Monday, July 30, 2012

I Am My Own Enemy

Its been a week now since my amazing Brown experience. This summer has definitely been one of the best because of the people I met, touring different schools, and learning things about myself that has not been clear to me. I am sad to say that this experience is only a memory now because I remember when I was living it day by day. From this great experience I have drawn out the skills that will help me from now on; mentioning my ideas, being socially active, and everyone has a story so I should always be capable of listening. Considering that this was my first time in the East Coast, the Summer@Brown program was a great kickoff. I would not have imagined it any different because of the qualities I gained and the vast amount of knowledge I gained from Kisa Takesue. Overall, the Women and Leadership class was a great easy for me to develop a new perspective about women and life.

The first week was absolutely great because of the colleges our cohort toured. I learned that all of these schools, Wellesley, Dartmouth, Brandies, and Harvard are amazing academically and have their own philosophy on learning. When I first found out I had the opportunity to tour schools my first instinct was, "For what, I would never get into any of these schools." Now, I say to myself, "Anything is possible!" Getting to sit down with current students, alumni, and admissions officer has given me a new perspective of East Coast school. Because of the Ivy League Connection I have the courage to apply to these schools. Visiting these schools have been mind blowing because of the students I learned from in a short amount of time and knowing that I do not have to know what I want to do with my life when I go to college. A major take back from these colleges is that even though I may not have it figured out yet, the pieces will fall into place as I find what I love to do.

The Women and Leadership has taught me so many things. I never thought of Kisa as the "teacher" because she was apart of the class, made my experience memorable through her involvement with the class, her feedback was very constructive, and I learned from other people as well. My peers taught me the value of listening and their outlook on life. I have never met a group so profound and passionate about what they were learning. From this class I was able to explore my own mind because of the challenges it created for me. I learned what kind of leader I am, my new found opinions, and that I am my own enemy.

The program challenged me to live like a college student. I was able to experience the food, dorm life, and most of all the students. Living like a college student had taught me that I have to make the best out of my experience. On the other hand, you aren't going to college for the luxurious dorms, you are going to college for an education. That being said, I did not let the dorms affect me as much.

Learning from peers, advice from Kisa, and support from the entire class I was able to create an action plan that relates to my own struggle. As a freshman in high school I always struggled finding my place and have been ridiculed for it. I wanted to bring my own experience to help freshmen comprehend diversity. From my observations freshmen often are pressured into drugs, gangs, alcohol, and skipping class to "fit in" or be "cool". I want to showcase the diversity among the freshmen class so the pressure of being "cool" is nonexistent. My first step is to get the administration on board with my plan and agree to move forward. Next I will be creating a survey where 9th grade students will address the problem they see within their own class and how do they think it can be fixed. Following will be a panel of students who have experienced the problems the 9th grade students have identified in the survey. Lastly, the freshmen class will be creating a quilt where they become united through their cultural and moral differences. In order to determine success, I plan to hand out evaluation forms where these students and staff can rate the experience, mention what I could have done better, and what they got out of this experience.

In retrospect, without the Ivy league connections Big Three this whole Summer@Brown would not have been possible. This summer has impacted my life vastly; the people I met, the things I learned about myself, new observations and opinions, and new grown confidence. Now that I am back in California I can implement my action plan and incorporate the skills I learned into my daily life. Most of all, I am going to tell people that they should really apply to the ILC because they have really opened my eyes and doors for me. In closing, anything is possible and I need to be my own best friend.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

From the Parents of Ying-An Wang

Growth in Every Step with ILC
The first time we heard about the Ivy League Connection (ILC) was when Ying-An mentioned a school assembly regarding ILC toward the end of fall semester. His eyes sparked with some excitement and uncertainty. After some research, we all thought this would be a valuable experience if he could grasp this opportunity, a precious funded opportunity to study summer programs at Ivy League schools that we could not afford.

Over the winter break, he worked on the essays for the ILC applications. A willingness to trade off short-term play time for a life-changing rewarding experience was a hidden test embedded in the ILC application process, and we were glad that Ying-An made a wise decision.

The wait for the interview list was longer than expected (several days past the scheduled notification date) and created some anxiety. His hope level went from high to almost zero. Plucking up courage with preparation to face the reality of being rejected, he followed up with Don and quickly got a hopeful response. The interview list was not sent out on time due to some delay in the selection process. The delay resulted in only two days to prepare for the interview. It was somewhat a nerve wrecking experience for Ying-An, as this was his first interview experience and had only such a short time to prepare. He took up the challenge and did the best he could.

Even he was not satisfied with his interview performance, I was very hopeful in the waiting room because I knew he has always set a very high standard for himself. He was totally surprised when the selection result was announced. Regardless a long night, it concluded with excitement for the whole family. If not for ILC, he would not have been through all the essay writing and interview experience that he will eventually face when applying for colleges.

Along the way, he participated in the blog webpage design, gained blogging skills, was presented to the School Board, and enjoyed a fancy dinner and meeting with sponsors and Brown alumni. He learned that his responsibilities came with privileges given in each of the events.

During the four-week trip on the east coast, he completely soaked himself in all the activities from college tours, dinners with network resources, the biotech course, exploring campus and places, bonding with his cohort and meeting new friends. The whole experience has changed him. The immediate impression when we saw him at the airport was that he looked more confident. And he should feel confident as he managed to adapt to a new environment and take care of things on his own the first time being away from home for four weeks. He is now more enthusiastic about going to college. Ivy League schools and MIT that seemed unreachable are now under his consideration for applying. He is also more sure that biotech is the field he wants to pursue.

