Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Yale Here We Come

Tom Miller, Dyana So, Matt Lee   6:15 AM departure to SFO then off to Philadelphia

I think we were all a little scared and apprehensive about our 20 days away from home.  I have never been away from my family that long either.  I worried about if I packed the right things, if I brought to much or too little.  But first and foremost I felt greatly honored that my three student’s family would trust me with their students.  While I realize that these three young people will soon be going off to college, as they are high school seniors, this is just the their first taste.
I think we are all excited about what we will learn and bring back to our schools and our communities.  I wish there had been a program like this when I was a student as I truly never thought outside California. I thought why should I?  This question will be a reoccurring theme throughout my stay on the east coast. I will also try and look at this trip not only as a parent and counselor, but also question why Ivy League Universities and Colleges might make sense for your student.  Picking the right school and the right fit is a very important decision that many of us leave up to fate and where a student submits their applications.  Some of you maybe unaware of the Common Application used by Ivy League Universities;  I will also be passing along any tips that I learn along the way. 
Each student must ask their counselor for a letter of recommendation as well as two teachers.  These recommendations will be sent though email.  Your student asked their recommenders for their email address and then places them in their Common Application and then the recommender is sent a online recommendation to fill out.  Please be aware that when your student starts their application each college is aware, as well as when they submit and send the recommendations to the counselors/ teachers.  Waiting to the last minute is not a good idea.  You make think this is a simple form to fill out.  It is not.  Last year I filled out 14, common application recommendations, while there is a part to check, it requires a full letter of rec. to be uploaded, and if I do not have good information about your student then this becomes very difficult.  I also must upload a PDF copy of the transcript.  This is done more than once, at each quarter and at year end for your student. 

While this may appear to be a negative it really is no harder than a UC application.  If just requires your student to do a little more leg work. I also reccomend that your student give a resume or information to each so that they can write a really good letter.  If they are apply for scholarships they will need letters for this as well.  

I have had the pleasure to talk to a number of students that I done these trips in the past and all say that a college education at an Ivy League school is well worth it.

University of Pennsylvania-The Love

Campus tour of the Univeristy of Pennsylvania and Informational Session, 7/22/2011
My wrist and the ground of the UPenn football stadium. 

I found every informational session that I have attended useful on a number of levels.  From being a parents, chaperon, to a high school counselor.  As a parent my concerns are will my child be safe and welcome on the campus that they choose?  I was very impressed with the security measures on the every campus that we have visited.  You can not just walk up to any of the buildings and enter you must have a student ID to enter.  I also am pleased that the Ivy league school's have an amazing way of looking at financial aid.  They help families by significantly reducing what a parent must contribute towards their students education financially. As a parent I worry about how am I going to pay for my childs education.  One of the truly amazing parts is that the people who have the lowest income benifit from the Ivy league school's financial aid  the most.  

We have also spent some time with students from WCCUSD who are attending the University of Penn summer program.  As a parent it has been wonderful to see that they feel comfortable here and that they are enjoying their course work.  I can't believe that these young people have been given this amazing opportunity to blossom and grow at no expense to them or their family.  Pretty amazing that a public school can make this type of program happen.  It shows me people we need more people like Mr. Ramsey, Mrs. Kronenberg and Mr. Gosney, who really believe in the young people of West Contra Costa Unified School district.  They want our students to grow and expand their horzon's beyond the small boundries of West Contra Costa.          
Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Adieu For Now

Below is a supplement blog for 07-23-2011

Before it was days; now it is only minutes – 47 minutes to be exact. By 47 minutes, I am referring to the “official” arrival of tomorrow – where future transforms into present, where these back-to-back college visits and dinners end and the objective of our trip will finally begin. Unfortunately for you – the readers – the policies of the Yale Ivy Scholars Program does not permit its students to write blogs during the entire duration of the program. It will be about two weeks before activities by either Matt, Tom, or myself will resume here. Therefore, I'd like to share my final thoughts with you before I return after two weeks as, undeniably, a changed individual.


Teleport yourself back to a high school classroom. You're a good student – doing the best you can and trying to stay out of trouble. There's this one student in your class that just returned from a summer studying at an Ivy League university and you discover later in the year that she was taking another summer class, but at a different Ivy League school, this upcoming summer. She's on scholarship again. She could have left the spot open for someone else. She could have. Do you think she should have?

Now I am the student in that theoretical classroom and, if I was asked to respond to this scenario – to this student spending another summer on scholarship at Ivy League schools – I may just roll my eyes and say she really should have left that spot for someone new. The Ivy League Connection is all about giving bright and talented students in our depreciated school district – the West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) – the opportunity of a lifetime to be exposed to, not just random colleges on the East Coast, but prestigious ivy league institutions that most have probably never even thought about. Therefore, why is this student going again? Why is she taking up the slot for another bright and talented student?

Well, this student has a name and you're reading my words. This thought has been the uncomfortable thorn I let live under the soles of my feet for the longest time. I do not make references to my summer spent at Cornell University to study “Freedom and Justice” very often, even though I can easily share to you my various moments of deja vu and similarities just in these past few days alone. I do not mention them much because I am reminded of that guilty feeling. You could be reading the reflection of another student instead of mines. That student would probably tell you of all the new things he's come to understand now because of these dinners with alumni, or maybe, she would tell you all the interesting details about the new environment she's witnessing on the East Coast. Instead you got someone who's been there before, so her words are old news; she's no longer inspired. She's spoiled.

