Monday, July 30, 2012


It was such a beautiful day in New Haven when we checked in to our dorms and began our first day in the Ivy Scholars Program. We are staying in Jonathan Edwards College, which is located in the Old Campus in Yale.

I had the opportunity to take a short campus tour with a group of students later in the afternoon, which I was especially grateful for since the previous tour we took was directed towards engineering. The architecture is breathtaking, and the history surrounding them is just as interesting.

I have already been assigned a plethora of reading material for upcoming seminars, and I am looking forward to learning as much as I can here.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Here We Are

One of our few restrictions here on campus. Not much time for games.
 Here we are.

We toiled, we were exhausted, and we worked long and hard to get this far into the program, to be able to say "I am able to attend Grand Strategies." And now, here we are, ready and waiting to take on the world.

I woke up this morning hardly believing that these were my last few moments at the Omni. I'm happy to say that, for once, I managed to sleep in. It was amazing.

After waking up, packing the last pieces, I had a quick breakfast with the rest of our group and we bid our final farewells to Ms. Kronenberg and Mr. Ramsey. It was great to be able to talk with them while they were out here, and I sincerely hope they had a good flight back home.

We said our own goodbyes to the Omni after packing our bags and heading downstairs to Mr. Litvin's car to unload at John Edwards College. There, we met with Mrs. Willow, one of the two residential college directors. She helped us bring our bags in and sent us to registration.  There, we received our keys, backpacks (complimentary apparently), ID cards, meal cards, and instructions.

Here, I have to give a quick tip of the hat to coincidence (or fate, or whatever you want to call it). My Marshall Brief adviser happened to be no other than Yohanna, and my roommate is, wait for it, Roger. Even all the way out here, I am getting a nice touch of home.
Me pointing at Harkness Tower.
Jonathan Edwards College, our residential college.

The local friendly squirrel.
The Jonathan Edwards Theatre.
I explored a bit of our dormitories with Roger and a suitemate we met. It is rather cozy here, with a nice common room and several bedrooms for a total of seven residents. The college itself has interesting amenities underground, everything from a theatre to an art gallery and even a printing press. I also managed to go on a quick tour of the Yale campus, which we missed out on earlier in the week. The tour allowed me the opportunity to get to know some of the kids from Grand Strategies (GS).
Bicentennial Complex and the Commons.
Sterling Memorial Library.
Later in the evening, the staff under Dean Coburn-Palo and Director Wittenstein conducted an introduction to the Grand Strategies program at the Great Hall of Jonathan Edwards College. They welcomed all of us and introduced the instructors and program officials, as well as stated that the purpose of the program was to put everything "humanly possible" in front of us and see where we take it.

After a nice dinner, Dean Coburn-Palo walked us to a theatre to watch a documentary and conducted a discussion afterwards. It was a great insight on how people thought, and I myself was really aching to be called sometime during the discussion to speak.

Today has been long, and honestly, arduous. But it's nothing I can't handle, and after being here for only 12 hours, I can say for certain that this is exactly where I want to be. I couldn't have chosen a better program.

We Now Begin

Today was the first day of the Yale's Grand Strategies course. We moved into the dorms around 11 a.m. and settled down. I was eager to find out who was going to be my new roommate. Strangely enough, I found out that Jobel, one of my cohorts, was my roommate. It isn't exactly what I was anticipating but at the same time it isn't a bad thing. We are in a suite that has five total bedrooms and accommodates 7 people. I do not have the experience of meeting a new roommate but there are plenty of people in my suite to meet and befriend.
Jonathan Edwards

The first thing I did here was my laundry. While I was letting my clothes wash and dry, I went to lunch with my cohorts and a few other Grand Strategies students. The people here are very friendly and this creates a warm environment. After I finished my lunch I went to the dining hall and met up with everyone else. Here we had our orientation and this was initiated with speeches that the dean and the director gave. We were introduced to the staff and faculty members of the Grand Strategies program. I found it interesting that all of our instructors were very accomplished and successful in many areas of education.

The cafeteria here didn’t have much food options but otherwise it was pretty good. Once dinner was finished, we met up with our Marshall Brief instructors and took a tour around the boundaries of which we aren’t supposed to cross. This isn’t a problem since the area encompasses several stores. I did not find out what topic my Marshall Brief will be on but I was able to meet my group. There are a total of 10 students in my group. I can only begin to imagine the discord during the making of the Marshall Brief but I have no doubt we will excel.
Dining Hall

My Marshall Brief Group

Once we finished walking around the boundaries, we immediately went to a building to learn about the rules and regulations. The rules were straightforward and reasonable. After this, people had the choice to go rest at the dorm if necessary or go to the theater and watch a documentary. The Fog of War is a documentary on the life of the U.S Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. Once the documentary was completed, we discussed topics like the bombing of Japan during WW2 and how we would react to certain scenarios if we were the president.