We would like to thank Mr. Ramsey, Ms. Kronenberg, and Don for the countless hours and effort they have devoted to ILC. We also want to thank Ms. Kaplan for taking excellent care of the students. We appreciate very much for the wonderful opportunity given to Ying-An. There is no doubt that the whole experience has expanded his knowledge, broadened his perspective, and enriched his life experience. This experience has also prompted him for self discovery. He has striven for excellence and might have set a high bar for himself. By recognizing that not every thing comes easily, he will work harder, improve, and grow.

From the Father of Kelly Xi

I might be the last one of all the parents to write, but not the least to appreciate the ILC program. It was Kelly's second time to go. I was a little bit disappointed to know that she was not even selected in the first round. When she was called for the interview, I did not have too much confidence if she could make it to the final. I tried to comfort her by telling her that it is fair to let other kids have the same opportunity. She surprised me again with her well rounded preparation and confident presentation in front of the board members. Since Kelly already had her experience from last year, I was not worried for her at all for her 4 weeks away from home. I tried not to call her and let her handle things independently.

By the way, kids were together with the two most wonderful chaperones. Why should I worry? To tell the truth, I did not have the time to read all she wrote everyday, but I tried to make sure that she wrote everyday. As she was always a last minute person, she managed to write and post except missing a few times for some reasons. It is fair to say that she is much better this year in terms of keep writing her blogs. She is obviously more mature and confident.

The ILC experience really prepared the kids well for college both academically and mentally. By reading her last long blog, I am very impressed and proud of her idea to plan mock interviews to prepare other students for the ILC. I noticed that she uses the word "community" more often these days since she's returned. In my mind, when the kids learn to appreciate or give back what they received to their community, they are getting mature. A few years ago, we moved to Hercules from Davis and I thought we made a mistake for the kid. For the past two years, I actually feel lucky to have moved down here to live in the West county. Our school district has done an excellent job to overcome the disadvantages financially and geographically. They have worked so hard to unite the local businesses and community, to create such a wonderful program for our kids. When I proudly talk about our school district to my colleagues, they showed their envy in their eyes. I have not heard any other school district with similar program.

When I talk about our school district, I always mean the strong leadership from Mr. Ramsey, Ms Kronenberg and other board members that I could not name them individually, the generous sponsors and Don and all the staff involved. I really admire Don so much for his dedicated works. Please don't forget that he is a volunteer for us. He has done more than any of parents did. Mr. Ramsey really set a good sample for the kids and the parents how to follow the rules. I like the chaperones because they acted like parents, babysitting my smart but hard-headed teenager.

The party was over especially for Kelly. She is going to college next year. I don't know where she will end up. But I want her to realize that she might be smart but somebody else created the chance for her. She has to appreciate all the help from others and to give back to the community some day. 

Finally, I wish more kids from our West county will benefit from this unique ILC program. No matter where you go, be proud of where you are from.

Million thanks again to the people that I mentioned above and not mentioned but involved. You all are great people!

Side Xi

From the Mother of Nick Shebek

Our son, Nick heads to Brown: Insightful Rising Senior Returns
Junior year at El Cerrito High for Nick seemed to require better family communication skills than prior years; there were school and club sports practices that still required rides; college admission tests to schedule, classes to juggle, and Ivy League Connection deadlines to track. Things seemed to go relatively smoothly; and we were glad when Nick was selected for Brown's macroeconomics course; an area of study which we thought he might find to be a nice combination of practical knowledge and mathematics, located in the heart of New England, where Nick would love to attend college.

My husband and I both grew up on the East Coast, and the opportunity for Nick to become more familiar with the pace, the lifestyle and the humidity should serve him well. The Ivy League Connection deadlines were going by quickly--we had met with the chaperones and cohorts at a casual potluck dinner at the high school; we had carpooled to the blogging training session, we had a moment of anxiety when the School Board meeting might have conflicted with a post season varsity baseball game, but all was on track as we boarded BART for our dinner at Boulevard with Brown alumni, School Board members and ILC sponsors. Nick was going to be speaking that evening; and was very entertaining with his pre-dinner jitters en route to San Francisco. He did well; fit in a Boston Celtics reference and got a smile from many of the guests, and we enjoyed a great dinner. I sat between two recent Brown graduates; both of whom spent some of their professional career with investment houses; my experiences as a commodities trader when they were toddlers both dated me, and provided a bit of a common language.

As I learned about Brown that evening, I saw that it fostered creativity and a strong sense of community. Soon after the dinner there were finals and SAT subject tests; quick double checks of the items needed list, and before we knew it, Nick was on his way.

The college visits had a huge impact; Nick was impressed with Yale, intrigued by Dartmouth, and thought Wesleyan might be a good fit for his younger sister when the time came. The opportunities to mingle with recent alumni and admissions staff further rounded his impressions of the schools. I think it's fair to say that Nick was blown away by MIT; besides its well-earned reputation as a top engineering school, Nick was glad its students were well rounded; that its humanities offerings were stellar as well. Meeting with alumni, Nick enjoyed their sense of humor, and glad to learn that majors weren't declared until sophomore year. On top of all of that, it is in Boston, home of the Celtics and the Red Sox; Nick is descended from a long line of New England sports fans. The one issue is that it is nearly impossible to be accepted, but at this time, Nick wants to apply.

