Sunday, May 21, 2017

My Time at Vanderbilt— A One Year Reflection + Storytime

Sometimes, miracles DO happen. For me, it was getting into ILC as a sophomore and being able to
go to Vanderbilt. I knew that ILC changed people, but I had never even imagined what it would do to me.
Vandy squad departing

Vanderbilt was full of such passionate, confident people that I hadn't met before. The atmosphere was different than what could be found anywhere in our district. In fact, I even thought it was different than what I encountered every time I visited UC Berkeley. This difference made me uncomfortable. I became just as shy as I was a couple of years ago, and it was becoming increasingly hard to be my normal self. I didn't make as many friends as I initially expected.

But I realized it was because I was finding myself in a place that was way outside my comfort zone. The people, the atmosphere, the way things were, nothing was anywhere close to how I had been raised the past 15 years. I just needed to push myself even more, and try to get even more out of my comfort zone so I could get used to the atmosphere. I kept trying to make as many new friends as possible, and holding longer conversations with them. I was determined to try to get as used to this new way as much as I could. Now, it wasn't as if I was mentally torturing myself. Along the way, I was having fun and making lasting bonds. (In fact, one of my friends from Vandy just helped me pick my prom dress, too!)
My cute proctor group

This three weeks stretch of stubborn persistence apparently changed me a lot without me realizing. I knew something was different as soon as I stepped off the plane. Once school started, I was surprising people with things I did, the clothes I wore, the habits I adopted. In fact, I was even surprising myself, "Did I really just say all that out loud in front of the entire class?" or "Was I really just able to talk to him with that much confidence?"

This confidence led me to do something that wasn't supported at all by my school. What was it? Well...I guess it's story time:

The FTC team winning Judges' Award + selfie with judge
I had heard of the many learning opportunities FIRST Robotics provided. One of their competitions was known as First Tech Challenge or FTC. Starting a team costed over $3000— of which we had $0. A club at our school the previous year had competed in a local robotics competition, and after seeing how much more was possible, I asked to have robotics separated as an independent club. This meant I'd have to start it from ground up, with some people around me saying it wasn't possible at a school like ours. I almost believed it when the principal continuously didn't show the active enthusiasm I expected for something as educational and hands-on as robotics. 

I was getting tired of the way things were running. If there was anything I took away from Vanderbilt, it was that pushing yourself could change anything; here, I was going to push the principal, all the sources I had, all the people I knew, and secure the money we needed. Eventually, I was finally able to obtain a grant (HUGE shout-out to Bio-Rad!) just in time to allow me to register a team and finalize robotics as an active club.

After gathering up a team and competing, all of us realized how much of a disadvantage we had. We had no teachers helping us. We had no teacher wanting to stay with us to build, and we'd get kicked out of our working room all the time. We didn't have great 3D printers to make parts we needed. We didn't have money to buy sturdy parts. We had no support. All we had was each other, Google, YouTube and purely basic robotics parts.

Robot at PiE
A few months later, and we're competing in PiE Robotics, a local robotics competition held at UC Berkeley. All the schools we were competing against had everything we didn't: teachers, support, mentors at school, a reliable place to work, and many resources. Chances of winning were bleak to us, but I pushed myself and everyone, and everyone pushed everyone else.

And then...WE WON FIRST PLACE. My teammates and I cried tears of joy. We had just won a competition against schools that have legacies of robotics, and it felt surreal. 

In this past year, so much had been done: from starting up an FTC team, hosting outreach robotics programs at our local middle school, winning PiE, all the way to the planning of starting and mentoring many competitive elementary robotics teams. It was like living a dream. We were getting called up by the principal to speak at staff meetings. We were on the map, being compared to years' long programs like MESA and other engineering academies.

Bittersweet end of the trip
And it all started with just trying to push past limits. Looking back, I would have never had the guts to take these initiatives if it wasn't for ILC. I wouldn't have the confidence to shamelessly advertise the club all the time and get students to join. I wouldn't know how to properly talk to adults to get grants and donations. Most of all, I wouldn't have the ability to keep pushing myself even when people close to me were telling me to give up.

I cannot thank Don, ILC's sponsors, and the panelists who allowed me to have this opportunity, enough. I always say this, and I'll say it again: When people say ILC changes lives, they truly mean it. My life had been turned upside down in the best way possible. I was able to finally stand up for myself and others, be braver than I ever was, and know how to take initiatives. It was what I had wanted to be since middle school. Yet, there's still always more room for improvement and here's to another year of ILC to help me transform into the better human being I've dreamt of being

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Reflecting Back and Looking Forward ~ Jae-An Wang

Remember this?
The Ivy League Connection is one of the most unique programs I've encountered. It provides opportunities for a glimpse at college life for students who might not necessarily be able to. Simply put, it expands horizons; at least, that's what it did for me.

