Tuesday, July 10, 2012

East Coast Love Is Living On The West End

After taking a few, long deep breaths after the business of last week, I am excited to sit down and offer my reflections on the beginning of the Brown II adventure. As one of the youngest ILC chaperones this year, I'd like to think that I have a unique perspective on the college tours, information sessions, and ILC lunches/dinners. It has been a great and interesting transition from being one of these eight leading ladies in the Brown II cohort not very long ago to an adult helping facilitate and organize the various conversations and events that happened throughout the week. You know that the program is doing its job when even the chaperones dream of going to back to college :).

Our week started out with a very long, successful day spent at both San Francisco and T.F. Green airport, finishing at a local Mexican restaurant in Providence and a complete night's sleep. Some of the girls experienced some difficulty falling asleep due to their jet lag, but I've always found exhaustion to be the jet-lag equalizer. When we arrived at Wellesley the next morning, the sun seemed to glisten off everything that the college owned.  By far one of the “prettiest” campuses I have ever visited, Wellesley seemed to emit an almost fairy tale experience even before we entered the admissions building. Whether or not the characters in fairy tales have to live in the heat and humidity that is an east coast summer, none of the cohort seemed to mind as we were all anxious to start this ILC experience. In fact, I had not heard one single complaint about anything the entire week, which is one of the many testaments to these young ladies' characters (more on that later). We finished up our private tour with a chance to ask our lovely guide questions about Wellesley.

Thanks to Sue Kaplan and John Crosby who came up with a list of possible questions to ask the schools and tour guides, our girls were fairly prepared and asked some really great things. Molly was graciously able to meet and play piano for a member of Wellesley's music faculty, and I told her that I now want to hear her play. Molly, when you read this, I haven't forgotten!

Some of the unique aspects of Wellesley College are its curriculum and financial aid. The school offers a classical education which proves different in some or many ways to the other schools we would visit that week. While some of the cohort later talked about finding such a curriculum too restrictive to how they wanted their education to follow, others were drawn to the idea of such a structure. I believe that of all schools we visited and spoke with, Wellesley gave the greatest and most detailed description of how their financial aid system works. They firmly believe that there should be three parties who pay for a student's education; the family, the school, and the student. This means that they shape their aid packages in a way that each of those components becomes financially responsible AND the student doesn't leave their undergraduate education buried in loans.

For a family making less than $60,000 a year, the student is promised to leave Wellesley with ZERO dollars in student loans. In addition, students whose families make $60,000-$100,000 will not leave school with more than $8,600 in loans.

The next salary range equaled their student leaving with no more than $13,400, and so on.

Although I had questions about what would happen if the families could not actually pay what the college deems feasible, their policy on limiting student loans was exciting to hear about.

From someone who graduated only five years ago and has to spend the next 15-20 years paying off various debit occurred through school, a financial aid program like the one at Wellesley is extremely valuable and can open many doors for immediate post graduates. The most impactful part about our visit was that every person we met on campus affirmed that the mission of an all-women college like Wellesley is not just to separate the sexes, but to EMPOWER and support the lives of women from all walks of life. I think the visit in itself served to empower our young women, even if just a little.
Approaching the first of many admissions buildings
We spent the evening of our Wellesley visit out to dinner with Guy Sanchez, Dean Mercedes Domenech, and eager Brown students and recent alums. It was here that the ladies of Brown II heard about the University's more progressive, open curriculum, and you could see them beginning to think critically about the differences between the different education formats. I enjoyed the fact that each Brown student I met and talked with had originally hailed from places both fairly and very far from Providence, and could speak of their experiences with our students.  The first of several long days was over.

The El Cerrito crew leaving the 17th Century
For the 4th of July, Kat had a great idea to take both of the cohorts to Plymouth Massachusetts where they could explore the original Plimoth Plantation, and tour the Mayflower II. The experience of Independence Day is unparalleled anywhere other than its original birthplace. The day turned out to be educational, fun, hot, and patriotic.  Like all great days, it ended with an epic fireworks show. It’s good to be on the east coast during the summertime.
Watch out Dartmouth!
We left at 6:30 AM the next morning for the trek up to Dartmouth. I don’t remember any of the girls speaking for the first couple hours of our journey as I don’t believe we have any true morning people in our cohort.