On his return home, he set up his "mymit" account, read through the college materials that had accumulated in his absence, and seemed to be more focused and reflective. Nick enjoyed the macroeconomics course; it made him realize that if doesn't find his passion in engineering, there are other areas that will interest him. The pace of the class was challenging and in retrospect, he realized that Mr. Coleman had covered an enormous amount of material in just over two weeks. At the dinner at Mistral I suspect he already knew this was getting to be the end of a wonderful journey, and he enjoyed interacting with his cohorts as well as Brown II students and the alumni from the local prestigious schools visited by the various Brown groups. There was such a change in our son; he called more frequently than on other trips wanting to share insights he had learned about himself; joke with his sister about blog titles, advising her on the 'errors' of his high school career, encouraging to stretch herself in many directions.

For me, I've realized that there is now a whole new network of folks that I wouldn't have met except for the Ivy League Connection; I've made "linkedin" connections with young traders in the investment arena from Brown; I realized that when I reached out to an attorney in Hercules for a district-wide parcel tax measure initiative that he may have known Terilyn Chen as a mock trial attorney coach. Sure enough he did; Terilyn heads off to Harvard, he shared, a fact that was known to the other parents at the School Board meeting where Terilyn shared her Harvard interview experiences with the new ILC students.

The Ivy League Connection can be about more than opening WCCUSD students' eyes to the opportunities across the country; it can be about making connections locally. Coming from the East Coast thirty years ago, we had been envious of students who could study at the UCs for a fraction of the price. We had looked forward to taking advantage of California's university system for our own children, and frankly hadn't thought much of sending our children to the East Coast before the Ivy League connection reminded us that things change; and that now, WCCUSD students can stand out as talented contributors to a college campus in the Ivy League. I really believe that Nick's experience with the ILC has put him in a position where he will make an informed, intelligent and socially aware decision about where he is most likely to succeed in college.

We are so grateful for the ILC sponsors and team with the vision to keep all doors open for our WCCUSD students.

Thanks again, Karen and Pete Shebek

Translating Knowledge Into Action

I have only been home for a week since returning from my trip to the East Coast, but the trip is becoming less tangible everyday, and morphing itself into an eye-opening, inspirational memory that I will look back on for motivation when I need it. Although the trip is over in a literal sense,  I know that figuratively it is just gathering momentum - I gained so much from this experience both academically and socially that I will be able to carry over into my everyday life.  I now have courage to both be myself and improve myself. I brought back with me from the East Coast a more developed perspective on life, and a more open mind to the world.

My first week on the East Coast was incredibly valuable for me in terms of college. I learned so much from touring campus and conversing with both current students and alums; a few messages that I heard from multiple people will stick with me. One of these is that college is what you make of it. The Ivy League Connection has opened my eyes to the plethora of wonderful colleges that are out there for me; now is the time for me to take advantage of these opportunities and, once I decide where to go, make the best of my time there. I met many different students from multiple colleges on this trip, but one quality that they all carried was intellectual curiosity and a love of life. Intellectual curiosity. That is a phrase that I heard from someone at Dartmouth, and I think it's a really important quality to have going into college. I feel that I have developed this quality since taking Women and Leadership at Brown. I have a desire to continuously learn and grow that I didn't have before the trip. Meeting wonderful students from various colleges was proof to me that having a intellectually curious, open-minded perspective makes all the difference in the experience one has in college.

Another message that I picked up from a lot of people I talked to is that it's ok to go into college not knowing what direction you want to take your life in. Many people who I met told me that they switched their major several times before settling on one. This was important for me to hear, because I have so many interests right now that I am not sure where I want to take them all in the future. I've realized that college is an ideal time to figure all this out, and try new things as well to figure out my passions. One reason that I really like the idea of liberal arts colleges is that they encourage students to try out classes in lots of different types of subjects, even areas that the students won't necessarily major in.

From taking Women and Leadership at Brown University, I learned tons about myself as a leader and a person. Some of what I learned was unexpected, and contradicted how I have always viewed myself. I also became a lot more comfortable with who I am. This, I believe, is the first step to being able to change the community in which I live - I must first be comfortable with myself, and confident in what I believe. 

Through my classmates, I was able to see and understand the perspectives of other people, and to realize that not everyone views the world even close to the same way that I do. I learned to understand and respect views that may have been different from own. I also realized, however, that although everyone in the class came from unique backgrounds and had unique perspectives, we all had similarities as well. Included in these is the fact that we are all motivated to create positive change in the world in some form or another. 

Learning about leadership styles, practicing public speaking skills, and developing an Action Plan made me excited to return home and actually take action - to put everything that I learned into practice. I am motivated to make a positive difference in my community. 

In my Action Plan, I hope to become a part of already-existing trail-building organizations in my community, and help these organizations with their projects by bringing in volunteers from my high school to volunteer during trail work days. This Action Plan has a few goals. By helping build and maintain trails, I hope to create a place for people to work out and simultaneously enjoy the natural beauty of Northern California. I want to maintain the trails in such a way that they do not harm already-existing natural ecosystems, therefore respecting nature. By bringing in volunteers from my high school to help build trails, I hope to show more people that they have the opportunity to exercise and experience nature close to their own homes. In this way, I will make them more aware of the natural environment. Ideally, this exposure will help them learn to respect the environment more as well. 