The dormitories, dinners, and lectures make it feel as if I’m already in college. I can tell that the experiences to be made here will certainly prepare me for college. I’m surrounded by students that are at the top of the tier and this inspires me to do well. Coming here, I thought I would’ve been a lot more anxious but that wasn’t the case. The time spent in the east coast has made me realize that I should trust my abilities and if I try my best, I’ll be performing just as well as most people. The next two weeks will be intense, rigorous, and challenging. I’ll be looking forward to this experience.

And At Last, Grand Strategies Begins

Today begin early again. However, this time, none of us were sleepy or drowsy; rather, we were just excited for the rest of the day. After breakfast with Mr.Litvin, Mr. Ramsey, and Ms. Kronenberg, my cohort and I got ready to begin an experience that we have been awaiting for months.

When we arrived at Yale, there were not many people so the check-in process went smoothly. I found out that I live in a suite, but my room is a single, which is pretty nice. After unpacking and relaxing for a while, we went to our orientation tour, ate dinner, and had a small lecture about the rules and regulations that we must abide by. 

Afterwards, we were invited to watch a documentary called Fog of War, which is when we got a real taste of this program. Dean Coburn-Palo questioned and cross questioned us on various topics, including the justification of the atomic bomb, etc. The entire class was engaged in this discussion and everyone had a lot to say; everyone also got stuck when cross-questioned too much. This small showcase of this course was enough to excite me completely, as the topics we discussed today are definitely what I'm completely interested in. 

Tomorrow is the first real day of class and although I am nervous, my excitement surely overrides it.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The End of the Beginning

This feels more of an epilogue in comparison to the blog I wrote last night. Maybe it's because the finality sunk in a bit earlier than I thought it would. Maybe it's because last night ended so well. Or maybe I'm just being melodramatic.

Whatever the case, today marks the end of our first week on the East Coast and the end of our college touring. It has been a fascinating ride the past six days -- I have never felt more like a tourist, a native, and been reminded about college more in my life. Without question, this has been a wonderful start to our program.

Today, our last college tour was an impromptu one. We visited Wesleyan University, a liberal arts college in Middletown (which is actually in the middle of Connecticut). The Vassar students and alumni that dined with us on Thursday told us that Wesleyan was a lot like Vassar, and the night after, our companions at the Yale dinner also suggested that we would like the campus. Honestly, I did not have high expectations.

I was again, happily wrong. Wesleyan was beautiful. The campus was nice and wide open, with quintessential New England-style brick buildings scattered around a huge deep green lawn. It felt calm there, almost as if I was at peace.

We joined up with a large group for a tour of the campus, which was, for such a small school, quite expansive. Many of the departments and buildings were spread out between various quads in the area, many of them being half a mile apart from each other, and sometimes, even streets and blocks apart. The amenities of the school seemed nice enough -- a large well-equipped gym, an entertainment center, laundry rooms, kitchens, large bedrooms to name a few. It had a nice, homey feel to it, which was great.

After the tour was over, we spoke with the two tour guides to clarify a few things. Despite the fact that needs-blind-based admission was discontinued, aid would still be available to most people who applied and are accepted by Wesleyan. They also have a 3-2 and 4-2 engineering partnership at Wesleyan with Columbia University and Caltech -- a very rare and competitive program.

In Middletown, we had lunch at a local restaurant that the Women in Leadership cohort ate at previously. There, we discussed the state of the ILC at each school, focusing particularly on Hercules. I was candid with my responses to Mr. Ramsey's questions, highlighting that apathy was the integral cause to the lack of interest with the ILC. Despite the long discussion and the many arguments given, we failed to reach a final solution, besides, obviously, doing everything we can.

When I returned, I napped a bit before heading out with my cohort one last time. Ms. Kronenberg accompanied Mr. Litvin and the group to the Yale Cabaret, one of the many college-run venues around campus. The location was very secluded, it felt as if we found a college treasure.

We sat and watched the play "The K of D" while snacking on strawberry-rhubarb pie and drank tea from specially-made mugs from the cabaret. It was an excellent way of relaxing before the beginning of the program.

Reflecting on the past week, I am very glad to have live through it. My cohort and I have grown very close, as if we are all brothers and sisters in a very funny, if dysfunctional, family. But I wouldn't have it any other way, The last few days have been wonderful, and I can honestly say that I couldn't think of better people to have spent this week with.

