Thursday, July 21, 2011

My Penn Eulogy

This morning I went to an information session for Penn that I was very struck by, due in no small part to the admissions rep who gave it, the following is an email I sent to her:

"I am a rising senior at El Cerrito High School from the San Fransisco Bay Area, as part of a scholarship program that allows students from my district to attend Ivy League schools I was fortunate enough to be able to visit Penn, and even more fortunate to hear your information session. Let me tell you, I've been to what seems like ten thousand of these sessions, and from UCLA to Princeton, most reps say the same thing with varied statistics. I was blown away by what yours.

I've realized over the past year, that I have no idea what I want to do, I feel like I just have passion, for the most part only in the form of ideas, but the way you described Penn made me feel like they would really be actualized there. And the breadth of my interests makes me think that a liberal arts education would be perfect for me. And especially because I don't see myself pursuing a career in most of them, I loved the emphasis that you placed on interdisciplinary learning, and being able to take classes for their own sake.

After meeting many alumni from different Ivy Leagues, I have really begun to pick up on the distinctions between them. At every one, people are exceptional, there is no way around that. But I believe every university selects students for certain qualities, and throughout their time those qualities are fostered by the environment of the school.

I've never had any intention of going to Princeton, and I was even more sure after I visited. Yet later I met an alumni for dinner who was just a great guy. Physically huge (6'7", ex-rower), hardcore smart, funny, and LOUD, he brought the conversation volume around us up to compete with him. While I really liked him, I noticed an attitude about him, one I've noticed in several other alums from both Princeton and Yale: that success was a given, he exuded an aura pf accomplishment, either present or future.

Now the subtle differences in each school of top caliber enormously hard to characterize, nor are they true for every student by any means. Yet I feel they are present nonetheless. As I sat in the front row I was struck by pithyness and preciseness in which you described your school's personality. Penn students are doers, they are engaged in every possible way, be it socially, politically, theatrically, in the classroom, etc. And most importantly, they are going to use their practical education to do great things. It's almost like Princeton wants their students to rise to success and then do great things, and Penn wants their students to do great things and then to rise to success. In a biography of Genghis Khan I read it began with the quote, "Genghis Khan was a doer." Maybe he would have liked Penn.

Maybe these distinctions are abstract, irrelevant, etc. but they have really helped me understand what I should be thinking about when choosing a college.

More than anything, I just want to thank you for delivering an engaging information session, it was incredibly striking, and I very much appreciated it, and I was thoroughly impressed.

PS I laughed at your Princess Leia analogy (I like Star Wars).

If you are interested, the students in our program are required to blog daily, here is a link:
I've decided to post this email as my daily blog."

I would also like to note that to those who perceive this as a bash to Princeton or Yale, I would disagree. 1) It is only my opinion, and I could very well be wrong on all counts. 2) Different strokes for different folks, I have no problems with pursuing a career of success, nor do I think that everyone at Princeton and Yale do so.

Tom Miller
El Cerrito High 12'

My Gosh Where Have You Been All My Life?

As I open my laptop to blog about my day, only one thing came to my mind over and over again. A sense of comfort, and of home. The agenda of today revolved around the wonderful school known as the University of Pennsylvania, or more commonly known as UPENN. The combination of the lovely informational session, the campus tour, and the dinner with the alumni/staff really made me feel like UPENN was definitely a school to seriously consider applying to, and hopefully attending as well.

Now each of the 3 factors stated above each had a unique role in swaying me to the UPENN side of the force. First off, the informational session. The previous day we visited Princeton and also listened to an informational session, however I did notice some very key differences in the two sessions. The most notable one was just the person who delivered it. Princeton's was much more serious, and a little bland to be honest. It didn't feel like the speaker had the spark nor the energy that the UPENN speaker had. The UPENN speaker was engaging, humorous, and I have to admit aesthetically appealing. Even though her beauty obviously beats out a male's, such as Princeton's speaker, the energy and excitement for her school really beat out Princeton's speaker. One might as why would the speaker really make that much of a difference, but I look at it at the bigger picture. This person is a representation of the staff of the school, and would you want to go to a school with an average energy staff, or an energetic staff who not only loves their school but shows it as well? I think the answer is quite obvious. It wasn't just the personalities of the speakers that got me but the information as well. The Princeton speaker told me good information, but it really didn't get me to love the school. It stressed certain things such as a liberal arts education and multiple majors/minors, but nothing seemed to pop. The UPENN speaker really emphasized that point, and more. What I really got from UPENN was learning, for the sake of learning.