Through this trip, I gained skills, knowledge, and perspectives that I will apply to all aspects of my life. I also discovered a motivation inside of me to continue to learn and grow as a person. I would like to thank everyone involved with the ILC who made this trip possible for me. 

Saturday, July 28, 2012

It Doesn't Stop Here

“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to San Francisco. We hope you enjoy your stay. The weather is…”  We’re finally home, I thought to myself as the plane touched down on San Francisco International Airport. I couldn’t wait to get off the plane and run to my family. But here I am now, almost a week later, sitting in my living room with the biggest desire to relive the past three weeks.
What those three weeks mean to me is unexplainable. I’ve been sitting in front of this laptop screen for over three hours. As you can see, reflecting on what I call “the best summer of my life” isn’t easy. There are so many things to say, so many feelings to convey. 
Let’s start off with how it affected me academically. Just the first week of the Ivy League trip, where we visited colleges and had dinners with alums, I was already changed. I never would have considered going away for college because I thought that the UCs around my area will be just fine, but now I want to aim higher and get into an Ivy League college. The ILC effectively exposed us to this new horizon by not only showing us how beautiful the East Coast is, but also by showing us how capable anyone from the WCCUSD is in getting in these schools. The endless information sessions with alums or college students made the whole trip more personal, which I tremendously appreciated. I don't think the Women & Leadership course was as rigorous as other Summer@Brown programs, simply because I felt that we had more classroom time and discussion activities than we had homework. But this doesn't mean that it wasn't a wake up call. It's definitely different from the work I was used to doing at home. The due dates and the different research assignments truly tested my time management skills. Did I mention I had to fit blogging about my whole day in between? I had to balance the time I was  given after class and before our curfew. I met so many amazing people form all over the world (literally) and it was easy to ignore my assignments and to go about Thayer St without worrying about them. 

In the end, I realized how important time management is. It's a skill that will get you far in life.  Being organized and prioritizing what is needed to be done in a day is something I will always try to do. It only amounts to a productive day! During the last day at Brown, I also realized how important blogging is. With what the Ivy League has given me, I don't mind doing anything else for it. Blogging, though sometimes annoying, is worth it. I found myself liking it. I found it fun to reflect on my day and what I loved (or hated) about it. I'm glad I was able to share the experience with people from all over the world.

Personally, the Ivy League Connection changed the way I think about myself. I found how important perseverance is. I gained confidence. I found out a little bit of myself along the way. I would have never had the courage to step out of California a year ago. I feel stronger and wiser. I faced the unknown and fortunately came back with so much more to offer the world. I want to help my community reach the heights the ILC helped me reach. Even if I do apply to some Ivy League colleges, and even if I don't get accepted, I'll be alright. Through the ILC, I learned that trying is all that matters. As long as I can say that I tried, then I'll be proud of myself.

Lastly, I want to thank the people who made this possible for me. Mr. Ramsey, Ms. Kronenberg, and Don deserve all the credit for the work they've put in for us. Without their perseverance, nothing would have been possible. I look up to these three because they've inspired me to take on something bigger than me. I can still remember tearing up during our huge dinner in Boston, where Mr. Ramsey talked about the ILC in front of everyone. I loved hearing him talk about it and about the WCCUSD because he doesn't look down on how "unprivileged" we are back home, but instead sees our potential. His passion for helping better where he came from.. that's something that I can't ever forget.

I hope to implement my action plan and impact my community just as much as the Ivy League Connection had impacted me. It doesn't stop here. I have a million more miles to go, but now I know that I have the ability to persevere through any obstacle along the way.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Action Plan: More Than Skin Deep

Our society today sets many unrealistic standards of beauty.  Society defines beauty as a “perfect” image: long hair, blue eyes, high nose bridge, full lips – you name it.  This puts young women like myself under a lot of pressure, which causes us to believe that makeup is an answer to attain these standards.  It is discouraging to know that many of the girls in my own high school cannot go a single day without wearing makeup.  This issue is very important to me because I strongly believe that it’s not only the outward appearance that defines one’s beauty, but also what is within.  It is understandable that girls use makeup to hide their imperfections, but how could they if perfection itself does not exist?

Being surrounded by plenty of insecure girls at school causes me to be quite self-conscious myself.  In a sense, society found its way to negatively impact me as well. I find myself worrying about my concealer, eyeliner, mascara, and lip balm on a daily basis. During the days in which I cannot find the time to apply makeup on my face, I become extremely worried about my appearance and how people would view me as an individual.  I grow afraid of what people would judge me as when I do not have any makeup on.  Something is wrong with this picture.

Throughout the Women and Leadership course, I’ve entirely broadened my knowledge of women in society and grown to be passionate about this topic. Consequently, my Action Plan is planted upon raising awareness. My goal is to hold a makeup-free day called “> Skin Deep” within my high school. I want to invite the girls in my school to participate by wearing zero makeup for one day. Whoever is participating will also be asked to wear a white t-shirt to indicate that she is a part of the movement. During this day, I hope to inspire and teach girls to rediscover their inner beauty and redefine their conception of beauty. The girls at my school desperately need to realize that perfection does not exist in any shape or form, so it is pointless to even attempt “perfection”. Girls should instead accept themselves as they are and appreciate themselves without feeling the need to alter their appearances.