But we must soon split apart, as the Grand Strategies program is about to dawn on us. True, we may not be able to spend as much time as we used to together, but at the very least, we have made memories to keep with us as we move on, and friends to fall back on when we need them.

I remember positing to Mr. Litvin, "This is the beginning of the end. Or the end of the beginning." Depending on the way you look at it, one may be more true than the other. For me, it's the latter. Just because it means that this was just Chapter One.

Reminisce the Past, Await the Future

Today started off with breakfast on the top floor of the Omni Hotel. The top (19th) floor had a surprisingly beautiful view of the architecture of New Haven. It started raining and I was quite ecstatic since it was my first time experiencing rain in the east coast. The car, during our ride to Wesleyan, was relentlessly barraged by raindrops.

Wesleyan’s campus was spacey, beautiful, and had a comfortable environment. It was similar to Vassar but the only difference I would say, is that it was slightly more urban in the sense that it wasn’t so isolated. We had a tour but no information session since they were not available during the weekends. We were able to speak with two tour guides and received extra information about the college. Quite frankly, the school doesn’t fit my criteria mainly because it isn’t urban enough.

We went to lunch right after and had a very interesting discussion about each of our high school. We talked about why students weren’t really buying into the ILC and how to assess the situation. We all certainly agreed that consistent and proactive communication was needed in order to improve the ILC applicant rates. The discussion was very deep and motivated me to better my school. I plan on advocating the ILC at my school by giving presentations to students and helping them through the process. This will be my senior year at high school so I feel as if I should try as hard as I can to make it better for my class and the younger generations.

We got back to the hotel and were able to rest up for about two hours before going to the Yale Summer Cabaret. I decided to take advantage of the fitness gym and burn off some calories from all of the previous dinners. It was great that I managed to get some exercise considering the week’s busy schedule. They say that exercising helps keep the mind and body focused, so this was much needed since the grand strategies course will begin tomorrow.

We congregated later and went go watch the Yale Summer Cabaret. It was very entertaining and the lady that performed was extremely talented. The act was called “The K of D.” It focused on an Ohio urban legend about a girl who had the kiss of death. The cabaret marked the last dinner with our chaperone. After today, we are to be on our own for the next two weeks.

The week has passed by so quickly. We traveled across three states and visited 6 colleges. I will certainly look back on the memories I made with my cohorts. Actually, we’re not only cohorts, but we’re friends. The time we spent together has certainly allowed for us to bond as a group. We’ve all been great to each other and in a way became a family. I hope that the program won’t sever this bond we have. Our jam packed schedule has finally halted and we have reached our destination. My next two weeks will be spent on Yale’s campus. This is a life changing experience. I will certainly reminisce on the past but I will also look forward to the future. 
Skull&Bones 8

Today was the last full day with the kids. Together with Ms. Kronenberg and Mr. Ramsey, we drove up to Wesleyan University, 45 minutes north of New Haven off  highway 91 in Connecticut. Wesleyan is the only school we've visited that has Saturday tours, thus the large turnout.

Part of the charming and aptly named Middletown, the university is beautiful, of course, stately and spacious, more groomed and compact than the slightly wilder, less tamed grounds of Vassar, which is outside of its satellite town and hence closer to nature and the country. 

Like Vassar, Wesleyan has about 2,000 undergrads, living on campus and creating its vibrant artistic and athletic culture. For those who are from the big city and want something more intimate but not too close to the woods (and for whom New Haven is a bit grungy in that big city way), Wesleyan may be the place to come.

The architecture is an interesting mixture of colonial, Gothic (Hogwarts, again), and modern--a mixture that works aesthetically. If one judged by the layout of the campus, one might also get the impression that the mixture of arts and athletics works aesthetically as well. The tour guides, with whom we had a chance to chat after everyone else had gone, supported that impression, by providing many personal and second-hand anecdotes of both the diversity and the togetherness of the student body.

Although Wesleyan is, as of this new term, no longer a need-blind school, in which admissions and finances are completely separate so the latter does not influence the former, the guides explained that Wesleyan is "99%" need-blind, and that there is a strong student push to put that 1% back. 

After Wesleyan, it's back to New Haven and a bit of rest before our cabaret night. The Yale Summer Cabaret offering of the production of "K of D" is a one-woman storytelling tour-de-force. For an hour and a half, we are hypnotized. Ahh, the college life: quality culture, in quantity and on the cheap.

Yale Summer Cabaret, through the red door

Tomorrow morning the cohort says goodbye to Ms. Kronenberg and Mr. Ramsey, our spiritual and physical guides who must get back home. The cohort also says a temporary, two-week goodbye to me. I know I'll be a lot sadder about it than they.