My name is Dyana So and I know I deserve to do this program and participate in the ILC again. I mau have been there but I'm not old news. I am more inspired than ever and I am most certainly not spoiled. The ILC does not discriminate if a student such as myself – or Andrew Gonzales, Alex Elms, and Beilul Naizghi – wishes to try and apply again. Our slates our cleared; our summer in the past lingers but it does not affect our readmission. We've joined the rat race again and yes, we do have prior knowledge based on experience, but we have also – and always have – had the same equal chance of getting in and not getting in as everyone else. And by knowing all of this, why do I not be more considerate of trying to let someone else potentially take my spot?

First of all, I never knew that that was ever destined to be my spot. The fear of rejection during both the essay and interview process were real. Being able to board another flight to spend a summer again at the East Coast and study at Yale the second time around is still an unbelievable miracle to me. The ILC was open to everyone; it was th worm dangling on a hook, waiting for the student fishes to take a bite at it. I did not step aside for YISP, nor make my attempt at getting in any less weaker, because, truthfully I'm tired of not fending for myself. I'm tired of thinking for those who do not think for themselves. You’re probably wondering who I'm really addressing this spiteful message to and, if there really was someone that would have been that student that rolled their eyes or not, I am ultimately speaking to this demon within me.

I truly felt at the end of Cornell Summer College last year, even more so than I already had, just how much this program meant for me and had done to change my life in no other direction than the better. I still feel this way even though it is my second year; I am grateful that another hefty scholarship was put into me when it honestly could have gone to someone new. Yet, as guilty as I may let myself feel for that unknown student that could-have-been, I've come to tell myself to stop prying those heavy doors of opportunity to these invisible beings. They certainly exist – these bright students from our school district who could also do just as well in this program – but why let the breeze in for someone who refuse to be visible and open the doors themselves? They are heavy but it's not like I didn't strain to get it to open either.

My position as a two-year participant of ILC is reminded when I see one of my current cohort, Matt Lee. Before we boarded the plane, I asked if he was going to apply to any schools on the East Coast. He quickly responded that he was probably only applying to the UC schools and other colleges strictly in California. He admitted that these college tours may just change his mind a bit but he wasn't sure if that would likely happen. But now, four days in and many college visits and dinners later, Matt's attitude has changed. He tells me what it is that he liked and didn't like about certain campuses; he actively asks questions regarding the schools at the dinners. I recently asked him again that same question and now he tells me that he will highly consider applying to East Coast schools or definitely will apply to some. That's the intended effect the ILC is supposed to give the first-year students – that realization that they are just as capable as another student somewhere in the United States attending the best private schools around. They start to consider an option they never really thought about – especially for those who always saw the UCs as their dream schools. They start to fall in love with these “new” schools and desire to, more than ever, work harder to ensure admittance. Knowing Matt since middle school, I was very pleased that the ILC has truly reaped the biggest of epiphanies for not only my friend Matt, but also for its many cohorts including myself.

As a second-year ILC cohort, I look at everything differently and there's no changing that. The first time was the life-changing moment – that one-time chance to be the lucky recipient of such a phenomenal scholarship – and the second time around has been more of a cycle of wisdom and realization. The exciting opportunities to visit colleges – even back in California I never visited a single college campus except Contra Costa College for summer classes – sometimes overshadowed the conference I'd hold within my head to debate whether this college was an actual fit for me or not. Now, as a second-year, the excitement is still there – but controlled. I'm less interested in the idea of being somewhere new and more interested in asking all the questions I can and visioning myself at this particular school only a short, one year later. I value admissions officers who take their time out to meet us more than the first-year. I start to pick up ideas and advice I hear that does not necessarily do me any good but does do a good deal for others. I am thinking about how I can be a better ambassador and bring these experiences to life for people back home. I start to feel this awful strain my stomach whenever I sit before fancy meals and purchase items under the ILC because I no longer believe that such elaborate expenses, as good as they were to experience obviously, could really buy me a good time. The chance to be here, even if it meant eating cup noodles every single day until I came home, would still mean the world to me.

The YISP program means more to me than nearly everyone would assume from how little I let myself talk about it in fear of sounding like a boastful brat. In the end, I am very proud of my achievements and I'm proud that, despite taking up a spot that could have potentially gone to someone else, this spot was rightfully earned by me, just as anyone else could have taken it as well. My stomach felt funny today when I went to the nearby Rite-Aid to purchase some items for the YISP that I didn't pack in my suitcase. They were items I needed but the prices of some of them were much higher than I would dare spend back home. I knew I was on scholarship and that the policy of the ILC was to help me pay for anything I needed as long as it was not anything of personal benefit of leisure, but I cannot escape the sensitivity I have to expensive things. My own upbringing made them foreign to me.

Tomorrow I will be staying at a more longer-lasting residence. I have jitters about this program and the thought of failure continues to be an overly redundant naive reflex of yours truly. I am confident in the confidence others have put into me though I am not so generous to myself. My method has always been to work hard, harder, and harder some more. Maybe that method would do little but it might just do a lot. Either way, I can only storm into Yale tomorrow and give it the best I got because if there w

My Kind of People

If the question, "What do you want to major in/what do you want to do?" behaved like water vapor above my head, I would be experiencing serious precipitation for a several weeks. Listen reader, if you knew what you wanted to do at 17, write a book, because that's a real poser for the rest of us. Now I may not know exactly yet, but at a dinner tonight with Alex Richardson, the Northern California Admissions Rep. for Yale, I surprised myself by coming up with at least passable answer.