 I feel that my Action Plan is very relevant, realistic, and feasible for all sorts of reasons. For one, I have an incredibly strong support system within my large network of close friends and teachers. Other resources that I will definitely make use of is my access to the Associative Student Body (ASB), a community service club called Interact, and De Anza’s girls’ volleyball team. During the first steps into my Plan, I will need to invite and recruit girls into my project. In order to do so, I will seek my teachers’ cooperation and ask for at least five minutes off of class time since I am planning to visit each class, one by one. This upcoming year, I will be ASB Director of Publicity, which is fitting because publicizing via morning announcements and posters proves to be effective. The Interact Club and volleyball team are also clever ways to find more supporters. Last but not least, my close friends have an amazing capability of spreading word around campus.  I will tell my friends, who will tell their friends, who will tell their friends.  Word of mouth is something I am certainly going to take advantage of.

The logistics of my Plan are challenging yet also very tangible.  I am going to give my team and I a project timeline of six weeks. The first couple of weeks will be dedicated to finding the resources necessary to perform my Plan effectively. This is the time to establish a form of partnership with my teachers and the organizations I’m involved in. Once I obtain these resources, I will be ready to move on to the next step: preparation. I am going to allow myself one or two weeks to further prepare my proposal, which will convince the girls to take on the challenge of my Plan. The proposal will include both a speech and PowerPoint.  I need to find a way to express my goals and opinions without insulting anybody in the crowd. Including logos, pathos, ethos, and pathos again will enable more persuasion and captivate my audience’s attention and interest.  Since this is a vital step to my process, it will be very important for me to be exceptionally detail-oriented and make use of my West leadership abilities.  The final phase of my Plan is publicity.  I plan to visit one class after another and deliver the proposal that I will have prepared for. I will specifically require all boys in the classroom to dismiss themselves during my presentation. This way, the girls would in a way feel more comfortable to admitting to their insecurities and other personal issues.  In addition to my proposal, I will send the girls daily reminders through the morning announcements and bulletin posters, which I will be in charge of this year.  I also plan to create a Facebook event in order to virtually organize a list of girls who are actually participating.  A Facebook event will allow girls to invite more girls, perhaps even outside of our school.  After two weeks of continuous publicizing, my Action Plan would then be ready for launching.

In every plan is a challenge.  Throughout the process of my Action Plan initiation, I feel that the greatest barrier blocking me from being successful is time.  As an incoming junior with three AP classes, two varsity sports, and millions of extra curricular activities, I am afraid that I will not find enough time to progress through my Plan.  Time management will definitely be key through this project.  I also believe that I have the capability to achieve my goals with a great amount of patience, passion, and persistence. 

I will ultimately consider my Action Plan a success if the girls (and boys) in my school are impacted not only on a physical level, but also on an emotional level.  Hopefully “> Skin Deep” will positively affect De Anza High so much that it becomes yearbook-worthy.  Who knows, it can even become an annual event that everybody will look forward to in the coming years.  My Action Plan may or may not to be a long-lasting legacy in my school.  It’s only a matter of trial by error – with a sprinkle of motivation.

The beauty of a woman is not in a facial mode but the true beauty in a woman is reflected in her soul. It is the caring that she lovingly gives the passion that she shows. The beauty of a woman grows with the passing years.
- Audrey Hepburn

The Most Valuable Three Weeks of My Life

It’s hard to believe that my journey with Ivy League Connections started over six months ago. I remember sitting with my counselor and trying, without success, to change my schedule. As I was leaving, she handed me an invitation to attend an information session for a program called Ivy League Connections. I knew from classmates that Ivy League Connections was a highly competitive program, so I was thrilled just to receive an invitation to attend an information session. It almost made up for my dreadful schedule.

A few weeks later, I was sitting in the second row of the El Cerrito High theatre when the information session promptly began. I was so used to attending events that started and ended late that it actually surprised that Don started the information session on time. Punctuality is just one of the many things that sets Ivy League Connections apart.

At the beginning of the information session, I remember feeling a little intimidated. As Don described the demanding courses, I couldn’t help but feel like Ivy League Connections might be a little beyond my capability. I remember Don saying that we were all “wicked smart” but that it took more than that to be part of the program. I remember thinking that maybe I was smart, but not wicked smart and definitely not more than that. It wasn’t until previous ILCers came up and talked about their experiences that I decided to apply.

 Each student spoke of their time back East and how much they had grown from being part of the program. I remember one student saying how she felt intimidated at first, but that it only took a few days on the East Coast for her to feel confortable. This when I realized that you don’t just need to be smart to be part of Ivy League Connections. Sure, being smart is part of it, but motivation and willingness to step out of your comfort zone is what is really important.

After I left the information session, I couldn’t wait to apply for a program. I was ready to be part of something completely new. When I talked to my parents later that night, they were supportive of my decision to apply. We looked over that list of courses Don had handed out to us and my parents encouraged me to look into the women and leadership course at Brown. I never considered myself a leader, or someone particularly passionate about women’s rights. If someone had given me a map of the United States and asked me to point out where Brown was, I would have had an equal chance of picking the right spot with my eyes open or closed. Then again, I did want to try something completely new, so this might be the perfect program.

Fast forward a few months and I had applied for the women and leadership program, submitted the essays, and was invited back for an interview. I wasn’t nervous for the interview, but I was anxious to leave a good impression. I remember thinking that even if I wasn’t accepted, I would be satisfied if was able to provide the interviewers with a sense of who I really was. Fortunately, I was able to do that and get accepted into the women and leadership program. I was so excited to become a part of Ivy League Connections, that all work we had ahead of us didn’t bother me. It was the middle of the school year, but I just couldn’t wait until summer.