Starting early this year, I became a two-time participant in the ILC, the first time at the University of Chicago, and this year at Vanderbilt University. Despite Don's assurances that we were worthy candidates for the program, I wasn't quite sure. Honestly, I didn't know what to expect: would it be exactly the same as last year? Would I get anything more? Of course, the structure of VSA completely threw out any expectations for me of repetition from last year; more on that later.

I loved this campus. Pity I'm not applying :(
The first few days of the trip were almost dreamlike, and I bonded almost instantly with the other cohort members as we spent time together touring colleges. We visited both Emory University and Vanderbilt, two schools that I can now safely cross off of my list of colleges to apply to; while both are fantastic schools, I'm looking for more of a specialized engineering program (not Emory, which puts an emphasis on liberal arts) that has a strong mechanical engineering department (not Vanderbilt, which focuses on the biomedical aspect). Plus, I'd like to stay away from the South and country music for a while...I've gotten quite a lot of that recently...But it was really important to me to get a refresher on the high quality of schools that are out there as well as the difficulty of being accepted. T_T

That fateful day where I chomped someone's ice cream...
Then came the actual program. As I said one paragraph previously, the structure of VSA was quite unlike what I was expecting; there were much more activities. And while activities = fun, it left me with severe time restrictions on what else I could do; basically the whole thing turned into a giant test of time management, one of my weaker points. Although I did eventually work out a schedule that balanced recreational activities, planned activities, blogging, and sleep, let's just say that I've come home more motivated than ever to work on an important life skill.

Perhaps some of the most important lessons I learned came from class. Not just the course material, mind you; for the first time, I worked on an engineering project in a team and successfully completed it. I gained lots of insight on group dynamics, communication, and planning during this time. And even though the end result wasn't quite finished, I learned how to accept and cope with it. Learning from mistakes and failures is important if you want to become an engineer. 
Best way to vent steam? Lie on the ground whilst balancing PVC pipes. 10/10 would recommend.

These past two summers have been some of the most important times of my life, and I'd like to give special thanks to Don Gosney, Madeline Kronenberg, all the sponsors, the School Board, and anyone else who made this opportunity possible. I hope that future students can continue to participate in this once (or twice)-in-a-lifetime experience, because the memories and qualities and skills I've gained from this will surely be used far into my future.
Thank you.

To be continued.

My Time at Vanderbilt ~ Jae-An Wang

Having writer's block is pretty terrible. You just can't quite put the words out there that make sense in the way that you want them to, in the way that'll show exactly what you mean. This is exactly what I'm suffering from right now. Nothing I type will be able to show all you readers precisely what transpired this summer at Vanderbilt. But I can still try.

Ah, there we go.

I came to call this "home."
The first day, moving into our dorms: I'm scared. Scared of my roommate. Scared I won't make any friends. Scared I'll be hopelessly unprepared for class. But I put a smile on my face, brush the doubts out of my head, and step into Hank Ingram to meet everyone. No use in worrying, anyway.

Looking back on my time with VSA, I realize now that I barely even had to worry over the course of those three weeks. I met some of the funniest, friendliest, relatable people I know. Jiayu, my roommate: talking at midnight with you was always really funny! You hold lots of interesting views on China, people, anime, and much more. Keep the savagery down a notch, alright? There were others: Nakhul, Greg/John Green, Savanna...I can't list them all here, but their presence was half of why Vanderbilt was fun and meaningful to me.

VSA Engineering 2016.
If the people were one portion of the Vanderbilt experience, then another equally or even more important part of it was class. I was taught so much: how to work on a team to solve an ultimate problem, how our society is still far from being accessible to all kinds of people, how to use power tools without accidentally decapitating myself...thanks to Edward for that last one ;)

All in all, while I'm happy to be back, if I could go through that experience again, I totally would. I've emerged a more confident, outspoken young adult, and look forward to my own future.

Reflecting Back~ Jacqueline Rojas Cortez

I am currently suffering from the same thing that Jae-An is suffering from... Ah yes... "writer's block"... I just finished writing my most recent blog where I spoke of my times while at Vanderbilt and now I must speak of my time with the Ivy League Connection...