Yale University from my hotel's top floor


This week has been one of the most hectic weeks of my life, as we have had college tours and dinners every day for five days. However, regardless, we were all a bit nostalgic because today was our last tour; we ended our college touring with Wesleyan College, another small liberal arts school much like Vassar. My cohorts and I unanimously agreed that Wesleyan, with its beautiful and vast scenery and tall and majestic buildings, was a good way to end our journey through college touring.

As mentioned, Wesleyan is beautiful. When I walked into the campus, I was appalled at how nice the campus looked. Unlike all of the other colleges we've toured, Wesleyan seemed to focus a lot on its landscape and greenery, which definitely stood out the most.

During the tour, we learned how unique of a school Wesleyan is. Firstly, Wesleyan has an open-course curriculum, which is polar opposite from Columbia's strict core. This open curriculum never really stood out to me before, as I always thought that I would need a core to keep me focused and attentive. The Wesleyan tour guide, however, convinced me otherwise when he told us that he, as a neuroscience major on a pre-med track, completed his pre-med requirements his junior year and is now working on his senior thesis before beginning senior year. This example definitely showed me that a strict core is not necessary to do well in college. Another thing I learned is that Wesleyan, similar to Vassar, has the "3-2 program" for engineering majors. Something different about Wesleyan is that it is partnered with Caltech and Columbia, which was brand new information for me.

In the span of this past week, I have imbibed so much information about so many different colleges that I can now confidently say that I have a much more thorough knowledge of colleges. There is only so much that pamphlets and websites can convey; meeting in person, however, makes things so much more personal and gives people so much more individual perspective. I've taken a lot out of these college visits and now I can comfortably say that I know what I want in college.

After Wesleyan and lunch, we went to a Cabaret, which was a new and fun experience. We watched a one person show and were completely enthralled with her performance and with the plot of the play. At the end, we came to the consensus that Yale drama students are among the most talented people. I can't wait to see what else Yale has in store for us!

Last Stop

Wesleyan was our destination for the morning after we had breakfast in our hotel.

After a half-hour drive through the suburbs, we arrived at the campus. The ground was still wet with the heavy rain that poured throughout the morning, and we walked around the campus in search of the admissions office. During this period, we were able to freely explore the area and enjoy its wide spans of vibrant, green grass.

Most of the buildings are quite modern; although not quite aesthetically appealing, the buildings - dull as they were - were designed to reflect the weather.

Some of the more animated buildings on campus.

Because we visited Wesleyan on a Saturday, unfortunately, information sessions were not available. Our tour guides, however, were plenty informative in their extensive campus tour and a short chat we held afterwards.

Wesleyan has been need-blind until the recent year due to financial issues; despite this, the admissions process does its best not to base decisions solely on whether a student can or cannot afford to attend the institution. One hundred percent of a student's need is met, however, once admitted.

I am very glad to have visited Wesleyan; in all honesty I have not been aware of the school before we scheduled our tour.

This hectic week of a plethora of college visits have exposed me to so many different types of colleges in a myriad of environments; I've learned that keeping an open mind is crucial.

Later this evening my cohort and I, along with Mr. Litvin and Ms. Kronenberg, attended a cabaret ran by the Yale Summer Cabaret. We watched a performance of the K of D (Kiss of Death), and the entire script was delivered by a sole character. She did a fantastic job, and it was great to experience just one of the many activities that students at Yale engage in.

Tonight, we are packing our bags and preparing to check in tomorrow morning at Yale, where we will begin two weeks of an intense educational experience. We are all very excited and ought to rest up for another two weeks of packed activities and work - this time, however, it will be at Yale.

And at Last, New Haven

After a week of college touring and sightseeing, my cohort and I finally made it to New Haven, Connecticut this afternoon.

The first thing we did was go to Yale for another information session and tour. The info session was held by a charismatic and enthusiastic Yale alumni who gave us more insight into Yale than we expected. We learned about the endless opportunities Yale has to offer for its students, but more specifically, we learned about how Yale tries so hard to main individualism. As we were told, no two people -even those with similar majors and interests - have the same schedules. This desire to maintain individualism really shed a new light about Yale, as before, I was under the assumption that most institution preferred assimilation. We were also given information about how integrated the Yale undergraduates are. For example, in Yale, one does not apply into any specific school (school of sciences and engineering). Rather, she applies only for Yale college, which is the only undergraduate sub-school there is. This is really interesting to me because I like the concept of studying sciences and engineering in a liberal arts school, because while Yale can still provide me with everything I need to do well in engineering, I can still devote some of my time to studying other fields in liberal arts.