First let me say that, so far, I love Yale people. I don't know what their reputation is, but to be as smart as they are, and as open and friendly is astounding to me. I honestly feel that Alex's attitude and demeanor as a conversationalist allowed me to talk about that which I am most passionate about, giving me true insight into how to answer that age old question. As I spoke about my time at El Cerrito and the transformation that occurred in me there, culminating in my time at Mosaic, a non-profit youth education project in Oakland, I was able to come up with an answer. While I have so many interests that I love to explore at my leisure, what I love most is looking at traditional fields from a human perspective. Studying political theory, economic policy, etc. through the eyes of an anthropologist, socialogist, cognitive scientist, or psychologist. This is something that has fascinated me before I even heard the term "cognitive science." In fact as I mentioned the field, a current Yale student also attending the dinner, Maria, lit up in response. It turns out she was very interested in the subject as well, sparking a wonderful and passionate discussion of what we loved about it.

I've talked to many people about their reasons for choosing a college, what I have heard time and again, is that someone connected to the college somehow made them want to go. The way that Alex quickly got me to talk about what was most important to me, and to then engage me in a meaningful way about that topic was remarkable to say the least. If I had to choose a college based on the character of the people then Yale makes a compelling case.

Yalies on Yalies

At the final dinner I had the pleasure of sitting next to both of Yohanna Pepa's dorm mates - Mariya and Samantha. After knowing Yohanna for a few years, I can quickly see why both these rising-sophomores are so great. Mr. Alex Richardson, the California representative for Yale admissions was also present, but because I was seated the most distant from him than Matt and Tom, I spoke mostly with Mariya and Samantha.

When it comes to learning about a potential college that I want to apply to, my approach is not traditional. I do not shower these students with questions about the school unless it was something I personally wanted to know or something that I think others may find interest in. With time, the accounts of current college students share nearly the same outline. They all enjoyed their experience; they wouldn't be so great at answering our questions and telling us about their school otherwise. Therefore, I like to get to know the students more through casual conversation, interjecting any curiosities I did have when I had them. I've always found that once I made my guests more comfortable to speak before pure strangers, they naturally start to expel, with more enthusiasm, their input and much more.

With Mariya, we shared immigrant origins. She was from Bulgaria, whereas I was from Hong Kong. The struggles our parents share to come to America for no greater prize than to secure the academic opportunities for their daughters reminded Mariya how much Yale meant for her and how happy I was to hear that.

I connected especially well with Samantha, whom I shared so many personality traits with. I know this not because I showered her with questions regarding only Yale, but because I also ask about her life and time as a high school student. That information is important to me because it gives me a better idea of what Yale is looking for in a student should I choose to apply. Some of the students tell me they had lower test scores but cannot help gushing how proud they are about their personal statements while others commend their collection of extracurricular. Samantha was the first and only present student that gave me the college student perspective from a female standpoint and I am glad to report to report that due to little dissimilarities between male and female students, college is honestly the place to start over. No college student goes out of their way to talk about high school. Everyone is the top of their class but many people bother to compete to extensively or compare one another anymore.

Towards the end, I spoke briefly with Mr. Richardson. He is a very friendly person who is very easy to talk to. I greatly admire his interest in the ILC, in addition to explaining to us more about the admissions process. I hope to keep in touch with him in the future - and everyone else I've met for that matter - with more questions I may come up with.

The Yale dinner was a great one to end our five nights of fancy dining. Swarthmore was a good that the admissions officer lead most of the conversation and spent much time to answer all of our questions in detail. The Princeton dinner was a chance to establish a new connection with a complete stranger - hearing of his successes as both a Princeton alum and progressing lawyer. The U. Penn dinner was the ultimate melting pot of all sorts of representation that it gave more insight from a variety of sources that we had yet to achieve. The dinner with Columbia was great that the alumni were great in convincing myself to be just like them and apply for Columbia. The Yale dinner was unique in its own that it was a surreal preview of what these next fifteen days will be somewhat like.

I thank the ILC for making these dinners happen; they convinced me more about U. Penn and Columbia, and gave me the opportunity to make a good impression on admissions officers. As Peter Chau commented: "This opportunity is such a luxury; legacy kids couldn't even get to meet admissions officers so intimately like this and they get everything!"

An End To The Feasting

As I got up this morning, my heart sank a little bit. New York City was like an untapped reservoir of excitement and entertainment, and I had barely explored its wonders. To get my self out of this pool of depression I think about what lies ahead of me. I say to myself, "I am leaving this concrete jungle to go to an even better place. Instead of looking for flashy lights and name brand shops, I'm going in pursuit of something much less flashy but infinitely more valuable, something no one can take from me, simply an education.

Train seems to be the way to go over here in the east coast, and the ILC goes with whats popular. We hop aboard our amtrak train for the final time to go to New Haven and more importantly, our home for the remainder of our stay here. Luckily I was able to catch a few Z's on the way here. Dr.Luong told us that we should be well rested before we begin the program, and after these 6 hour sleeps a nap was well needed. When my dreams lifted and my eyelids opened, we had arrived at New Haven. Luckily the weather was cooler today than others and we got to our Hotel comfortably (the AC in the taxi helped too.) As we rode through town towards the Omni hotel, Mr.Ramsey pointed out all of the characters in this town that made us all think twice about safety here. I thought of my dad as we passed a park that reminded me of People's Park in Berkeley. His direct, but wise, words echoed throughout my mind, "don't ever hang out there."