Secondly, the tour. Here is where it equals out a bit more in terms of the energy in the people on campus. Both the Princeton tour guide and the UPENN tour guide were both good tour guides. Both were well versed in the customs and traditions of their respective schools, both knew about the majority of the majors there and the way things were run. Student life, recreational activities, academics were covered pretty well by both of them. However as equal as the people were, the campuses are completely different. The first difference was the general location. Princeton is located in a quiet little town, that basically revolves around the college, this reminded me greatly of UC Davis back home. UPENN was completely opposite. UPENN is an urban campus, and instead of it being a one way street in terms of the city-college relationship its evenly balanced. UPENN and the wonderful city of Philadelphia complement each other to almost a perfect degree, the students can wander the city to explore its endless wonders, and the city has its own local Ivy School in which to gain a wide breadth of resources. The location accounts for the rest of the differences in the campuses. Princeton was indeed beautiful, but its beauty seems very limited now. What I mean by that is that the campus feels completely bordered out. One can obviously tell where Princeton starts and ends, and that all of its architecture and wonders are all concentrated in that little area. UPENN feels much more open to the community that it is in. It's borders are a blend of the college itself and Philadelphia. It's hard to explain what it is exactly about UPENN's campus that attracts me so much, but it's just that feeling, deep inside that gives off a sense of home.

The final event of today was the dinner, and (I know I said this about the Princeton dinner) was one of the best dinners that I've had with the ILC. It stunned me at first at the sheer number of representatives we had from UPENN, ranging all the way from current students, to alumni, to members of the board of admissions. I had the pleasure to sit near all three kind of people. David Toomer, a man who worked in the admissions office for undergrads, was sitting on my right. Shawn Chen, a rising junior at UPENN majoring in both business and engineering, was diagonally in front of me to my right. Finally Sam Gilbert, a recently graduated mechanical engineer now in grad school for vets, was diagonally in front of me to my left. All of their input was very informational and really helped me get a sense for what life would be like if I were to attend UPENN. Both Shawn and Sam told me how great of a community UPENN was, how many events there were year-round, basically how much they love going there. Both Sam and Shawn explained to me their majors, and it all seemed very interesting. I liked how they both had something to do with engineering, which, as of today, I am especially interested in. I got an idea for how things work in their engineering department, and the different options you could do. David Toomer talked with me about his experience with UPENN. He also said he really enjoyed working there, however I didn't talk with him too much about the admissions process. I remember asking him if there was any advice he could give to a prospecting UPENN student, what would it be. His reply "well you have to make sure you challenge yourself, and keep up your grades. Besides that you just have to give us a sense of who you are through your the rest of your application." These words, although very true, are easier said than done. I plan on emailing all of them in the future to help me with the application process.

UPENN blew my mind today. I felt like I was opened up to an entirely new world. The buildings, the atmosphere, and the general way of life. I have to say that UPENN is an amazing school and for once I feel the feeling "my gosh, this is definitely going on my college application list no matter what!" I extend a warm blanket of thanks on everyone today who helped both myself and the rest of my ILC cohorts. This includes the lady at the information session, Alex my tour guide, David, Shawn, Sam, and all of the other wonderful dinner guests who dined with me tonight.

Love at First Sight?

Tonight I leave to you my departing words as I join the my fellow Yale cohorts on our train ride to Columbia University tomorrow morning. Philadelphia - the downtown area especially - is an amazing city. It reminds me of San Francisco but is also distinct in itself because of its East Coast flavor of brick buildings and narrow streets that you don't see too often in the Bay Area. It's not the kind of city that never sleeps; it's a diverse community with all shades of faces passing you by or casually enjoying their time outside local restaurants and cafes. In addition, the presence of colleges such as nearby Drexel and the University of Pennsylvania has turned its local areas into productive hubbubs of bright and ambitious individuals everywhere you look. It's only been three days and I'm already very comfortable with the "City of Brotherly Love". With regret, I wish we had more time to actually walk around the downtown area some more - especially in the evening among the beautiful lights from within all those stores and restaurants. Leaving Philadelphia will be a bittersweet departure but time has arrived to move along again. Prior to boarding the plane just three days ago, I couldn't wait to see New York City above all the things we had scheduled, but now, I actually wouldn't mind staying in Philly a little bit longer if I could. However, I can assure you that I will come back someday - I don't know under what circumstances exactly but I'll definitely return to the "City of Brotherly Love".