Next, we went to an engineering tour (which, I thought, was perfect!). Our tour guide was an ABAT accredited Chemical Engineer who just graduated a few months ago. She showed us all around campus and told us so much information about engineering. I learned that although the Yale School of Engineering is relatively newer, it is still on par with other engineering schools in terms of the opportunities that it offers. This is one thing that I definitely did not know much about, which is why I was all the more excited. Although it is undeniable that Yale is one of the best institutions in the country, not many people are aware of its engineering department specifically, which is one thing that counselors and teachers can work on. Because of this tour, Yale has definitely moved to the top of my list of schools that I want to apply to.

The dinner solidified my liking for Yale because all of the guests told me their different perspectives of Yale and why they like it. They talked to me about abroad studies and research opportunities, singing groups and clubs, and so many other things that just exponentially increased my interest in Yale. No two people talked to me about the same thing, which I really enjoyed. Also, who really helped enthrall me was the admissions officer, Aaron. The advice he gave and the things he said made me inspired and excited to apply to all colleges, not just Yale.

Overall, I found that hearing about first-hand experiences helps a lot more than just hearing about the information about the school. I found that learning about all of the amazing things that our dinner guests are doing in their time at Yale makes me that much more interested in Yale.

After one last college tour of Wesleyan, I start my course in the beautiful school that has already captured my heart. I can't wait!

Noveau Havre

Time is fluid -- people always misconstrue it as a linear machination, a device that has a beginning and an end, and a straight, consistent line between the two. While there are beginnings and endings, while there are straight lines, these are never consistent. Never.

What I mean is that time doesn't make any sense. And I feel this far too much right now.

Today is Friday. I departed from El Cerrito High School 100 hours ago. In those 100 hours, I have made friends, found revelations, reveled in unfamiliarity and leveled in exhaustion. This first week is close to coming to a close. And I am very grateful that I this is how my trip started out. 

Today, we reached the final destination for our trip, New Haven, Connecticut, after a train ride that seemed to take eternity. On the way to our hotel, the Omni New Haven, I observed the surrounding city. The area actually reminded me a lot of home, particularly San Pablo, Richmond, and Berkeley. It was surprisingly familiar but brand new, too.

Dropping off our bags, we set off for Yale. The university was not far away from our hotel, and was a short walk away. We found a large mass of people waiting outside the admissions office. Latching onto a random group, we attended an information session (which was, incidentally, one given by the departing Northern California admissions officer, Alexander Richardson). He covered some of the basics on Yale -- including financial aid (which is partially paid for by the work a student does), the credits system at Yale (one class per credit) and the general character of the student body (friendly and curious).
One of the few buildings on Science Hill.

The streets of New Haven, inside the campus.

This pizza is delicious.
As soon as the information session was over, we made our way back to the admissions office for the engineering tour. A graduate named Taneja showed us around the sciences and engineering buildings, educating us about the many programs engineering students can take at Yale. These was in a system of tiers -- a degree, a dual degree, and a dual degree with accreditation. After the tour, Taneja was nice enough to show us personally to the bookstore and suggest a local pizza parlor. We had mashed potato, bacon, and onion pizza -- an absolutely amazing experience.

My last college-tour meal.
I napped a bit when we returned to the hotel, before a nice, casual dinner (who would've thought?) at the Union League Cafe, where we met up with Yohanna and a few other students and alumni. One of them in particular, Aaron Shipp, was a wonderful speaker with a strong personality and also very funny. As someone who had worked in undergraduate admissions at Yale before, he advised us on the most important part of applying. In regards to the personal statement, he made one major suggestion: be totally honest and be moving. Admissions officers want to be moved and impressed in a short space -- a personal statement written to embody the person who wrote it would not be beaten.

Perhaps it was his delivery of it, but his advice really rung true. I began to devise what I needed to work on soon. 

Aaron left us with one last piece of advice -- "Do not waste this opportunity."

We couldn't have ended this week on a more important note.

New Haven, New Heaven?

We arrived in New Haven after a 1 1/2 hour train ride from New York. The weather here is hot and somewhat humid but not nearly as bad as the weather in Washington D.C. We soon arrived at the Omni Hotel after renting a car from Avis rental cars. We dropped off our baggage and then left to Yale. It's strange that we're touring Yale even though my cohorts and I will be studying here for the next two weeks. The rationale behind this is that we won't be able to tour much due to the rigor of the course, which makes perfect sense.