How I felt When I got Accepted..
My time in ILC began when I was accepted the day of the interview. I was so exited to hear the news. Especially since my mentor was there to see it. I went home feeling very emotional and with raging confidence. I just got a scholarship to spend my summer visiting universities and learning about something that interests me. I felt unstoppable.... I still do... I got home and everything quickly escalated. I walke
d in through the door and yelled "I'm going to Nashville!!!" They had no idea what was going on... Neither did I.. but the emotions were out there. I quickly explained to them that I had gotten into the ILC and was going to Nashville over the summer. My oldest sister began to cry and she hugged me really hard. I began crying too. It was a big moment for my family and I because I will be the first person to go to college. My Mom barely finished middle school and the rest of my siblings didn't know about college benefits so didn't even go to college. They wanted me to do what they didn't do at such a young age. They wanted me to care about my education and plan for my future. To this moment I have, and that is why my family is so proud of me and everything I do. 

I'm Going to Miss the Nashville Sky..
I spent the rest of the school year waiting for the moment of departure to come. I went to the dinner, the training, the orientation and meetings that all led up to the moment I had to say goodbye to my family for a month.

The moment I said goodbye to my family was quick but warm. I told them that I was going to soon be back, that I was going to call them everyday(which did not happen,) and that I was going to miss them dearly. I got onto the shuttle with the rest of my cohort and went off to the SFO Airport. The rest is history...

Miss You All...
I shared an entire month with such wonderful people and would love to relive it again. I cannot explain how thankful I am for being given the opportunity to go beyond the bubble I have grown up in and see what the world has for me. Without the Ivy League Connection I wouldn't be the person I am today. I have advanced academically and socially. I feel much more confident in myself and I know that I have great things ahead of me. Thank you Don Gosney, Madeline Kronenberg and to all of our sponsors for teaching me that in order to gain new opportunities I must open the door as soon as somebody knocks. I will take that and share it with the rest of the world..

Reflecting Back ~ Jahnvi Doshi

ILC started in December, and that sounds so long ago. Those early days were some stressful days.
The beginning: Packing
From fretting about whether my essays were good enough, to regret after I came out of the interview room after taking such a long time, I was doubting myself of whether I was going to get in. When I did get accepted, I was so excited. The people in my cohort seemed so nice and I knew from that moment that I would have a lot of fun with them.

I can gladly admit that ILC has made me a more confident and responsible person. The dinner where we met Vanderbilt alumns opened me up. I was able to talk freely to adults I had just met, and it was so fun. They all looked so official and were all very successful people. Giving a speech in front of them was very intimidating, but they were very supportive and that built up so much confidence in me.

Jackie taking a picture
Then came the tutorial and orientation, where I was able to meet everyone else in ILC, and got to fool around with my best friends. It made me excited that the time to leave was getting nearer and nearer.

Finally, it was time to leave. I couldn't have been more excited. Packing had gotten stressful in my house, and I couldn't wait for more freedom. However, I still had butterflies from leaving my parents. This would be the longest I've stayed away from my parents. Once we got on the shuttle, it was, as we all say, LIT!

My cohort group and our chaperone bonded greatly during the one week at Atlanta. We had so much
fun, and didn't want to part once VSA started. I don't know how anyone can have so much fun while constantly moving to different states and in such less time, but we did. We bonded over different things, and met new people, like Simon, our fabulous tour guide.
Simon with us

At VSA, I met so many different people. As you've read from my previous blog, the different people there forced me to step outside of my comfort zone greatly. I made so many great friends there: Taylor (there were two of them), Nakhul, who I was just on the phone with, Sarah, Emma, Olivia my lovely roommate who I could pour my heart out to, Alex who was so fierce and smart, Lainey who could make weird noises, Greg who looked like John Green, and so many other people. (By the way, I was able to successfully get other people on board with calling him John too, so I'm not the only crazy one.) All this has made me much more confident and social. 

When people say that ILC has changed their life, they're not lying. It's the complete truth. There is so much packed in four weeks that it's almost impossible to come back unchanged. It's harder to notice the changes in me since it's only been a few days, but I know that I feel a difference. And it's the best difference I have ever felt.
When we went to an art station once

My Time at Vanderbilt~ Jacqueline Rojas Cortez

I walked into my dorm with a smile on my face. My complexion may have appeared confident at the moment, but deep inside I was nervous. After some time, I soon realized that I had no reason to be nervous. My roommate walked into the dorm and greeted me with a hug and a huge smile on her face. 

My roommate's name was Kate Cavanaugh. She's from North Carolina, not far from Nashville. She had initially described her excitement on being able participate in VSA for the summer because she had never been on her own without the presence of her family for an extended period of time. I felt the same exact way. This was the first time I was going to leave home to be in a state unknown to me and reside in a university for nearly three weeks. 

Kate and I heading off to the OR.
As the minutes quickly passed, Kate and I became lost in conversation and laughter. We each talked about what its like to live on opposite ends of the country and what its like going to different schools. Kate went to a boarding school near her hometown, whereas I went to a public school a few blocks from home. We both came from different places and had exposure to different things but were still able to understand and relate to each other.