We checked into the Omni, went upstairs to settle down and immediately went back out to do a bit of shopping. We all had a bit of a shopping list handy, so the shopping went smoothly. We got the essentials such as food, personal hygiene items, however one of the necessities that we needed for our stay at Yale wasn't there. Fans. Although Yale does provide us with 1 fan, it was highly recommended by several individuals that we purchase another. Hopefully Lori can purchase one tomorrow. On the way there and back we saw some of New Haven up close and personal. It was definitely much different from New York, smaller and not as busy.

After our little shopping excursion, we went back up to our respective rooms, and just prepared ourselves for tonights dinner with current Yalies, and a Yale admissions officer for NorCal at the lovely Union League Cafe. I got suited up for the last dinner I was going to have with the whole gang, Lori, Mr.Ramsey, Ms.Kronenberg. We walked together down Chapel Street, towars the restaurant. We were greeted by the workers on our way up, and then by the guests of the hour. Two current Yale students, Mariya, and Samantha, and our NorCal admissions officer Alex Richardson.

At the beginning of our meal I was seated next to Alex, and Ms.Kronenberg. I was able to get in an engaging conversation with Alex, we talked about things such as the way things worked on Yale, such as living style, a little bit of an overview of the programs, his experiences as an alum and as a student. However not too long into the dinner Tom started talking to him and I did have a bit of an awkward moment. Fortunately for me I still had Ms.Kronenberg to my left and started to talk with her. However the ever-watchful Mr.Ramsey, saw my predicament and made a switch so that I'd be sitting next to Mariya.

*Just a side note, I have nothing against Ms.Kronenberg or Alex Richardson. Ms.Kronenberg and I were getting on a nice topic (that we were never able to truly finish), byt the point of the dinner was to talk to our guests, and I couldn't effectively do that sitting where I was sitting (Tom was getting into a very long and exciting conversation with Alex that I didn't want to interuppt) which was why I was thankful that I got moved.*

Mariya and I immediately got to talking. I spat out the same spiel I've given all of the other current students I've met. How's campus life? Is it fun going there? Can you tell me how the curriculum works? What are the students like? Etc. Like all of the other current students, her answers did not disappoint. I've said this time and time and time again, for every dinner I've attended with the ILC, these conversations we hold with the students are invaluable resources. It's like we get to put on a special pair of glasses, that give the vision of the students we're talking to. It's as if we get to step into their shoes for a little bit and live their lives as students. Yale sounds like a really good place to go to learn, it's curriculum is different than the other schools we've attended in the aspect of its Distribution System. In order to graduate you have to take classes in 6 different categories, but 2 classes in each one. I really liked this combination of a liberal arts, and structured core curriculum. It definitely made Yale appealing.

Like all dinners before, this one too came to a close. We followed the ILC tradition of ordering deserts, followed by closing comments, and then followed by the group photo session. We left with new connections to the Yale community, and our brains bursting with new insight. As we walked out of the restaurant, a wave of emotion washed over me. I remembered what Mr.Ramsey said earlier that day, as we were walking towards the restaurant. He said "well guys, this is the last dinner. I hope you've enjoyed everything, it was a pleasure doing business with you." However as sad as I got from his words that these dinners were over, I couldn't help but disagree with him. It wasn't the end of business between myself and Mr.Ramsey. It was only the beginning. I am going to be a member of the Ivy League Connection for the rest of my life, although there isn't a formal alumni group of this organization I still think of one existing, and that even when I graduate I'll just join the ranks of people like Matt Arciniega, Yohanna Pepa, Peter Chau, Cristina Pelayo, and many, many more.

I end my night with one closing remark. If there's one thing I've learned from this whole experience talking with all of these people from the top universities, is that they ALL share a strong sense of unity and pride of their school. This unity and pride carries on for the rest of their lives as they join the alumni groups of their respective schools. I always hear about how these alumni groups are fantastic pools for resources and is also a great connection device for everyone in the organization to benefit from. I believe that the ILC is very much like these schools in that aspect. All of the ILC alumni are a resource for the current ILC students. Whether it be to ask past participants how their programs were, to actually giving them tours of the schools they go to, they are always there to benefit myself, and the future ILC cohorts to come. Huge thanks go out to Mr.Ramsey, Ms.Kronenberg, and to our sponsors. Without any of these people, this program wouldn't be possible and we would't have this amazing network of connections to work with. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

The Machine

There are things that everyone knows, and there are things that no one knows. Most importantly, there are things that only a handful of people know, that everyone should know. I'm talking about the system, the inner-workings, the "machine", whatever one wants to call it, of society. From breakfast cereal, to political candidates, to college, there are things most people know, and there are things that only people who are taught about, or are part of the "machine" know. The average person doesn't know how cereal is made, but they know it can be found in a grocery store. I didn't know about the machinations of college admissions until I began talking to people on the inside.