So when we arrived at Yale's campus, I noticed that the community surrounding it actually resembled my home city. I heard that the neighborhood wasn't the greatest, but for me, I felt right at home. We met Alex Richardson, the former admissions officer of northern California, and were fortunate enough to have him give our information session. We weren't able to have a general campus tour but instead had an engineering tour. After the tour we went to the bookstore with the help of our engineering tour guide, Taneja. We bought our Yale sweatshirts then headed to a pizza store for a quick meal.

We got back to the hotel and had about two hours to rest before the dinner. We walked three blocks down the street and soon enough, arrived at Union League Cafe, a French restaurant. Dinner began accordingly and everyone arrived on a timely matter. The students and alumni from Yale were extremely insightful. To make it even better, two grand strategies instructors, Yohanna Pepa and Grier Barnes were there to join us for the evening. As dinner progressed so did our conversations. Aaron Shipp, a Yale alumni and former freshman counselor shared with us valuable information on the application process.

Aaron emphasized the importance of exposing the depth of one’s true character during the personal statement. He told us that as long as it can reflect the type of person we are, we have a much better chance of getting accepted. We are an individual and our life alone makes us special. This made me realize that although grades and test scores matter, the application doesn’t entirely revolve around that. He also mentioned that if we have a dream college, we should not only dream, but achieve it. His words of wisdom opened my perspective on the college application process and not only that, invigorated my desire to achieve where ever I go.

Most students can agree that Yale has a very friendly and intellectual environment. The campus is beautiful and isn’t overly populated. It is within an urban environment yet still retains a peaceful atmosphere. I will definitely look into Yale as a college option. Will New Haven be my new heaven? I won’t make any decisions while I’m on the east coast in fear that my decisions will be biased. I’ll have to think things through at home where my mind is at peace. For now, I’ll soak in as much information as I can about the college opportunities offered in the east coast. 

Friday, July 27, 2012

Skull&Bones 7

Arrived in New Haven at 1 p.m. and off to tour. The office of admissions was packed, the lawn outside also.   (Friday?) We were planning on tour first and info session last, but then here comes Alex Richardson, Northern California rep., leading his last group to his last info session on his last day of work, and then he's off to Texas. So we join his group. 

Mr. Richardson, of all the admissions officers we've listened to this past week, is the only one to put numbers on the board. And guess what? Those numbers gave me hope. Our kids--my kids, too--can go to a school like Yale. It is not about the finances. It is about being an educated, well-rounded, interesting, "rising" human being. Mr. Richardson spoke at length not about test scores, although they count, nor about GPA, though that counts too. Again for the first time this week, it was mostly about the personal statement. 

What he said made me feel good about what I've been telling my students all these years, what I've been teaching them. The average prospects' impulse on these papers is to go conservative, and that's understandable; risk equals potential failure, rejection. So risk reduction is the name of the game on their personal statements. Why make waves? So it's always the same boring stuff that's already apparent on the transcripts, applications, and counselors' recommendations. 

But the thing is, the student who gets into Yale is the one who lets the application and transcript stand for themselves, the one who takes a chance on the statement and reveals, reflects, tells a good story. That takes practice. It should take the whole first quarter of senior year, seminar style, with plenty of peer and teacher reviews and plenty of examples from the masters. 

We've missed the day's last general tour, but we're still on for the engineering tour, and boy did we luck out again. Taneja Young, chemical engineering graduate and international student from Trinidad and Tobago, guided us through the ins and outs of Yale's various engineering tracks.

In front of the cemetery where Eli Whitney is buried, and inside the building where undergrads get to play with made-to-order lab equipment, we are awed by the extent to which this school allows its engineers to work, to experiment, to express themselves--to play. 

Yale, she told us, never forgets and never forgets to remind its engineers that they are keepers and creators of culture as much as artists, scientists, and all the practitioners of the humanities. Thus, Yale allows its engineers to follow their inspirations not only on campus, in small-group, almost individualized settings, but also anywhere on the globe that their inspirations take them. 

Ms. Young is so cool that she walks us to the bookstore, a half mile away, all the while telling us her story, revealing the details of her own Yale experience that give life and color and truth to all the information we just got on the tour. 

Later in the evening, at the Union League Cafe, we hosted Ms. Vera Wells and Mr. Aaron Shipp of an organization called Y-Apply, as well as Yohanna Pepa, our own district's alumna and now Yale student by day and instructor of the Grand Strategies program for rising high school seniors by summer. In the next two weeks she will instruct the Yale cohort of the Ivy League Connection in the modern, practical, everyday applications of Machiavelli's ideas. Of course, I begged her to let me sit in, just once. 