For myself, today has been the best day so far. All of us - minus Mr. Ramsey and Mr. Miranda - met at the lobby at a very reasonable hour to head over to the University of Pennsylvania for their first information session of the day. Initially, as our group of five stepped onto the campus looking for the student center, I wasn't all that taken aback by U. Penn. However, that quickly started to change as we walked deeper and deeper into the heart of what turned out to be truly remarkable campus. The outskirts of Penn - the view from across the crosswalk - will appear somewhat bland for many but a few seconds in your initial impression will surely change for the better. And that, to me, was a great aspect of Penn - right off the back. It was a beautiful school but more beautiful if you actually took the time to explore what this institution was all about.
  1. Finding Your Unique Preferences: The information session was held in Penn's largest lecture hall - a college building with an interior unlike any I've yet to encounter. The ceilings are adorned with this intricate motif of repeating shapes, patterns, and colors. It made you want to stare endlessly at its ceiling, just to admire its beauty in awe. With a sensitivity to design and architecture - as I've mention before in my previous post - such details in a college has a relatively large impact to me. I like being surrounded by beautiful things and being exposed to fantastic architecture while getting my higher education would make my experience in college all the more enjoyable. Everyone has different standards and preferences when it comes down to what it is exactly about a college that makes it a good fit for them. Among the various ones I have, the outlook of the campus is certainly something I value. In the long run, the outside of the building probably would mean little when its the inside - the quality of your everyday learning environment - is what should matter most, but such unique preferences like these at least gives you an opportunity to better understand what it is that makes you different. For myself, this constant exposure to brick motifs and intricate designs on most buildings here in Philly has taken my breath away.

  2. Taking Notes: What I've discovered among my peers is that everyone has their own take on which learning method works best for them. Although I'm still trying to figure out what mine are exactly (yes, even as I enter my senior year in high school I'm still searching), I have developed this habit to take notes whenever possible. I am not gifted with impeccable memory unfortunately and the paranoia of forgetting certain information or failing to recollect something someone said that once meant a great deal to you usually makes me take out my little, yellow notepad with little hesitation. Therefore, as Kat - our great speaker at the information session - delivered her elaborate speech of Penn, I took off with my pen across lined paper.
  3. Admiring Foundations: Before I go any further, I will spoil all of you right now that I absolutely love the University of Pennsylvania. This strong attraction is honestly rare for someone like me who's always been very open to pretty much anything due to a philosophy that it is the students that make his/her experience at college, not the college itself. But before I go on and on about why I suddenly had this strong pull to this university, I will backtrack and introduce one of the first things I liked about Penn. That first thing is Benjamin Franklin. I think back to my days in AP U.S. History this previous school year and the amount of exposure I had to that great founding father, Mr. Franklin. This very individual - an avid scholar, well-liked by many and having an earnest desire to assist those around him through his acquired education - was the founder of Penn and many of his philosophy transcends to the general attitude of the school. An appreciation for the individual that founded the school you are particularly fond of has never been something I thought would have significant weight in my pool of features I look for in colleges but I guess that's what a school like Penn can do to you. I admire Benjamin Franklin greatly for his achievements and general take on life, but I admire Penn more for echoing those ideals.