This idea that the majority does not understand how the world works on a fundamental level has become one of incredible interest for me, and devoting my time towards an understanding of the "workings" has become a driving force to learn in my life. Just this morning I untangled from my hotel bedsheets (who needs four layers of sheets anyway?) and lurched down late to breakfast with the gang at the hotel restaurant, walking right into a conversation about school profiles. Now school profiles are a detailed report on your school-- written by the district. These reports can cover everything from diversity and API scores, to how much money the school has to spend on lab equipment. The nature of these reports can literally determine on what scale your application will be processed on. One student could be admitted over a student with a comparable application because of this profile. However, this is a mere example of this idea of behind the scenes inner workings, college admissions just so happens to be a particularly stellar example.

Post 1 of 2 for Saturday the 23rd.

Friday, July 22, 2011

To Be Remembered...

New York, the city of dreams and wonders. Today the Yalies arrived in this giant metropolis via train, around 11 AM. Like Philadelphia, New York was blistering hot and it made all of us groan as we walked with our luggage through the heat. Our first stop was to quickly get to the Empire Hotel. We rushed to the side walk and tried to find a cab as quickly as possible. Luckily within the next 5 minutes we were in a cab, and well on our way to our hotel.

Lunch today was planned at the fabulous "Modern" in the NY MOMA. As soon as I walked into the restaurant, I could tell that this was part of MOMA. Modern's architecture accurately showed off its name, as did the decor, the salt and pepper dishes (instead of shakers) and the plating. As for the food, the food was delicious. However I did have trouble eating the Maine lobster salad, it was a bit nasty and hard to stomach. Now onto the guests. Today we had the star of the ILC dining with us, Peter Chau. For those of you who don't know Peter, he was the man who helped facilitate the very first ILC program at Dartmouth College and the program has grown ever since then. Peter offered his insight into a variety of issues. College admissions, what goes on behind the scenes in the admissions office, SAT tips and tricks, and what is important in terms of applying to college. The two things that I appreciated most about what he told us was how long the admissions officers actually looked at your application (about 7 min for Dartmouth) and the SAT tips. He brought real issues into the light for me, including how to train yourself to combat focusing issues during the test, and to test in the actual location.

The college of the day was Columbia, and in order to make our 3 PM information session we had to rush out of the restaurant. The day was hot, my bladder was full and I was eager to get to Columbia. Lori, Tom, Dyana and I arrived at the university first and I didn't hesitate to talk to the first people I saw to find out where everything was. It turns out that we had missed our informational session which was actually at 2, and not 3 however we still had time to catch up to the guided tour. We came up to our guide, whose name was Dakota, and heard him start talking about some of the old traditions of Columbia. The one that he was talking about when we came up to him was about the swimming test. Every Columbia student has to pass a swim test before graduation, just in case Manhattan sinks, except the engineering students. The engineering students petitioned the dean of the school to exempt them from this requirement because they said that they could just build a boat to traverse the Hudson. Unfortunately we didn't get to see much of the campus before we had to depart. However what we were departing for was for something that no one else received that day.

Thanks to the connections that Mr.Ramsey has he was able to arrange a private meeting with the admissions officer for NorCal, Mr. David Buckwald. David was able to inform us about alot of the things that we missed from the informational session. We also had two current students of Columbia with us, a girl from Wisconsin, and a boy from California. Between these three wonderful resources we were able to get a good grasp at college life, admission rates, the way the school runs, how the different schools at Columbia run, etc. I was, and still am, extremely thankful to David for taking time out of his schedule to privately meet with us. He was able to answer all of the questions that we had to throw at him. Mr.Ramsey shot a barrage of questions, one after the other, to both the students and David, and they all answered them without fail. However we only had about an hour with them and our time soon came to a close. I was the one with the honor to end this meeting and I ended it with a thought that had been on my mind for a while now. I asked him,

"David, when I got into the ILC I heard about all of the fabulous dinners that we were going to have, and all of the admissions officers we were going to have them with. I've also heard stories of these admissions officers remembering students whom they chit chatted with and when they actually applied that they remembered them, advocated for them and that they got accepted. However after dining with all of these admissions officers, and hearing about how long they spend on these applications and at the sheer number of applications they have to read, I find it hard to believe that they truly can remember us. Do you remember people that you've met who then apply?"

David was a bit confused at the question but Mr.Ramsey helped clarify what I was asking by saying "once were out the door are you gonna for get us."

David's reply was well thought out and convincing. He told me that there was a lot of people who apply, and that he doesn't remember the ones who don't get in. He does remember people though, the admissions officers do talk about people over and over again, back and forth, and he recognizes these people. That these faces do not go forgotten. He even assured me himself that he would not forget me. I find this comment, no matter if it lacked in true meaning or not, very comforting and it made David seem more like a human friend, than a scary admissions officer.

The rest of the day was free except for dinner. Dinner was at the luxurious 21 Club. I had the honor of arranging this reservation for our party. Gosh, I'm so sorry for being so repetitive but this dinner was one of the best dinners I've had in the ILC, it ranks right up with the dinner with Yale alums at Prospects and the UPENN dinner at Le Bec-Fin. We had the great pleasure of dining with 3 current Columbia students, all three of them rising-sophomores. I sat between Matt Chau, a poly-sci major with a computer science minor, and Yoachim Haynes, an environmental engineer major. Unfortunately I did not sit next to our third guest, Suhas Thalapaneni and as a result didn't talk much with him. I found both individuals to have a gold mine of information. First Matt, while talking to him about his major we wound up the Yale program Tom, Dyana, and I are taking. As soon as I mentioned the words "grand strategy" Matt's face lit up like a candle. He then burst out saying "you're taking grand strategy!? I took that class with Matt back in 2009!" From there we ended up talking about the program itself, including the general structure of the class, what we'll be doing, what the lectures and seminars are like, and of course the martial briefing that we'll all have to turn in eventually. Tom chimed in on the conversation and also partook in the wise words of Matt. Yoachim on the other hand was in the department that I was interested in. He told me all of the core classes special to engineering. He told me what engineers are expected to do at Columbia, his personal experiences, and also his hobbies and life at Columbia. One of the most important things that Yoachim said to me was about some of the core classes. Yoachim told me about a class that makes you divulge into all of the other fields of engineering to help you experience everything so that you could, if you wanted to, change your major to a different discipline of engineering.