Fortunately there were several ILC events during the school year that gave me a taste of my summer experience. During the blogging tutorial Don not only taught us everything we needed to know about blogging, but also gave me an idea of the summer climate of the East Coast. I thought he was exaggerating then, but I now know everything he said was true. The school board meeting enabled me to recognize the gigantic group of remarkable people I would represent during my time back East. I left the event knowing that I would have to consider a lot more than just myself when making decisions. The choices I would make would reflect not just myself, but my entire community. I felt honored to represent such an amazing and diverse group of people. The Brown dinner at Boulevard was a once in a lifetime opportunity to meet and mingle with students and alumni of Brown University. It was a privilege to meet these remarkable people and I left the dinner feeling even more excited to go to Brown. By the time the orientation came, Ivy League Connections had already provided me with so many valuable experiences that it was hard to imagine that the bulk of my experience was still to come.

The beginning of summer flew by and, before I knew it, the end of June had arrived. I had spent the past few weeks recovering from my wisdom teeth removal, so I couldn’t wait to leave my house and head across the country.  As our departure date came closer, however, I became pretty nervous. I asked myself a lot of pointless “what if…” questions which only made me more anxious. Excitement and anticipation overcame fear, however, and I remember hoping that the hours before we left would turn into seconds. I just couldn’t wait to leave for Brown!

Arriving at El Cerrito High at 2:45 AM was definitely the most anticipated moment of my summer. It was, however, pretty anticlimactic due to the fact that nearly everyone except Don was half-asleep. Still, it was one of the most exciting moments I’ve ever had while half-asleep. It was the first step to our trip across the country.

I remember arriving in Providence to a summer thunderstorm. When the clouds parted, there was a double rainbow. Having completed the trip, I know that that couldn’t mean anything other than good luck.

The week we spent touring colleges and attending dinners and brunches was an amazing opportunity for me to meet extraordinary people and tour some of the best schools in the world. This week really got me thinking about what I want in a college. Before then, I hadn’t really thought about where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do. I now feel much more confidant that I’ll pick a school that is truly right for me. The people I meet at the dinners and brunches are people I’ll never forget. I was so grateful to hear honest and insightful answers to my questions. I know I’ll keep in contact with many of these remarkable individuals.

The opportunity to attend these dinners and brunches is something only accessible to those who are part of Ivy League Connections. The chance to have a real conversation with students, alumni, and admissions officers of Ivy League schools is incredibly valuable. In just one conversation with a student, I was able to gain a sense of what their school is really like. Having the chance to introduce myself to admissions officers was such a privilege. Everyone I talked to taught me something important. I received advice that I’ll carry with me not only in college, but also throughout my entire life.

Once it was time to move into the dorms at Brown, I felt like I had already learned so much that I could go home and write a novel about my experiences. Every moment of the past week was spent learning something new, and I couldn’t wait to share experiences with my peers in West Contra Costa.

I remember checking into Brown Sunday morning and being shocked by the amount of people. I wanted to meet everyone. When I moved into my dorm, my roommate was already inside. I was super excited to learn that not only was she from Jamaica, but that she went to boarding school in England. She already seemed like such a cool person and I had hardly met her. Later that day, and throughout my entire experience at Brown, I met so many people that I’ll never forget. One of the main things I learned is that no matter their backgrounds or beliefs, every teenager is really quite similar. I made friends with people around the United States and the world.  

The women and leadership course alone was absolutely amazing. The incredible people in the class, along with our amazing instructor Kisa made it unbelievable. Prior to the course my interest in women’s rights was minimal and I didn’t consider myself a leader. This all changed. A turning point relating to my interest in women’s rights was definitely the movie MissRepresentation. This movie was about the negative impact the media has for the standing of women in society. It made me realize how the media has affected me on a subconscious level. The outlook for women is grim and everyone must stand up for women’s rights if anything is going to improve. The leadership compass activity definitely made me change my perception of leadership. This activity enabled me to see that there isn’t just one type of leader. For the first time, I felt like I fit into the spectrum of leadership. Over the deration of the course, my confidence as a leader grew. I now consider myself a leader.

In my opinion, one of the most valuable parts of the course was the chance to develop an action plan. This plan is essentially a pledge that you will go back into your community and make some sort of positive change. For my action plan I chose to address the topic of unhealthy eating in America. The goal of my action plan is to educate students about the importance of healthy eating by starting and maintaining a community garden at my school and donating the harvest to a local homeless shelter. I had always been interested in diet and nutrition so I knew that I wanted to do something related to that. At our last dinner, I met a Wellesley alumnus named Joan who spoke to me about how she started her own community garden. That is when I became inspired to start a community garden at El Cerrito High. I hope to start a club at the beginning of the school year and provide students with the opportunity to work off their community service hours in the garden. Hopefully with this incentive, lots of students will participate in creating a healthy garden.

Surprisingly, I wasn’t nervous to present my action plan to a group of strangers. This might be due to the fact that my roommate was in the room to support me. After the presentation, which went fairly well, I was asked a few tough questions. I now know that I’ll need to think my action plan through a lot more before I try to implement it. But that’s what the rest of summer is for!