  4. Major Brownie Points: Another aspect to Penn - one of my favorite among them - is "one university". When prospecting students apply to Penn, they much choose, then and there, which of the four schools they wish to join. These four undergraduate schools are: School of Arts and Sciences, School of Engineering and Applied Science, School of Nursing, and The Wharton School. When I hear that a school expects me to choose immediately what path I already want to walk on before I even start college, I cringe. In the past three years of high school alone I've altered my possible career paths more times than I count - entering freshman year thinking about law, going through sophomore year with my mind set on pilots (I'm too short unfortunately), and crawling through junior year with a very strong desire to pursue anything related to art and leadership, with some tangents of architecture. However, Penn does not line their students into one school and expect them to stick with it. A student may start off at a specific school but that does not mean they cannot take classes in the other schools and even have many minors in them too. That sort of structure - a need to follow some line but not be completely faithful to it - is just what I've been looking for and I realized this before I thought I'd actually like that sort of aspect.
  5. About the Four Schools of Penn: (1) School of Nursing is the smallest but mighty school of Penn. Students studying there have a very hands-on education in additional to those of the traditional settings. Sophomores can start immediately on clinical work and many Penn students from this school graduate as leaders of their fields, often pursuing careers as doctors afterwards. (2) School of Engineering and Applied Sciences requires all incoming students to have a strong physics background. The class sizes are very small allowing for closer connections with the professors. There are hundreds of courses students can choose from and they are all of great breadth. (3) The Wharton School is renowned. The sparknotes mantra for this school is teamwork, leadership, and communication. Eighteen concentrations are offered; it's not solely theory since lots of hands-on projects are offered. There is a strong liberal arts core and business majors do not necessarily have to follow a path of finance. (4) School of Arts and Sciences is understandably the most populous school with its 26 departments and about 50 available languages. Many of the courses offered serve as foundations for many of the Penn students despite their school affiliations.
  6. Observations That Stand Out: I knew that Penn students were distinct not because the tour guide repeated it constantly but because I could extract such an attitude from simple observations. There is large broken white button sculpture designed by a Penn student that is more than what one look would tell you. It was an artwork representing the missing button on the coat of the Benjamin Franklin statue sitting just across from it; the student artist told the story that perhaps Franklin was eating so much that his button popped right of his coat and landed as a gigantic replica in front of the largest Penn library. In addition to this creative take on a seemingly simple statue, there are the unique study tables in the library designed to look like diner booths to encourage study groups and conversations. These are little details but to me, they're impressive because they display a lot of depth in thought and creative thinking. And if that is what Penn student is all about or will graduate to become, I'd love to join them.
  7. Good Signs: I've yet to leave a college tour with a very satisfied feeling that immediately captivates me to apply on the spot until today. Just as we left the campus I thought to myself, "wow, I'd really like to be at Penn". From there I was hooked. I didn't feel awkward admitting that I had really enjoyed Penn and what it had to offer and although I was cautious not to get too carried away with how much I liked it, it felt good to say that I finally had a school that ranked really high on my list of colleges.
  8. Patriotic High: Another reason why this day had been so wonderful was spending time at Independence Hall and its nearby areas. As someone who really enjoyed learning American History, walking around such historic ground quickly elevated a sense of pride within me. Inside Independence Hall, I repeatedly said in my mind: "This is so surreal." I see the signing of the Constitution before my eyes as our guide tells everyone the history lesson. I greatly enjoyed visiting this historical landmark, in addition to seeing the Liberty Bell. I'm proud that I can now claim I've been to the part of Philadelphia where the major, political actions of our premature nation was constantly taking place.
  9. The Cherry on Top: As I was changing for dinner at La Croix that evening with the Penn guests, I told my excited self: "this dinner will truly seal whether you truly like Penn as much as you think you do at the moment". And, to my greatest pleasure, my interest in Penn only heightened after dinner. This was largely due to the Penn guest sitting around my area. To my right was the very open and friendly Dr. June Chu - one of the advisers among Penn's Asian students - and to my left was the engaging and insightful Mr. David Toomer - The Director of Multicultural Admissions. Although getting myself comfortable to chat freely took some time within that crowded table of 16 people, I quickly got past it. I am very fortunate to have Dr. Chu talk with me so candidly. She offered advice to me from a very personal and understanding perspective, with both of us making connections with our shared aspect of being Asian scholars. Such a nice adviser convinces me that if I were to go to Penn, I'd probably have a more comfortable time seeking one for guidance. With Mr. Toomer, I spoke mostly of random things - from details about admissions to his personal life to his opinions on contemporary issues and ideas. These casual conversations greatly reduced the straight-spine tensions I sometimes feel in such fancy restaurants and made the entire dinner there on after very smooth and enjoyable. Near the end of the meal though, I did also get to talk with one more Penn guest - Mr. Shawn Chen - a currently rising junior under the dual program with an extremely admirable academic stature. Although he is in The Wharton School, he also takes classes in two of the other schools. Hearing of his success in getting into several selective schools as a high school student reminds me of the reality and the need to limit daydreams. Imagining yourself in Penn will do you no good at all if you do not spend that time and more working towards securing yourself the best chance of getting accepted.
  10. Thank Yous: I really have to hand it to all our Penn guests for not only joining us for dinner but for being such unexpectedly open and relaxed characters. As our table was giving introductions around the table, Dr. June Chu said something that really caught my attention: "We're looking forward to seeing your applications". There was no guarantee of acceptance but that little acknowledgement alone furthered my appreciation for both Penn and its people. There are so many colleges that I cannot see saying the same such words at even fancier dinners than this. I've been looking for those details of every college that immediately stands out to me and makes the school unique and I'm beyond happy that I found that in Penn. Therefore, I am greatly thankful to both the ILC and the people of Penn for instilling such a remarkable change in me in a single day. I know there are no guarantees of acceptance no matter how much I comment on what I like about Penn. I know my particular reaction to rejection would be understandably higher due to such heightened appreciation for the school. However, despite all these factors, I'm glad I learned more about myself and actually found a college that resonated so well with me. Penn is no perfect and no institution out there will be but as of now, it's the closest in my standards.
To conclude, it's been another great day out here in the East coast, hot and humid days and all.

Greetings on a Train