Dinner ended with much laughs and conversation. Yaochim and I discussed how great our creme-brulees were with each other. I talked with Matt a bit more about his own experience at Columbia. We all filed out together, as one big happy group of friends just hanging out now. We stood, smiling for a group photo, said good bye to one another and continued on with our night. Since it was our only night in NYC we decided to go on top of the "rock", by that I mean Rockefeller Center. We saw the dazzling lights of NYC from atop that building, and we even drove through Time Square to see it up close and personal. All in all, this day was great and bad. It was bad in the aspect that we couldn't attend the information session at Columbia, nor could we finish the tour. However it was great when we think about David Buckwald, the dinner with Matt and Yoachim, and the night to end NYC. The fact that David took time from his busy life to attend a private meeting with us. How Matt and Yoachim gave me so much insight to what I truly wanted to know from them. Finally how I was able to wrap up NYC with a glimpse of how the "city that never sleeps," truly never sleeps.

Big Apple; Big Ambitions

Waiting for the train from Philadelphia to NYC.

Last glimpse of Philly... :-(

Lori Nardone on the train.

Our surprisingly short train ride from the wonderful city of Philladelphia to New York City was highlighted by none other than the boisterous Mr. Charles Ramsey and his increasing curiosity over the infamous social networking site known to nearly everyone as Facebook. As Tom twisted his brain around a crossword puzzle, the rest of us took turns answering to the baffled Mr. Ramsey and his frustration over why more people choose such sites for communication than simple email. In the end, we discovered that Mr. Ramsey was probably the only one in the world without a Facebook account (just kidding) but, with so many friends he's got and will continue to have in the future, he will soon "come over to the dark side" as some may call it.

Mr. Ramsey and Ms. Kronenberg
  1. Frustrating Situations: NYC is quite an eyesore to take in at a first glance, with so many activities and sights fighting for your attention the minute you step foot out of the train station. We've been carrying all our luggage from home since we got off the train station and were desperate to escape this heat wave melting the concrete jungle in which we stood. The struggle to get the luggage around and wait for taxis in the blistering heat among so many crowds passing by did get a bit aggravating. Eventually a taxi picked all of us up and drove us to our current residence for the evening - The Empire Hotel – a great sigh of relief.

  1. Acknowledging the First Leader: Lunch followed shortly after we dropped off all our heavy luggage. Braving through the intense heat, the seven of us headed for The Modern for lunch - a fancy restaurant located besides MOMA. There, we would eventually meet up with Peter Chau. If you do not know Peter and you are reading this blog or any blog from the Ivy League Connections blogspot site, than you ought to know now that Peter Chau is our first ILC student. He never attended these summer sessions at Ivy League schools under the ILC, but he did go to Dartmouth College after high school thanks to the superb letters of recommendations written for him by both Mr. Ramsey and Ms. Kroneberg. From there, Peter helped connect the infant ILC to Dartmouth, paving the way for students from the WCCUSD to join the high schools students attending summer classes at prestigious ivy league schools.

Entrance to The Modern.

The Modern Bar.

Peter Chau and Mr. Charles Ramsey.

Gift treats from the chef.
  1. Blunt and Honest: Peter tells it like it is. He stands strongly by his opinions and is very good about defending them. When I asked him about personal statements, he said the best way to tackle them is to ask yourself the following question “If you could only tell the admissions officers one thing and one thing only to represent you, what would it be?” Immediately, I briefly asked that question in my head but a stubborn voice shot back to say: “But what if you have more than one thing?” I then did repeat this question to Peter, who bluntly stated “No, you must choose only one.” He explained that, at best admissions officers have no more than seven minutes to look through your application; they do not have time to read through a very detailed summary of what it is that you’re exceptionally special. After helping Dartmouth College with reading undergraduate applications, Peter's insight is phenomenal and for me, definitely worth trusting.
  2. Be Early; Don't Procrastinate: Another great advice by Peter that's worth repeating here is the importance to being early in, not just your college applications, but in everything in general. To be early is to be on time and to be on time is to be late. The admissions officers may hold the fate of your attendance in its hands but you hold some factors in yours. Among them include the time you submit and what you put on your essay. Ask your teachers for recommendations before everyone else. Finish those personal statements now. Talk with your counselor once school begins. Take the first standardized test coming up (but remember to study). And lastly, submit your application as early as possible!
More photos of NYC:

    Onward to Columbia University!