Leaving Brown forced me to come to terms with the fact that I probably wouldn’t have the chance to see many of the people I met ever again. This caused me to shed more than a few tears, but my friend from The Bay texted me a valuable quote that day: “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” Throughout the day of our departure, I remembered those words and smiled and cried because “it happened.”

My trip to the East Coast was definitely the most valuable three weeks of my life. Each day I learned countless lessons and met amazing people. The best part is, though, that it doesn’t end here. I will share what I’ve learned with those unable to experience it for themselves. I will implement my action plan and hopefully give back to my community in a positive way. Thank you Ivy League Connections for providing me not only the best three weeks of my life, but also with the tools necessary to go out and make my community a better place. 

Finding My Meaning

What have these four weeks meant to me? This is a question that I have kept asking myself ever since I’ve returned from the East coast. The reflection process has not gone as smoothly as I had hoped, because the answer is not a simple one. The vast impacts of this program on me have been immeasurable. I will try my best to convey how the ILC has touched and impacted my life.

When I first applied for the Ivy League Connection, honestly part of me was sort of skeptical. I wasn’t sure whether this program was for me, partly because I didn’t know what to expect. Throughout, I discovered for myself that everything that the ILC put us through, from the dinners to the daily blog was yes, for a reason. All in all, I couldn’t be happier about my decision to apply. To put it simply, this amazing experience was the best and most well-spent summer of my life. It’s been nothing short of life-changing, in too many aspects to count.

Academically, I was able to see new heights and perspectives. At Brown, I found it necessary to change my attitude towards studying. Instead of passively receiving instruction as I’m so used to, the learning environment and instructors encouraged the active pursuit of knowledge; asking under-the-surface questions, meeting the material head-on, and independent learning. Although usually, trying to learn on your own can feel pretty dull, I discovered that my curiosity peaked as I freely pored over research articles about epigenetic regulation and the like, in anticipation for each day’s lesson. This newfound sense of intellectual resolve doesn’t just end there. I’m continuing to apply it to my daily life. In short, I’ve come back emboldened by new knowledge and inspiration to learn.

Being a part of the ILC has without a doubt honed our social skills. What was a better way to do this than to meet and interact with people? Throughout the trip we were constantly meeting new people, some of them from prestigious universities. This was all very helpful to me, a person who is usually timid and more introvert, and to do it I had to force myself out of my comfort zone. While at first I was less willing to open up, I gradually became more comfortable in these situations and found myself talking about all sorts of things. This was reflected on my time at Brown, where I made lasting friendships in the short three-week I was there.

This journey has also helped me grow personally. Being put in a new environment for four weeks really facilitates change within a person. For example, I acclimated to the prison-like dorms (Grad Towers) at Brown and it became my home for three weeks, and found out that I was not as picky about food as I was home.  I’ve become more independent, flexible and more willing to adapt to different, sometimes awkward or unpleasant situations. I’m less afraid of change, and not overwhelmed by it. I feel more confident now, after finding out that I can (if barely) handle managing everything for myself, planning my own schedules and trying to balance the priorities of studying, blogging, and sleep with the necessary social life at Summer@Brown. Back at home it’s easy to take all the little things for granted. While I was at Brown, for the first time I really felt like I was in charge of my own life—I knew exactly what I had to do, and I honestly miss the feeling. Something it’s done for me is shown me where my shortcomings lie and what I can and will keep working on. Despite my stumbles in the process, I understand myself a lot better now; who I am, what I need to continue to grow at this stage, and insight for the future.

Looking back, there wasn’t any single moment or thing about my journey that I can say defined it all. It was every part of the experience as a whole that made it meaningful. The events that I thought contributed the most to this were the college tours and the DNA/Biotech class.

The first week was devoted to touring colleges. In three days, we learned about 4 amazing campuses, and what they had to offer. Like many others, I had never really considered schools outside of California, just based on my lack of knowledge about them. I probably would’ve stayed that way, but I have the ILC to thank for broadening my horizons and opening my eyes to countless opportunities beyond. On the East coast I was introduced to a radical concept (to me) in liberal arts. With its encouragement to explore as much as possible, in sometimes strange subjects, how can students not develop a passion for learning? This idea really stuck with me, and now when I consider where to apply my senior year, I will definitely factor in liberal arts as one of my options.

We became masters at grilling tour guides, admissions officers, and alums alike. More importantly, this opportunity allowed us to understand each school’s philosophy and to find out more about our own ‘fit’—what we look for in the colleges we aspire to attend. Knowing the right questions to ask is a crucial part of the college hunt. Through the information sessions, campus tours, and conversations with people, I gained a new perspective: what colleges and admission officers look for in potential students. I learned more about the application process, about the personal statement and the interview, financial aid, and so on. As a first-generation college-applicant, this was invaluable to me. I’m also reassured, now that I sort of have an idea of what to expect. A recurring theme I found was the emphasis that was placed onto the essays and one-on-one interviews, and the person as a whole: it shows that admissions officers want to understand the applicant personally, and that what’s on a transcript isn’t entirely the deciding factor. Connecting with actual students and alumni from the schools was most valued. From them, we got something that you can’t get from tours and info sessions. Hearing them talk passionately about their schools and majors motivated me to want to be like them someday. Through all the dinners and brunches we went to, we began to build our own network. With these encounters, Ivy League schools no longer seem like an unreachable dream. I now have knowledge and guidelines to apply and make an informed decision, which, might not necessarily be Ivy League. Having the college tours first was definitely good planning. After the first week, I know I felt more excited and pumped up to start class than ever.