As we passed into New Hampshire, the weather began to change slightly as clouds rolled in and light drizzle fell at times. Once we entered Hanover, you could almost see some of the girls fall in love. The town has a very welcoming, community feel, and of course, it houses Dartmouth College.

I looked to park the behemoth of a van we arrived in, and met the rest of the cohort in their information session. We all agreed that it was difficult to garner much information during the session as the presenter spoke very quickly, and the acoustics of the room weren’t our friend.

There were a few things that I was able to hear and write down as unique information that I have yet to hear. The first is that Dartmouth has the highest percentage of undergraduate students studying abroad (about 66%) of all Ivy League schools, and one of the highest percentages of all schools in the country.

The admissions officer also mentioned that more than one half of the residents of Hanover are students of Dartmouth, which make it a very unique, connected college town. One other thing that was appreciated is the fact that the admissions officer spent an extended time speaking about how to write the application’s personal statement. He explained that you should write it to sound like a third date, which may or may not be helpful for high school seniors :).

In regards to the essay, he also mentioned that contrary to what many might think, it’s important to keep both the words and sentences simple and not too complex.

The tour, however, made up for anything we might have missed in the information session and then some. The enthusiasm and knowledge our tour leader Michael showed became infectious. He spoke a lot about Dartmouth’s D plan and explained the school’s policy on course directives, which seemed to be a good balance between Wellesley’s core curriculum and Brown’s open approach. There are about 10 directive courses that you must take in order to graduate from Dartmouth, but you are allowed to choose from a number of different courses to complete each required scope. This gives flexibility to the student while also having them take courses where they would advance critical skills such as writing.

Since the Canoe Club was under repair, we met several students, admissions officers, admissions interns, and both June Chu and Jay Davis who have had integral roles in the ILC from the advent of the program.

For me, it was very interesting to hear June speak about her experience at UPenn and her original correspondence with Charles Ramsey which has spurred her involvement with our students and with our program. The conversations seemed electric at all tables, and I was able to see some of the students who had yet to really open up having long, meaningful conversations with the people around them.

My favorite thing about the day was watching Abby connect with one of the admissions interns. They talked about parts of culture that were important to them, and that just because you find yourself in an unfamiliar place, you can still remain the person you are. An example of how the experience of the ILC can do more than just showcase top tier schools.

The next day began with a not TOO early start as we headed toward Boston to tour and visit with Brandeis University. When we first arrived on campus, I was a little nervous that the school’s aesthetic would turn our students off since they had just visited some of the most visibly beautiful schools in the country. Don’t get me wrong, Brandeis is a great institution in many ways and even has a castle on campus (I’m not kidding), it just looks very different than the previous two schools. To add to our trip, it was the hottest day that we had experienced so far. The award for best admissions presentation of the week goes to Meghan McHale, who could have sold Brandeis to someone who was just looking to buy a car. What made it so valuable was that Meghan absolutely loved Brandeis and what it had to offer, and that was obvious. She had personality and humor, making Sue laugh out loud a number of times, and she had so much passion about all of the great things that Brandeis students were doing inside and outside of their community. I was surprised to learn of all the opportunities for undergraduate research, and that Brandeis students have had a 70% acceptance rate when applying to medical school. Seventy percent!

The combination of student diversity and tolerance with the many opportunities for undergraduate research hooked many of our students. I was happy to hear that for two or three of our girls, Brandeis was their favorite school so far.

The new science building was an incredible indulgence for me, as was the idea of every student having their own lab equipment. That, uhhh, doesn’t happen at De Anza High School.