    Tall, black gates open wide greeted us Yalies as we got off our cab to enter Columbia University. Wrapped by the sheer heat and humidity, we walked straight to this large, open path, exposing the first glance of the true Columbia campus. To my left, you could see Columbia's largest library – a massive building of pillars and wide steps leading to what I'm sure was probably a nicely air-conditioned facility. Because it took us several tries to get a cab's attention to drive us down to 116th and Broadway – where Columbia University was located – we missed the first part of the campus tour.

    After getting dual exposure of both the University of Pennsylvania and Princeton University through their back-to-back information session and campus tours, it was hard for me to feel adequately informed about Columbia when I only saw North Campus. In addition, it is very difficult to enjoy the architecture, mood, and speeches given by our student tour guides when the mad heat wave currently plaguing the East Coast turned prolonged stops during the tour into baking sheets of human gingerbread. Therefore, as disappointed as I was to stop our tour short for the 4 o'clock meeting with the Nor Cal admissions officer, Mr. David Buckwald, I was also relieved that we were returning back into an air-conditioned building.

    1. First impressions: What struck me immediately about Mr. Buckwald was his openness and friendliness. You'd expect admissions officers to always be smiling and welcoming – eagerly shaking hands – but that's not always as authentic as some would hope. Mr. Buckwald is a friend of both Mr. Ramsey and Ms. Kronenberg; he reads the Northern California applications which, among them, included several from the WCCUSD. I was very pleased that that already-established connection between them gave us this rare and valuable oppurtunity to speak intimately and informally with an Columbia admissions officer.
    2. Role Models: We currently have two El Cerrito High School alumni – also participants of ILC – currently attending Columbia. Mr. Buckwald shows a sincere interest in our large, but admittedly under-represented district, reminding me of the influence and potential students from our school district – or any district for that matter – has to the students following behind them in high school. If an upperclassmen you used to see around your high school was now studying at a very selective university and having a great time there post-high school, you feel both pride for your school and a push to do just as well as they have when time comes for you to take on those dreaded college applications. I certainly had upperclassmen from Pinole Valley high School that I look up to – Yohanna Pepa, Austin Long, Vaughn Pare, and Ashley Nakai to name just a few – and among the many reasons why I do include their admittance to highly selective colleges and universities. It makes me say to myself: “Wow, I want to be just like them.” I was exposed to them a lot even as a freshman and I think that just being around the right group of people in high school definitely drives to further to do your very best at all times.
    3. Value your Experiences: These college visits, therefore, are extremely important to me. It's not a visit I'm taking during sophomore year - twoyears away from college applications and truly able to remember the visit as freshly in my mind. Now, as a rising-senior, each step I take throughout a college campus is a serious question to ask myself: “Can you imagine yourself here for four years?” Because, if I cannot answer that question honestly to myself there, there is no reason to force myself to like it despite the features I do appreciate about the college or the fact that it is a highly regarded university. That was how I felt about Princeton. I liked it before I went to its campus simply because it was Princeton – currently the second best school in the nation on several national polls. That desire to have the best thing offered out there used to be how my ambition and drive were led by. I wanted the best even if it was insanely hard to obtain. But such an attitude was merely a phase. I continue to seek the best but not so much what is named the best. I seek the best for myself and that may or may not align with the opinion of others. Therefore, it is in my best hope that my fellow classmates, underclassmen, and PV students to follow acknowledge what it is that they want that best satisfies their desires. Do not get too caught up with prestige because, until you witness a campus first-hand, the college you thought you'd like based on reputation, may make you absolutely miserable.
    4. Someone to Relate to: In addition to Mr. Buckwald, there were two current Columbia students sitting in the meeting room with us during our personal information session. One was a rising-junior who changed his major from Engineering to Psychology that was also from the Bay Area. The other was a rising-senior of Ghana origins, a student from a public high school in Wyoming, and currently majoring in music with a minor in pre-med. Mr. Buckwald allowed these two students to speak often and share their input on answers that were asked among us and between those two, I was especially inspired by the young woman who was a music major (both their names escape me unfortunately). I related to her because, prior to college, there was moment in her life where she was determined to pursue a vocational college to pursue her musical ambitions. Although it was tempting, a side of her that beckoned for academics and the opportunity to be exposed to it alongside music, changed her mind to find an institution that satisfies both loves. This comment struck me very well. I cannot choose between art and academics; both are an unchangeable part of my being that would make me utterly miserable should I be absent of one. This young woman's experience finally assuaged any lingering thought I had about possibly attending art school: I am most definitely pursuing a university that satisfies both my interests and not merely one.
    5. My Opinion Changed: I wasn't sure if I liked the idea of having a mandatory core curriculum to follow in college. I was okay with distribution requirements – where you could choose a from a list of available classes to meet the requirements – but I wasn't sure if I liked the idea of taking the same classes as everyone else, especially when I've always seen college as the opportunity to become specialized in a particular field or fields. Columbia's reason for core curriculum requirements changed my mind. According to Columbia, core classes offer what they believe are fundamental knowledge that all their graduates should know as well-rounded scholars. In addition, these classes was a unifying element that brings Columbia students together even if their majors would make them very distant with one another as the years go by. If you think about it, entering college as a freshman is a very foreign experience no matter how mature or well-prepared you think you are. These core classes offer a chance for Columbia students to have direct path to start off on so they have time to get assembled and pursue their interests after more time of getting comfortable. That aspect has such an appeal to me. I am independent spirit, but I definitely wouldn't mind turning my new school into a home first before I started leaving it to have adventures.
    6. Admitting What Works and Doesn't Work for You: To be honest, the meeting with Mr. Buckwald and the other students was not as potent to me as what a typical information session colleges often offer along their campus tours. The reason for this was because the meeting had no distinct agenda. It was really a nice, informal discussion about some aspects to Columbia. That information was indeed important and probably better than what I could get from a normal information session, but there was a limited amount of topics discussed. The usual information sessions provided a road map of aspects regarding a college that cover the basics of what prospective students and parents are interested in. At this meeting we only covered certain features of the school, such as student life and the two Columbia students' experiences throughout their years at the university. What these Columbians told us at the meeting was indeed informative but it honestly did not really leave me with a well-rounded impression of Columbia since I had a lop-sided description. I was warming up to Columbia but that was it. It was like turning on the stove but having the gas burn out suddenly, leaving you with lingering heat that had no push to get any hotter.
    7. It's Not Over Until the Fat Lady Sings: Yet, believe it or not – I like Columbia very much. Penn is still my favorite among the colleges I was exposed to these past three days and half but Columbia is certainly at its tail. Now, you're wondering how this could be when I admitted feeling somewhat incomplete after the personal information session between the ILC and Mr. Buckwald. The reason for my heightened appreciation for Columbia has a lot to do with the dinner we had shortly afterward with three Columbia students – all rising-sophomores. Unlike the previous dinners, this was the only one where the conversations I had with present students or alumni had enough impact on me to love the university they came from and desire to apply for it. Usually, these dinners are supposed to either help or hinder your impression of the college you just visited and was informed of, but not for Columbia in my case. I was convinced that Columbia might be another school for me to consider largely thanks to our guests at dinner.

