Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Flipping Back Through The Pages Of My Journey

Our first dinner as a cohort.
My  journey began one afternoon when I was called for a meeting to possibly be a part of the Ivy League Connection. With much thought and drive, I followed every step necessary to be called an ILC ambassador, to be able to make connections outside of California, and to get a taste of college life. My older brother had tried his junior year, but unfortunately didn’t make it. I must say I’ve been following in my brother’s footsteps my whole academic life, with hopes of surpassing his own successes.

With many expectations put in front of me, I always turned to my parents to make sure they were willing to support me in this process. Joining the ILC was not an easy task, but I must say it is very rewarding. I decided to only apply to the Vanderbilt program, because they offered a variety of courses that interested me. During winter break I diligently finished up my essays, leaving much room for proofreading and revising.  I wanted to make sure I put much effort in, in hopes of getting a lot out of it. I never once regretted writing the essays, because look where I am now. 

Last February, I constantly checked my email for the list of Vanderbilt students who made it past the essay stage. There it was: my name written on the email. I then took every opportunity to practice for my interview. I am very thankful for Mr. Wilson, Ms. Vasquez, and the PVHS ILC alumni who held mock interviews for us. Without their support, I wouldn’t have grown to be the young lady I am today.

The WCCUSD board meeting.

The clock kept ticking as I waited for my interview. I was the last one to be interviewed, and boy was I nervous. I walked in confidently with a smile on my face, a little scared, but ready to tackle this challenge.  There was no turning back now, I was there, sitting in front of a panel of judges: the sponsors, alumni, and leaders who decided how my summer would be planned. With much relief in the end, it was time to announce the Vanderbilt cohort for the ILC.  As soon as I heard my name, I was filled with joy and excitement. I never expected my summer to be so overwhelming, yet so amazing.

The ILC did a great job preparing us for the trip physically and mentally.  Before embarking on this trip to the East coast I had only a few expectations in mind: busy schedules, hot weather, and a bunch of memories. I didn’t really know what to expect with the prestigious colleges we visited and the summer academy I attended. But there it lies, a month of exploring new places and things, a month of new experiences, and a month of unforgettable memories.

A few days have passed since I arrived from my summer adventure, and it’s hard to describe the journey I experienced in just one word. Flipping back through the pages of my journey I’ve learned so much; I’m surprised my brain hasn’t exploded.

At Georgetown University.
Let me begin with our first week of exposure to different Universities: Duke University, Georgetown University, and the University of Pennsylvania. In my life, I have only been on two college tours: UC Berkeley and Stanford University. Back then, I didn’t know what questions to ask and I didn’t know what to look for. However, my experience with the ILC has taught me that there is much more than the higher education offered in California.  Those colleges that I never heard of before, that never crossed my mind, don’t seem so far to reach anymore. Coming from a low-income school isn’t stopping me from aiming high at those prestigious schools. The ILC has proved to me that although I may a little fish in a pool of outstanding applicants, there is no such thing as impossible. A rejection letter from a school may be just their way of saying,  "We’re not the right college for you." I used to be worried about not getting accepted because of low SAT/ACT scores, but I learned that’s not the only thing they take into account.  It has given me relief that colleges take into account your grades in the context of your school, and don't just focus on one aspect of your college application. College admissions officers look at every part of your application, so one test score won't necessarily determine your acceptance to a college.

Although I am still in the process of discovering whether or not a school outside California is best for me, I am thankful that I was exposed to something different. I may be ahead of the game in some cases, however; I still have a lot of searching to do. The ILC is pushing me to discover myself more, and is personally challenging me as I continue to discover what type of college is right for me. I will be open minded to the possibilities outside of California because of the wonderful opportunities they offer such as: the freedom of class choices, internships, and study abroad programs. These are really important aspects to consider when applying.  I was amazed and overwhelmed with all these endless academic opportunities; how much these institutions care about each student’s success. In terms of financial aid and the application process, I must say I am far more educated than I was before. Although I know it still will be a stressful process, I am much more confident in myself.

The dinners with college alumni and talks with college admissions officers were a great privilege and opportunity to get to know the colleges better. Yes, the tours were amazing, insightful, and beautiful, but there’s nothing better then having one on one conversations with those who are directly involved with the college. Throughout each meeting, I was getting better and better at asking questions and getting as much answers as possible. Their words of encouragement and advice will not only stick with me throughout the college application process, but throughout the rest of my life.

My time at the Vanderbilt Summer Academy was definitely a big highlight of my trip. The experience placed a big stamp on my heart. I will absolutely never forget the connections I built with the many other brilliant students. I may have not experienced dorm life in any way, but through the ILC. This program was a rare opportunity for me to live in a dorm for three weeks. I didn’t fill out any roommate questionnaires, but VSA matched me with a perfect roommate. Everyone around me felt like a stranger in the beginning, however we all grew to be a family. Throughout those three weeks, I was able to step out of my comfort zone and be the bubbly Hannah I am around those who are close to me and whom I have known for a long time. I had the opportunity to be surrounded with people just like me, but who otherwise came from different backgrounds and cultures. I have learned to not be afraid when meeting new people, but instead if the opportunity arises, take it and dive in. I am now less intimidated when it comes to meeting new people, because I know they are just like me. I will always cherish the memories I've shared with the friends I met at VSA.