I enjoyed and found the rigorous DNA/Biotech course at Brown to be intriguing from beginning to end. Right from the start it was evident that it wasn’t going to be any ‘ordinary’ class. I looked at the syllabus and saw that we would be spending practically every day in the lab. I was aware that ‘Techniques in DNA-based Biotechnology’ would include extensive lab work, but in reality was blown away by the way the course was presented to us. We were the ones in control, given the total freedom to set our own goals and learn at our own pace, to make our own discoveries. We were blessed with a great instructor, Jody Hall, who was obviously very into her work and research. She showed us that mistakes are a part of the learning process (especially in the lab), and that the important thing is to improve upon them. The positive learning environment/atmosphere was reinforced by the students’ attitudes. I soon realized that everyone wanted to be there as I did, and were just as enthusiastic to learn. Without the involvement of our instructor, we decided that working together would be for the best. The class formed a study group which met regularly. Although we barely knew each other, this collaborative effort was far more efficient and at the same time brought our class closer together. And that’s what I love so much about Brown’s community. That its students can form mutually supportive relationships, working towards the same end without any competitive pressure whatsoever. Overall, the class was fun and enlightening. Coming out of this three-week intensive course, I have accomplished so much. I expanded the extent of my biotech knowledge, gained and sharpened lab techniques (gel electrophoresis, purifying DNA, etc.)—of which I can understand each step, became comfortable running my own lab bench, learned how to critically analyze research papers and figures, and found asking in-depth questions to be an effective learning method. My interest in the subject, which was initially just a notion, has developed into a sort of passion. Now I’m pretty convinced that biotech is the path that I want to pursue.

When I think back on this amazing month of memories years from now, I hope that I can say that this cherished experience has influenced my life in the long run (for the better). While I may not recall everything that I learned, I know I will always remember the amazing people I was with, whether it was my cohort or the new friends I made at Brown. Nor will I forget the excitement that I felt during those days of discovery. Our time at Brown, whether it was busily exploring its beautiful campus and Providence itself, or lounging on the main green, each moment will always have a special place in my heart.

I think that there are several areas that my El Cerrito High could strive to improve on. For one, there is an information deficit at that is becoming a problem. Students aren’t being made aware of valuable opportunities out there such as the ILC. As a sophomore last year, I didn’t even know the Ivy League Connection existed until I was attended Don’s information session. This is contrasted from the situations at Middle College and Pinole Valley, where the ILC is hailed and recognized school-wide, introduced to students before they even enter the schools, which I found out from my fellow cohorts. In addition, a lot of students aren’t getting critical information about college and its requirements, early enough. Being a first generation student (in the states), I know what it feels like to be in the dark on the college application and admission process. Many end up having to wing the process, while others hire expensive college counselors for help. With that being said, what we need to be working towards is more outreach to students: to actively spread the information, preferably including incoming students as well. The school could also be doing more to prepare students for college; mock interviews, workshops, conversations about college similar to the ones that were offered at Summer@Brown, among just a few of the options. I think that knowing what to expect along the way, about the indescribable opportunities beyond, and having a clear goal to work towards, namely college, would be a great source of motivation as it’s been for me. That’s how we can get more people thinking about and ultimately, continuing education. As far as academics, the curriculum should be expanded to promote/include more hands-on as well as individualized learning. Hopefully, we will be able to find some way to create that same kind of engaging atmosphere as I experienced at Brown.

What now? Now that the Ivy League Connection has opened the doors to opportunity for us, we in turn, are compelled to give back to our community. This will be the perfect chance for us to take what gained and apply it, and show how we’ve earned it. I hope to be a resource to future ILCers and students. I will definitely share my experiences as a part of the ILC, through talking with my fellow students or some other way. It’s a story that I will enjoy telling as many times as people want to hear it. Perhaps we ILCers can take it a step even further and try something like forming a group, starting with ILC members. It would be an information sharing group among the student body that would actively promote the program through outreach and presentations, and students interested could sign up not just to receive information, but to become a part of a network in which they could obtain guidance and interact directly. Eventually spread across the district to include all the schools, creating a student-organized network within the school district. Anyways, it’s just an idea. The possibilities stretch far beyond what I can see right now.

I don’t think I’ve really appreciated blogging until now, as I look back on the whole experience and see how far we’ve come. Reading some of my past posts, I’m glad that we did it, because it made the experience feel all the more real. I’ve also noticed that now, I’m reflecting back regularly on my everyday experiences and also thinking more critically about what I do before I do it. It’s become a part of my treasured memories, as well as given my life a higher sense of meaning.

I am so happy and proud to say that like so many others, I have been touched by the one of a kind experience the Ivy League Connection offers. What we have achieved with this program would not have been possible without the enormous amount of time, effort, and support put into it by some highly dedicated people. I would like to express my gratitude to Mr. Ramsey, Ms. Kronenberg, and Don. Many thanks to the sponsors and every single person who helped make this opportunity possible. To everyone who took their time and came out to the events to talk to us and inspired us along the way. My instructor Jody Hall and TA Colby, as well as my biotech classmates for making my class at Brown truly memorable. And of course how could I forget my cohort, the five awesome people that I got to share this experience with, and Ms. Kaplan, our beloved (and the coolest!) chaperone.