Ms. Wells is an alumna (1971) with a wealth of history and tradition to impart, as well as the breaking of tradition: 1971 is actually a year earlier than the graduation of Yale's first co-ed class written about in the history books. Mr. Shipp, actor, life-coach, co-founder, with Ms. Wells, of Y-Apply, is a force of nature and a joy to sit next to. Y-Apply is a volunteer organization that does on the East Coast, on a (for now) less  grand scale, what the ILC does in the West Contra Costa Unified School District  in the SF Bay Area. 

So we had a lot of notes to share and stories to swap. We will definitely meet Y-Apply again. Others who were at the dinner but whom, due to seating arrangements, I unfortunately did not get to know, were Emily Farr, Yohanna's suite-mate, Grier Barnes, who is working as an instructor for Ivy Scholars (Grand Strategies is one program of three), Joshua Ackerman, who works at the Yale Admissions Office, and Lorenzo Labitigan, senior, freshman counselor, and Yale tour guide.

Joshua and Emily had to leave earlier
I'm sure the cohort's blogs will more that make up for my missing the opportunity to speak with Ms. Farr, Ms. Grier, Mr. Ackerman, and Mr. Labitigan. Next year I will sit next to them. 

One more day with the kids and then I have to let them go do their college thing. 

I'll miss them. 

Final Destination

We arrived in New Haven, Connecticut, by train shortly after noon. 

As my cohort and I stepped onto Yale's campus, I noted streets interweaving the campus; perhaps this should not have surprised me - New Haven, after all, is a very urban city.

We joined a tour that catered to those interested in Yale’s engineering program; although I do not consider engineering as my area of interest, it was a new experience visiting various science buildings and research facilities.

In regards to engineering, undergraduates can begin research as freshmen; students also usually seize the opportunity to conduct research abroad during their junior year.

Yale provides a very supporting environment for its students. Aside from the facts that Yale faculty is world-class and superb, the institution also provides continuous assistance to its students and their educational endeavors, especially financially.

Because we did partake in the engineering school, I was especially glad that we had the opportunity to sit down for an informational session with Alex Richardson, the former admissions officer assigned to the Northern California region where the WCCUSD lies. 

Students may apply to Yale through early action - the great part is that it is not binding. Even if a student is admitted to Yale early, he has time to reach a decision and change plans in regards to other schools.

A corner at Yale University.
 This evening, we dined with admission officers, student counselors, as well as current and past Yale students, which included a number of our instructors for Grand Strategies.

Seared tuna.
I felt very fortunate to have had the opportunity to sit down with the students and listen to them tell of their experience at one of the most prestigious universities in the world. It is not hard to miss the fact that they love Yale and all it has to offer its students.  

The students as well as Mr. Aaron Shipp bestowed upon us pearls of wisdom regarding the college application progress, from choosing the perfect school to writing an effective essay.
Roughly paraphrasing, applications must always reflect the student. Allowing yourself to become vulnerable and honest can produce an application with no comparison. Each person is unique; the personal statement is an opportunity to show the admissions counselors a side of the student that cannot be mirrored in the transcript or test scores. 

With that being said, I was very grateful to be able to mingle with the Yale representatives. I am eager to begin our course so we can reach a more informed decision about the institution as we spend two weeks on campus engaged in a rigorous course.

No More of New York

Unfortunately, today is our last day in New York. The past two days spent here has been phenomenal. We met up early in the morning to catch a train to Poughkeepsie, New York. This is when our day truly began.
Vassar College

Vassar College is a highly selective, liberal arts college. When I first arrived there, I immediately realized that this college had a really close knit community. The theater/performing arts here were amazing. It was also interesting to find out that the student body played a major role at the college. I can honestly say that this school is not my “type” because I'm looking for something more urban, but aside from that, this college is really nice. For those that enjoy a college with a strong sense of community, small classroom sizes, and personal attention, Vassar may be the one for you. After the information session, we met with Paola Gentry, our regional admissions officer and introduced ourselves. We exchanged few words and shortly after, went our way.
New York's Skyscrapers

Later, we caught the train to downtown New York. We visited Battery Park, Wall Street, and the 9/11 memorial site. Walking through the 9/11 memorial site was intense. I saw the Survivor Tree, the tree that embodies the hopes of millions of Americans. With this ray of light, we shall continue to grow as a nation and advance not only in our economy, politics, and technology, but advance as a society to where peace is attainable on a global scale. Okay, that was enough of my ranting.

