the organization would have been great, but getting to take part in a build was so great. Not only was the whole process interesting and fun, but it was challenging and thought provoking. We worked through issues and rethought entire designs at times, but were eventually successful in creating eight custom cars for various children. I hope that each of the kids benefit from the cars and that they will be beneficial where their development is concerned. 

Outside of class, we were almost always participating in other VSA activities. These activities, whether they were arĂȘte classes or trivia nights, served as time to (maybe) learn some new skills and always make new friends. I had so many fun experiences with all the new people I’ve met, I’ve formed some very strong friendships through this, and I'm really thankful to the ILC and VSA for bringing us together. 

My time at VSA was truly amazing, it made my summer so wonderful and truly unforgettable. I'm so happy I've had this opportunity and that I've gotten to share it with all of you that have been keeping up with these blogs. 

The VSA Journey

From the moment I decided to apply for the Vanderbilt scholarship, I was unsure of what my time with VSA would be like. I worried that I wouldn't enjoy being in such a restrictive environment, and it made very little sense to me to not be able to leave campus at our own will. Luckily, my time at VSA made me more understanding of all those regulations and proved to be a memorable time regardless of my original worries. 

Arriving in Nashville, I was slightly underwhelmed by the size of the city. I had heard it was a growing metropolitan city, and I'm not exactly sure what expected. Everyone there was very friendly though and despite not being as concentrated as I imagined it to be, there were several things to do in the area, which I'm sure adds to the experience of being a Vanderbilt student. Although VSA is at Vanderbilt, I think I forgot I was at Vanderbilt sometimes since the program is so immersive and unique. 

Checking in to VSA itself was pretty intimidating. The cohort was all on different floors, which is convenient for branching out but a little scary as well. I also soon became aware that there students who had been doing Programs for Talented Youth from 2-5 years now. So, out of 185 kids maybe 20 already knew each other. 

When I walked into my room, my roommate hadn't arrived yet, so I felt kind of lost. On the bright side, right from the start, VSA had many things planned for us to do. I got to do a painting activity with my proctor group, which is where I met Kiara, who turned out to be one of my favorite people. Throughout the whole three weeks though the existence of my proctor group and the nightly proctor group meetings created a significantly tight bond between those 13 other girls and me. I found that to be one of the best parts of the entire experience. My proctor group was incredibly supportive of each other, and if anyone needed a hug someone was always very willing. 

Having breakfast with my class and TA for the first morning and the following two Mondays also was one of my favorite parts about VSA. Getting to have some food with someone prior to being thrown into a challenging and competitive class makes everything so much easier. I don't know that VSA planned for the TAs to be as impactful as my TA Matthew was, but he was. He encouraged the whole class to pursue physics, but in all seriousness, he was very easy to talk to if we needed help and always had some good advice to give. 

My class itself was amazing and it only reminded me how much I truly love Math. Dawson made the class interesting and I felt challenged in the best way, every single day. Anytime I felt frustrated in class, it was only positive frustration and Dawson acknowledged that. We worked through some really difficult problems sometimes so it was natural to get a little upset, to go over one hurdle just to find another. I also felt very inspired in that class, partially because Dawson showed us some emotional movies about famous mathematicians. The class also made me realize I have about 13 years left to win myself a Fields medal. 

Outside of class, VSA had so many enjoyable things for us to do, SOFT nights included of course. It might sound a little crazy but SOFT nights might have not been the highlight of the VSA experience, even though I've previously stated that I wished the boundaries covered a larger area. My favorite after dinner activity that VSA set up was probably the admissions night and the career panel. Admissions night was incredible because I got to meet my admissions counselor, Brandon Nyswaner. Although that experience was really satisfying, I also got a lot of clarity from the career panel. Like I said in the blog from that night, I figured out a little more how to narrow down my college options and realized that the real decision doesn't have to be made until around April of 2018. Also, when I was doubting myself Rosie and Matthew did a great job of reassuring me that I won't be a failure at life.

I could go into the deepest of details about my time at VSA, but even then I wouldn't be able to accurately convey how I felt there. I was truly and genuinely happy and even stress-free. Sure there were assignments to do and the thought about college applications being right around the corner was in the back of mind, but my priority was to learn as much as I could. Learning doesn't necessarily have to be in the classroom either; there were so many things to talk about with all the different people I met. With the diversity of the classes, I definitely didn't just learn about Math at VSA and I certainly do not regret choosing to spend my summer there. 

New Families in my Life Forever

Little did I know that leaving El Cerrito High School that first morning was going to change my life the way it did. 

I had explored a city that felt absolutely nothing like home with people from home for the first few days of the trip. We visited places that I'd never imagine visiting otherwise. We ate good food and saw good shows and it was overall a very good experience.

Then we were shot into Vanderbilt Summer Academy, where I spent a good 5 minutes crying once I got my luggage into my room. I knew we all had different classes and none of the others were on my floor. I felt a little stranded at night for the first few nights because of that. Then, I really got to know my proctor group, class, and instructors. 

My proctor group was 13 really nice girls, all of whom were taking different classes, our proctor, Lizzy, and myself. We were all very different but we very quickly grew a bond that could be compared to sisterhood. Once we began doing extremely embarrassing things in the nightly meetings and just laughing it off without care or judgement, I knew we had a good thing going. 

