Sunday, July 15, 2012

It Takes a Village

How can my words do justice to so profound an experience - to this program that has touched my life, gifted me with my best summer yet, and continues to re-shape my outlook. 

I have picked up my scribbled notes for this final sendoff and tossed them away; I can't count how many tabs of drafts I've opened and closed on Blogger. At one point between my hours-long blank stares, I could feel the emotions mounting and welling, aware that I had to eventually bring myself to the third and final goodbye we've had to muster this past week. It's no secret- I get easily attached.

These three weeks were the most well-spent of my life, and now it's my turn to demonstrate how the investments of time, energy, money, thorough planning, and unwavering support every step of the process were well-spent on us.
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Although the immediate takeaway was awareness, the premise of our transformation was still a summer course at Brown. For me, the anticipated challenge blindsided me with possibilities I was unaware existed. No amount of PCR and gel electrophoresis practice, AP Bio fortitude, or lab, field, and class work could prepare me for what we gained at Brown.

While the pass/fail system does alleviate any pressure, this was a unique environment unlike anything we've experienced in high school, because the focus centers purely on understanding the material opposed to earning a grade. The learning was in our hands and not in those of instructors heading  the class, controlling what and how students learn. Our ultimate college experience was complete, as we could now choose what we got out of the course. I have to concede that this welcome departure from the familiar grind does need to be taken with a grain of salt.

Students sharpen self-discipline in balancing academic opportunities with an active social life (the awesome byproduct of freed up time thanks to the system's efficiency). We became efficient machines in an environment of efficiency which contributes to why Brown students are consistently ranked among the happiest in the nation. Suddenly, grip of the material became solely our responsibility, and the catalytic realization spurred the creation of the individualized learning experience and availability of unprecedented options. Roused with this unusual sense of control and self-determination, our first instinct is to exert ourselves. It's motivation, empowerment, and all part of the Machiavellian scheme. These instructors are facilitative gurus wise enough to let us make our necessary mistakes and push us to draw our own lessons from action. Our successful three weeks prove students learn better when not spoon-fed every detail and minutiae or thrown obscure vocabulary, and instead allowed to lead their own intellectual independence.

People picture laboratory work in the isolation of some bare basement, immaculate in cold clinical white, and its silent denizens- out-of-touch and absorbed in meticulousness. At least those were my fears going in. First thing, I noted the contrast: in our classroom every student wanted to be there just as eagerly as I did. Common goals and shared desire would connect the bridges for collaboration. Somehow naturally, we voluntarily formed a study group, claimed our own territory in the Rock to project presentations on a conference room flatscreen, and daily worked through the procedures together despite no actual lab partners. I'm trying to share the connection of mutual support, the reason why the SciLi's third floor is always abuzz with teamwork, that Brown's education on its own inspires. This is a community I want to be a part of and will strive to join.

Wherever I go, back to Hercules High and then college two semesters later, I'm gifted with these lifelong expectations for my learning environment. The standards are set high, and this atmosphere needs to be emulated on our local high school level. We have an obligation to stand with the rest and the best of them- to insist the key priorities of actual understanding, individualized learning, and student minds take back the class room.

By no means am I dismissing our social metamorphosis as insignificant. Every time the memories cross my mind, the instant connections, interactions with so many colorful characters, after-class adventures, induction into the world of Collegiate Ultimate, bawling mess of goodbyes, sheltered counterparts and our already-planned South Beach reunion choke me up without fail. Before I'm reduced to a blubbering baby, let's divert the topic to my personal growth.

The rigor of this program has seasoned me from the nervously chatty girl who clumsily slurred over her explanations and tumbled the dry erase markers all over the floor in the middle of her interview. With city council meetings, school board appearances, and conversations with Ivy League alums behind me, I stood up in front the lecture hall delivered my mesenchymal cell reseach presentation with command. For the first time, on the inside I felt really sure of myself. I was just as comfortable grilling Harvard's NorCal admissions rep when a tour and information session were unavailable.

The ILC polished our social skills the same way the DNA Biotech class cultivated our scientific understanding. By opening the doors to inconceivable opportunities up to us to seize, the program kept us on our feet, and behind the scenes face time with alums was immensely more helpful than any tour. College search-savvy now that I understand my personal concerns/interests and what to ask of admissions representatives and interviewers, I wish I had known to ask those same questions of the schools I've visited beforehand. It's time to roll out the business cards and send some emails.While the enlightening experience has left me a bit overwhelmed by all the options available to me, I know this awareness means I'll be making a smarter college decision.

Every one tells me I've come back different. I certainly feel different, especially in the seasonless Bay Area weather- the dry California air is as empty as the part of my heart that misses the warm, moist summer nights counting stars on the Green. Let me tell you that the humidity eventually wasn't even bad; the grass is greener on the other side, and the ocean bluer when it's not full of red algae (and don't forget warmer because of the Gulf Stream).

But if anything, no matter how much I got used to calling Brown home, I also gained an incredible new appreciation for our community. In both the drawbacks from being homegrown here and the mighty strengths of tremendous support networks starting with the ILC, is our distinction from our peers hailing from privilege. Contrary to expectations, we can compete with our sheltered counterparts whom need their hand held on public transport and the innocents whom out of pure naivet√© deny the existence of public schools in Georgia. Our background is something to take pride in. I return not only empowered, but empowered with a new love for where I come from, and not just because of all WCCUSD has done for me and my changing consciousness. It's true I'm working on a way out and onto the right college path- which right now is due east- but that will not be the last you see of me thanks to the ILC's role in transforming my life the way it has for countless others. All of us have the obligation to give back. 

Now part of the continually snowballing impact, I plan on outreaching as a student of Hercules High. Our next step may as well be helping stage mock interviews to prepare our students for the admissions officers and alumnus who will want to get to know them. Or maybe with some help we could pull off something radical like spearheading a campaign for lab science education. 

Personally, this hits home particularly hard after this summer course, which stressed the importance and powerful results of hands-off independent thinking with hands-on lab learning. I find it hard to imagine, but I never would have gotten to this point and become so passionately involved in biotech had it not been for a secure foundation and that rare engaging instructor, basic necessities unavailable to many of our students with our current resource levels. I know there are others with just as much potential and interest, but aren't equipped with the tools and encouragement to access it. We have a need to fill, maybe with a project with fundraising and collaboration with teachers that  Hercules Interact Club might want to work on for starters, and as co-president I'm excited for all the progress possible in coming together the way the Ivy League Connection has shown achievable.

Truly one of a kind, the ILC deserves an encore once more for their immense impact, for going above and beyond what any community program in the nation could hope to accomplish. Thank you a thousand times over to everyone involved, Mr. Ramsey and Ms. Kronenberg and Don for never giving up on us. When Rose Robin, the director over Summer@Brown, Dean of Continuing Education, and host of our Partnership dinner emphasized that we were here because people who believed in our potential, my mind immediately shot to the dedicated parents, friends, donors, board and council members, faculty, community citizens, and overall supporters rooting for us. I will never forget the help of the incredible Jody Hall, our TA Colby who always brought the party, the whole DNA Biotech crew, the girls from Seattle, Pittsburgh, Korea, and Jersey who tearfully pinky-swore  to stop by along their college and family visits, and everyone who touched my heart at Brown and whom I owe this experience as amazing as they all are. This means of course I have to thank psychic Brown alums Simon Hong and Blake Gurfein for their prediction since day one at Boulevard that inevitably came true. Lastly, my love goes out to our cohort and ILC family, and don't forget the best chaperon you could ask for, Ms. Kaplan. 

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