We soon found out that we were both in MED101. It is really rare for students in the same course to be placed in the same room. It was so exiting to be able to share our excitement for the course. It was exiting being able to talk about medical stuff to my roommate and have her understand and be just as exited as I was about the course. We got along very well from the start of VSA. I knew from that point that all of my worries were for nothing. I was given the best roommate I could have possibly asked for.

Aside from having such an awesome roommate, I was also assigned to the best proctor group ever. My proctor leader was Sasha Whitley, a second year at Vanderbilt. She is so amazing. I cannot express all the joy she brought to the group. Shasa brought the light out in each of us and made her room a safe space for all of us. Sasha was our mother, aside from the two other moms I have. My proctor group consisted of nine wonderful teenage girls. They were all so sweet, ambitious and intelligent. It was wonderful being able to form a bond with all of them. My proctor group went from being incredibly shy in the beginning of the program to a family at the end. We left the program heartbroken. We were a family and did not want to see each other go off to continue living our lives. We have all stayed in contact since the program ended. I cannot imagine going to VSA and being assigned to another proctor group. This, besides the course, was one of my most dearest experiences at VSA.

My Wonderful Proctor Group
Nakhul and I
NI went to VSA not thinking that I was going to associate myself with people other than my cohort. Yet again, I was wrong. I met one of my now closest friends, Nakhul. He is so funny and smart. It was such a blast having him around. He always lightened up my days and always looked for small things to make things much more exiting and fun. Besides being the party, he became one of my closest friends. We bonded over course of the three weeks and have continued to stay in touch. I remember the day that Nakhul came to sit next to me at the table when I was lonely. Since that day, we have depended on each other as friends and even as classmates. It was wonderful being able to share such an experience with such a great human being. Until you get accepted to UC Berkeley Nakhul.... that is when we shall see each other again and laugh until we cry.

This is why VSA is so great. VSA is not just known for how prestigious it is. VSA is a place of meeting new people and creating new relationships. VSA was an amazing opportunity and cannot thank the Ivy League Connection enough for letting me be a part of such an amazing program. I learned many things from this experience. It is okay to be outside of my comfort zone. That is what leads to new opportunity. Opportunities like learning how to roller skate, making connection with people I initially thought I was not going to make connection with, and showing all the potential I have to succeed in college.

Here I have linked a video showing all the fun we had in Session III of VSA:

~Just so you guys know, I was the first to think of attaching this link :)... *cough*Jahnvi*cough

My Time at Vanderbilt ~ Jahnvi Doshi

I would be straight up lying if I said I wasn't intimidated at all when I first came to VSA. I had
Proctor group at the mall
butterflies in my stomach and I hoped that I would find good friends when I came in. When I met my roommate, she seemed to be such a nice person that my heart filled with warmth. I knew for a fact that I wouldn't be seeing any bullies or mean people. Then, I met the people in my proctor group. I felt slightly intimidated again. As we did ice breaker games, I felt better and the intimidation eased away.

Then, it was time to meet the people in my class. I knew that Edward and Jae-An were in my class and I forced myself to try not to talk to them, but to others I had never met before. Afterwards, I realized that I was pushing myself a bit too much. I wanted to step out of my comfort zone when it came to socializing, but I should do it step by step. I did just that, and things felt much better.

Now, this was the most freedom I had ever experienced: from doing laundry to choosing a healthy diet on my own. And yes, doing laundry on my own was a huge deal. All of my favorite clothes could have shrunk and been ruined for good, but I survived that test of life. I feel so accomplished. In all seriousness though, I feel as if I have grown a lot from being forced to do most things alone. It makes me feel much more responsible and confident. 

As I look back to the time I had in the past three weeks, what I mostly see is the fun times I had with my friends: laughing super loud until our stomachs hurt, going out to eat and doing small dares, dancing and singing together, and more. The people there were all very kind, passionate, and confident. They all had so much talent in them, yet were all so humble. It was such a great experience to meet such people. 

Now, it's time for me to be completely honest. Most of the people
At Mellow Mushrooms
there had one similar lifestyle, and it was a lifestyle that was not similar to me. It seemed a bit hard to relate to them, and I found it a bit hard to fit in. However, it only felt that way for the first few days. After that, I got used to it and I started having even more fun. In fact, I can say that the best part of the camp was how I didn't fit in at first. I know, that sounds really weird...but that's exactly what forced me to take a huge leap out of my comfort zone. And I'm glad I did, because now I feel as if I can fit in anywhere else too. And, would I ever want to go back there? Of course I would!!

Oh, here's a link to the VSA video:
Candid picture with Langston at Nashville Prosthetics

Photo idea to my friend who I met
on the bus while talking about pick-up lines