Some of the technology I got to see while at VSA
Then there was my class. My class was 16 students strong (knocked down to 15 in the middle of the session due to one of the boys leaving. It was a low point of the trip honestly.) and we had many people helping us along our journey to synthesize nanoparticles. The class was very hard, but I was never left alone to struggle like I have been in advanced programs I have participated in before at home. I had a great relationship with almost everyone in my class and all of the instructors and staff. It felt great to have such a small class and be reasonably challenged with support.

The hardest part of any of this was leaving. I tried to lie to myself a little bit and say that if we never said goodbye, none of us would ever leave. Of course, I knew that that was the dumbest lie I will ever tell to myself, as Ms. Hansen came to pick us up anyways. 

Once we were in Philadelphia I found that it felt a lot more like home. However, I felt more at home in Nashville than I did in Philadelphia. Sure, I spent three weeks in Nashville and a day and a half in Philly, but even when I first touched down in Nashville I felt at home. I felt like I belonged and that it would be a great place to be while going to university. 
Evan VS Ms. Hansen at giant Connect Four
Of course, all good things come to an end and we had to go home on Sunday. I'm missing the trip, but I'm glad to be home and I am so grateful for Don and everyone else who helped fund and get me to places where I'd never thought I'd be in my life. 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Home Sweet Home

The last couple of days I've been sick and preparing for school, so I haven't quite been able to get to this blog. But here I am and ready to go.

So Sunday was the day we went to go visit Independence Hall and see the Liberty Bell. It was really amazing to see such a piece of history of the country. We took a short tour of the hall, walked through the exhibit for the Liberty Bell, and we even see horse-driven carriages around the site.
The Liberty Bell!!!

Once noon began rolling around we all went to the Reading Terminal market for food and walking around. We ended up splitting into pairs and meeting back in an hour. There was so many options for good food in the market, and a lot of it was sweets. 

Once we had left the market, we went to the house where the Declaration of Independence was aired and then we visited Ben Franklin's grave before heading to the airport. It was almost haunting to see Franklin's grave because of how long he's been gone and the effect he had on the history of America. It's like meeting a celebrity honestly.

The flights home where long and boring honestly. I was too tired to really talk to anyone, but there was a really cool cat on the plane from Philadelphia from Chicago. She was a Norwegian Forest Cat named Kasey and her owner's name was Jim. She was surprisingly well at handling plane flights for a cat.

Once we had finally landed in San Francisco I was so glad to be able to breathe that California air again and not be bogged down by the humidity. After we had gotten on the shuttle and arrived at El Cerrito High School, we reunited with our families again and headed home. 
Reuniting with my family. :)

Reflections Not in a Mirror

Here I am a couple of days after my time with the ILC and the VSA, still thinking about it all. I still can barely believe that I took part in such an amazing adventure, one that took place in little under a month. Most of my friends here in the Bay Area did not spend their summer being academically challenged, making new friends on the other side of the country, and making connections that will last far into the future. Hopefully they didn't spend any time in the hospital either - I recommend every part of our trip but that one. With that one exception, I would say that they missed out on an amazing opportunity to enrich not only themselves but the community they're in. After these three and a half weeks, I feel like I am a better person, one able to not only help themselves, but help those around them - one of the most important aspects of being a good person in general.

Our first few days were spent getting to know Nashville, taking in the sights around us as we got used to a place that was markedly different than home. After not too long though, we started the main reason we were there in the first place: the Vanderbilt Summer Academy.

And of course, my amazing instructor Jason.
The VSA taught me a lot both in and out of the classroom. In the classroom, I was taught the mathematics of cryptography along with 14 other students who had no idea what was going on most of the time. That was a good thing though, because we were able to work together to solve problems that none of us had ever seen before. It was awesome. None of us had an advantage of being smarter or knowing more than the others - we all had fun, worked hard, and figured things out as a team. This is one of the most important things I'll take away from the VSA, how to work together as a team and figure things out together. This skill will be one that I'll use for the rest of my life, I'm sure.

Outside of the classroom, I made new friends and heard about places I've never been. Many students were local (within a few states of Tennessee) but each of them had a different story to tell. It was amazing to me to see how similar, yet how different, everyone was from each other. Here we were, bright students from all over the country, talking and laughing and generally having a great time in our classes like we had been friends for much longer than a few days. I loved it. I'm still in contact with many of the friends I made there, and I'm sure I will be for years to come. VSA leaves me not only with newfound skills, but friends as well.

An awesome selfie in front of a life-size
mars rover at JPL
Outside of the classroom (this time in the hospital) I was better introduced to the people who run the program, one of whom left me with an amazing opportunity. Eric, Todd and Tamra stayed with me in the hospital for hours, and I'm grateful to them for their time spent with me. Eric was the one who gave me an amazing opportunity while we were there, however. He put me into contact with his friend, Kyle, who works at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. For someone who wants to go into the aerospace industry, it was a dream come true. Yesterday I not only visited JPL with Kyle, but I was told of an internship opportunity that I could apply for that would happen next summer. And to think, that if I hadn't come to VSA none of this would've happened.

For everything that I was able to learn and do, I want to thank everyone involved. Don, for almost single-handedly putting the ILC together year-after-year; the staff at VSA for having the best summer program I've ever attended (and Eric, for such an amazing opportunity); Ms. Hansen, for coming along with us; the numerous sponsors who contributed money to the ILC to send not only our cohort but others as well back for the experience of a lifetime; and of course, my parents, for being cool with the fact I'd be spending three and a half weeks in a place I've never been. Thank you all so much, because the ILC was the best thing I've done with my summer. Ever.