For an undergraduate student body of only about 3,500, the campus was surprisingly large. Or was that just the heat? We ended our day at Brandeis eating in the faculty dining area and talking about our thoughts and experiences on the three schools so far. The ladies were thoughtful, open minded, and much more aware of themselves and their educational wants and needs. I could literally see the growth they had experienced in just four days. We then left campus to rest and change before dinner, finishing our first of three round trips to Boston that would take place over the next 24 hours.
Jealous of the Brandeis Science Center!
The night of July 6th was the much anticipated dinner at Mistral in Boston where the ILC hosted representatives from Brown, Wellesley, Brandeis, Dartmouth, Yale, and MIT. If I thought the lunch at Dartmouth was electric, this was something way beyond. The program was run by both Charles and Madeline and despite her nervousness, Iris did an excellent job representing Brown II by speaking in front of the packed house. A special shout out to Sue for making the dinner happen with constant contact of the dinner guests and the diligent workings of an ingenious seating chart. I heard great things from the students sitting at tables, and there was a lot of networking generosity coming from the admissions officers, students, and alums. Imagine the weight of an opportunity like this for these young women...wow.
The lovely Brown ILC
The next morning we arose to make our third of three trips into Boston to tour Harvard College. Without going into too much detail, our experience was unlike the welcoming environments we had at the previous three schools. We were thankful that Roger Banks, an admissions officer for northern California stayed to speak with us despite their new ‘no large group’ touring policy.

It does seem as if there will be many good things coming out of the experience for both the students we represent and the mission that Harvard is said to represent, and if that is the case, it ends as a valuable learning experience. I do hope that the students of both Brown I and II keep an open mind in considering their applications to Harvard in the near future and that the college itself becomes more cognizant of the equity issues that our students and district battle on a daily basis. As one of the most premier academic institutions in the world, I would like to see Harvard as a leader in that aspect.

As our day wound down, Charles, Madeline, and Sue took everyone out to eat to Mills Tavern in downtown Providence. We walked, which I can personally say was a nice relief :).

After dinner we spent some time at WaterFire, a very unique and enjoyable community event held about once or twice a month from May-October in Providence. Kat stayed to ride a boat down the river, and as nice as that sounded, going to sleep sounded even better!

If we thought the weather on Friday was tough, Mother Nature brought us Sunday. We drove around a triathalon, checked the cohort into Brown, moved their bags into their dorm rooms, walked quickly to Thayer street to get their course book, and dressed formally for the Brown alumni brunch - all before 10:30 AM!

A special shout out here goes to Emily, who was changed and ready to go in the blink of an eye.

Like I mentioned earlier, these young women have impressed me greatly with their ability to do everything that has been asked of them, do it well, and have a smile on their face while doing it.

Anyway, I digress.

One of the “we can laugh at it now” moments came when Romina, Abby, and I were racing from the girl’s dorm to the alumni building to make it on time for the brunch. The three of us running in our black pencil skirts down Charlesfield St. must have been some sight to see.

When we arrived, Romina’s face was pink as can be, and I looked like I had just walked in from a rain storm. I immediately shook hands with Jabbar Bennett, who among many other things is an Associate Dean of the Graduate School and an Associate Dean for the Division of Biology and Medicine at Brown University. When I thought he might not notice the liters of water dripping from every pore in my body, he smiled and reassured me that he sweats like crazy as well. The positive thing was that unlike Jabbar, I was not required to wear a suit that day. Before we knew it, the brunch was finishing up. Maddie and Tayler Ward both spoke eloquently on behalf of the ILC, and we said our goodbyes to the Brown I cohort.

To be completely honest, I was a little sad letting the eight young ladies leave back into their dorms. More than anything, however, I was so happy to see their genuine excitement to start the next two weeks. As Abby proudly exclaimed, “we’re college students now!” Speaking to a few of the girls after class yesterday, it looks like they are going to be very busy the next couple of weeks. Despite the pace of the program, they all said that they had so much fun and are really enjoying the class. Music to a teacher’s ears.

For those of you who read this novel of a blog, I look forward to sharing in your excitement about how the ILC experience will forever change the lives of these eight wonderful young women. Good night! 


  1. I can't believe I read through the whole thing. Maybe I should start on my homework instead. Miss you!!!

  2. When a tome is well written, informative and includes pretty pictures--it's my kind of blog,and I enjoyed reading it.

    Thank you, Jackie, for providing so much information about these schools and the impressions they made on our young women.