Honestly, it was harder to interact with other students in the academic environment. It’s really challenging when you’re in a room full of other bright students, because it really tests your intelligence. By the end of my Pharmacology class, I learned that I couldn’t always be the shy little girl in the classroom. I am capable of being as just as intelligent as the others, and nothing should hold me back. I must admit I was shy in the beginning, but I began to adapt to this new environment. During our final research project, I was able to prove that although I didn’t take an AP Chemistry, AP biology, or Organic Chemistry class like the others, I can rise to the top. It was an amazing feeling to know that my group’s research project won first place! I may have been perceived as a student who didn’t know much at first, but after much knowledge acquired from the course, I knew that I could rise to the top of a class with many brilliant students.

I chose Pharmacology as my first course choice because I wanted to be educated on how drugs work and use this information in my pursuit of working somewhere in the medical field, and also educate my peers about how drugs negatively affect their bodies. We explored the biology and chemistry behind drugs and how it affects the world around us. I was challenged with a bulk load of knowledge that it was so hard to capture and understand every single detail. The rigorous curriculum really kept me on my toes in class and kept me thinking, how will I educate my peers back at my own school? Yessenia and I definitely have a lot of information to share. For example, we learned what is actually considered a drug and what to be careful with when consuming drugs. Hopefully this will help change the minds of those who consume drugs, particularly street drugs. The use of illegal drugs has taken a big part in today’s society, and I hope Yessenia and I will find a small first step to combat this problem in our local community. The task at hand is not easy, but I pray that by the time I leave Pinole Valley, I will look back knowing I sparked a change.

Entering this program, I had the dream that I wanted to become a pediatrician; that dream has now changed. Through this Pharmacology course and talks with current college students and my roommate, my mind has changed on a few things. I do like science and working with children is my passion, but perhaps the path of becoming a doctor isn’t right for me. My roommate took the Med School 101 course, and her stories didn’t really discourage me from becoming a pediatrician, but a realization ran through me that spending over 10 years in college might be too much for me. Additionally, my passion for science and working with kids does not mean a pediatrician is the only possible job. As I sat in a workshop on Personal Etiquette, something just sparked within me. I realized that maybe I want to be a child therapist or even work at a University as a college advisor or counselor. The ILC not only exposed me to new knowledge, but VSA taught me that the world is not limited to the dream jobs of either a politician, doctor, teacher, or engineer. There is so much out there and it’s only normal for you to change your major in college three times. I have a good feeling my mind will change many times, but I still hope I end up doing something I’m happy about.

I must assure you, VSA was not just about going to class, eating, and sleeping. It was so much more than studying under a professor, eating cafeteria food, and sleeping in the dorms; it was preparing us for college. We took part with the Vanderbilt community for three weeks. It wasn’t just 6 hours of class each day, but it was creating a community of brilliant students. It was socializing with other people from around the country and even the world. It was learning how to dance together in the Dance Around the World Ar√™te class and learning how to fence in our fencing class. Just as many colleges offer extra-curricular classes, VSA provided a well-rounded college experience. More importantly, they provided us with resources for our success in college. Not only were the coordinators and proctors available for us, but we even had a night where college admissions officers of Vanderbilt gave us actual college applications. It gave us an opportunity to have an idea of what kinds of applications are accepted, wait listed, and denied. I don’t think I’ll ever get an opportunity like this again, and for that I am grateful.

With all that being said, I as an individual have changed into a more independent, intelligent, and inspired young lady. I am no longer afraid of leaving my parents for college, although I will truly miss them. It won’t be easy, but I know that it is a part of life and I can conquer any challenge put before me. I have acquired the most knowledge that I can during this past month, and without the ILC I would have never experienced taking a college course in the South. I was surrounded with many inspirations throughout my trip, which has instilled more confidence in myself. It has pushed me to succeed beyond my potential and fulfill all my responsibilities. From blogging everyday to being prompt to activities, I have grown to become a representation of my school, the district, and most importantly the Ivy League Connection.

First and foremost, I’d like to thank God for bringing me this far. I’ve experienced a once in a lifetime opportunity, and none of this would have been possible without Don Gosney, Mr.Ramsey, and Ms.Kronenberg. I would like to extend a warm blanket of thanks to not only the ILC coordinators, but also to the sponsors for supporting this program financially. I cannot stress enough how wonderful it is that you people are extending a helping hand to the students in our district. I am also thankful to my parents for supporting me along the way. I cannot forget our chaperone, Mr.Mannix; thank you for caring for us and making this experience memorable. I’d also like to thank my cohort: Yessenia, Narges, and Chris. I couldn’t have asked for any other group. Thank you for the smiles and laughter; we've grown so much together, I can now call you guys my brother and sisters. Last but not least to all the readers: thank you for watching us grow throughout this journey. This trip has not only done good to me, but it has changed me.

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