    8. The Well-Rounded Genius of Similar Origins: Suhas sat to my right. There were many thing about Suhas that many students would admire and become jealous of. He was a fine example of what it means to be exceedingly well-rounded but without the impression of forcing oneself to be one. His many interests at Harker High School – located in the Bay Area – ranging from varsity soccer to art and writing, struck such a beautiful-sounding chord with me. His accomplishments were inspiring and made me all the more determined to continue working hard, follow my interests, and keep up my academics. Admittedly, I do not think my own genius can rival that of Suhas but that does not discourage me to go to Columbia to meet more students like him. To both our surprise, both Suhas probably passed by one another three years ago without knowing that we would meet at a place like 21 club under such a chance meeting. Both of us were in our school's JSA chapter and we both share vice-president roles for our respective schools. When I was a freshman and he a senior, both of us attended the NorCal JSA conventions at Santa Clara. It truly is a small world and I still can't get over that coincidence.
    9. The Carribbean Engineer Who Understood Himself: Suhas was incredible by what he was capable of doing but speaking to someone of such high talent and intellect can sometimes make one self-conscious of their own ability to succeed. I know that taking 15 AP classes and only get three 4s and all 5s for the rest was an impossible feat for me, therefore, it was nice to have someone like Yoachim sitting beside me on the left. Yoachim was just as brilliant as Suhas but in a completely different light. As an international student from Trinidad, Yoachim was very friendly, mature, and optimistic about his education here in Columbia. He actually took a year off before going pursuing higher education after high school to really think over what it was that he wanted to do with his life after high school. For many people, that's what college is for but for Yoachim, college served more of a purpose for him if he entered already having a very good idea what it is he wanted to do for his future. Yoachim's public school education opened up more venues for me to ask him questions since I'm also a student from such schooling as well. Hearing the opinions of an international student is much different than that of even an American student from the furthest state possible. Not only was the culture in which he grew up with different, his outlook at college life was different at all. In addition to how friendly and equally interested he was towards our lives and upcoming Yale program, I really enjoyed talking with Yoachim because I share a similar attitude towards independence. One thing that prospective students often forget is whether they can honestly handle being away from home for a very long period of time despite the initial excitement they would probably feel on campus in the first few days, weeks, or months. There's something called “seasonal depression” - a branch from “homesickness” that many out-of-state and international students get during the holidays. The lack of family presence at those holiday events and traditions can hit students really hard and majorly effect their focus at school. Yoachim misses his family but his confidence in taking a year off and fearlessly pursuing engineering at Columbia University shows that not even a drastic transition from the Caribbean Islands to the City that Never Sleeps could not deter him from his mission to succeed.
    10. The YISP Alum: Matthew Chou went to the YISP program in the same year as Matt Arcineaga two years ago. I didn't get to speak with him often unfortunately because of the distance in our seats and other restaurant guests, but I'm glad that I joined in on his description of the Yale program and his feelings toward it.
    11. The Invisible Inspiration: Another Columbia student that also made a big impression on me wasn't at the dinner. Yet, despite his attendance, his strong presence was obvious. I am talking about Matt Arcineaga - YISP alum and current rising-sophomore at Columbia. At least once, I could remember the other three Columbian students talking about Matt and how "he's friends with just about everybody". Mr. Miranda commented on how good of a student he was when he taught him back in high school. And even Mr. Buckwald said he remembered Matt fondly. That is a powerful presence. I wish I could have met Matt in person because the connections he can develop AND maintain is truly a skill critical to be a great, contemporary leader.

    Our evening ended with a visit to the "Top of the Rock" monument where, at the observatory deck on top, you could see NYC in all its glory in the beautiful summer night. As I stood there overlooking the scenery and taking photos, I say to myself with a smile: "If I can make it here, I can truly make it anywhere".