Survivor Tree

Afterwards, we got back to the Empire Hotel and got ready for the dinner. For once, we didn’t have to rush like crazy to get to dinner. We actually had about two hours to get ready. How amazing is that? We took the substation to get to the restaurant, Gordon Ramsey, but later realized that it was easily within walking distance. At the dinner, we met several alumni and an admissions officer of Vassar College. They were all down to earth and eager to talk to us. They majored in areas like political science, business, economics, and theater and performing arts. It was nice that they weren’t interested in making us join Vassar but seemed to be more interested in helping us find the right college. This is the same for all the other colleges that we visited too. Everyone has been wonderful, helpful, and welcoming.

The dinner was delightful. The portions of food were small but plentiful. I was actually looking forward to this type of dinner since the previous meals I had were a bit heavy. I had an array of seafood that included: caviar, clams, crab meat, lobster meat, and halibut. The service was great and all of the waiters and waitresses were friendly. After the desert was finished, they brought complimentary chocolate truffles along with a selection of other teeth rotting delicacies. It sure hit the spot.

We bid farewells around 11 p.m. to the representatives of Vassar. It was a pleasure meeting them and having them over for dinner. My days spent in New York were certainly filled with fun things to do. Precious moments like these past days spent in the east coast are made to be reminisced upon in the future. I’m grateful for everything that the ILC has done for me.  We’re coming Yale!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

How to Learn What College Fits For You

I have always been fascinated with liberal arts colleges. Ever since I learned about Sarah Lawrence from one of my favourite books (if you can guess what it is, please do), the idea of the small research-based community has appealed to me. Many liberal arts colleges are reputed to be incredibly flexible and tight-knit, which I felt fit me immensely.

That is why when we arrived in Poughkeepsie to visit Vassar, I was actually rather excited. I was still nursing a slight headache from the rushed morning, but I was excited. I would finally get to see a top liberal arts college and ascertain whether it was a good fit for me.

The weather was misty and humid, with the scent of petrichor permeating through all of Poughkeepsie. There were dark brick buildings scattered everywhere. The weather and the construction echoed Ithaca to me, the addition of the Hudson River in the area only added to the scene.
The Vassar Chemistry Department.
The central Vassar class hall.
Glass windows that adorn the Thompson Memorial Library.
The frontal facade of a Vassar residential hall.
We toured the campus, taking note of it's uniqueness and the small amount of land it actually had. It is a very small campus, and the student population was apparently only 2400. There were no graduate students and there were no programs for them anyways -- Vassar was dedicated to being just a college. This allowed students to get to know their professors intimately, as well as provided a strong sense of community between the small population. It was practically everything that a big university would not necessarily have. There was no core -- only three classes were required and students were even allowed to create their own majors. This allowed the school to supposedly make up for the small amount of majors that actually are offered. A lot of the administrative decisions were made by student-run governments, and even most of the theatre productions were small 

Once the tour was over, we made our way to the theatre and attended an information session with one of the many admissions officers at Vassar. She covered the application process from top to bottom, from the necessary scores (they ask to send in cumulative scores) to the two Vassar supplements -- the motivation form and the 'Your Space' submission, a submission that can be anything as so long as it is representative of a person.

After the Vassar visit, we shuttled ourselves back to New York City, where Ms. Kronenberg accompanied us for a walk around Battery Park City, Wall Street, and the World Trade Center. We saw the Statue of Liberty from a distance, mingled with the disparate members of Occupy Wall Street, and reflected on the September 11 attacks at the 9/11 memorial.
The Staten Island Ferry terminal at Battery Park.
Looking to the sea from Battery Park. The Statue of Liberty is in the distance.
Wall Street in full force during the day.
The new 1 World Trade Center under construction.
The South Reflecting Pool at the 9/11 Memorial.
To cap off the day, we spent some time at the Gordon Ramsay restaurant at the London. There, we met with several Vassar alums (and one student) to speak about the school. They related stories of how every student knew their professors' love lives, the reasons for choosing Vassar (which was usually because of the fellowship in the community and the small class sizes), and most importantly, gave us general advice about college and senior year, urging us to enjoy it as soon as college applications were done.
My dessert, a mango parfait.
Despite all the perks Vassar seems to have, I couldn't see myself attending classes there. The campus was simply too small, and discounting the possibility that the community might be more friendly or that the professors would pay more attention, I just knew that it wasn't the right fit for me. I needed the hustle and bustle of a mass of people, the ability to access any part of civilization on a whim.

I couldn't have reached any of these conclusions without having taken the chance to visit Vassar and speak with some of their great students. I am sure that it is a beautiful campus, and that the college itself is marvelous for those who are attuned to it.

For now, at least I know I can look elsewhere for that right fit.