Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A Day of Self-Reflection

My energy level was much higher today. It was probably the most productive day since last week.

Today's class was very "chill" and relaxing but still very productive and insightful. A guest speaker arrived who was the director of the American Center for Outreach. Her name is Remziya Suleyman, and she was born in Kurdistan, but has lived in Nashville ever since she was five. She is Muslim, a political activist, and a feminist. She is only in her mid-20s. I really admire her and what she does. Being all these characteristics, she's obviously in danger all the time; the risks she takes to do what she stands for is inspirational to me.

However, I didn't just admire what she stood for. I also liked how informative she was about the misconceptions people have about Islam. She answered many of our prepared questions about women in Islam, and I learned a lot. She's taught me that Muslim women actually get a lot of privileges that men don't get, and to some, they might actually have more privileges than the men do. Many people think that the veil that covers a women's head (called a hijab) oppresses women, when actually in fact, it's meant to do the exact opposite. Muslim women have a choice if they want to wear the veil; Remziya didn't start wearing it until four years ago. The hijab is meant for being modest and having a stronger "bond"--submission with God. She also told us something that many people think is a simple tip, yet many don't do it. She told us that we should always ask and not assume. The world has so many misconceptions about Islam and its practices, and if people just asked Muslims about their practices, Muslims wouldn't mind answering and having a discussion about it. These are the main things of the many things that I learned in this discussion with Remziya today.

Before lunch, we had "Quiet Time", which was a self-reflection period in which we answered four questions about how we were feeling about the class so far. I wish I could tell you more about what I wrote, but I turned in the paper after class. Let me just say, however, that the way I'm learning is very different than what I'm used to. I think that because there is no real "grade" in this course, students in my class actually want to learn--not just for the good grade. The class is also very small (12 students), so we can get very personal--especially in discussions. I'm used to having 32+, sometimes even 38 students, in my high school classes, so it's nice to experience a new learning environment--especially with students who are so intelligent, hardworking, and insightful. This class hasn't changed me too much as a person yet, but I'll tell you more about my self-reflection another day. I know by the end of this class, however, I will definitely have something changed about me--academically, mentally, or spiritually.

The rest of class was devoted to discussion about how we were feeling about the class so far (of course) and watching a documentary about Muslim active feminists. The video was pretty much to reinforce what we were learning about Muslim women. When our T.A., Eli, saw that we had some time left over, the class watched The Big Bang Theory. It was a great way to end class.

VSA's evening activity was a bit more of a serious one. We were having dinner with the Dean of Hank Ingram House, Dean Wcislo, and some admissions officers. The dinner was surprisingly quick, and we had Mexican food that reminded me of Chipotle, which made me a bit nostalgic because I always eat at the Chipotle in Pinole. Anyway, here's some pictures of some of my friends!


Alexa, Eric, and Anna


Some of "the guys" and Avery

After dinner, the students, along with an admissions officer, got into groups of about twenty. We, the students, were pretending to be an admissions committee. We had four applications and were only allowed to accept one, deny one, and wait-list two. Being in an admissions officer's shoes and seeing what it's like to actually go over an application and make a decision of who to accept was very helpful for me. I already knew mostly how they accept you, but it made me realize that every single thing on one's application matters, because that packet is the only thing the admissions officers know about a student. Even one's email could mean something. For example, a student named "Juan", had an email ID called "iamnumberjuan". This really doesn't matter, but perhaps this shows something about the person. This is because it was obvious in Juan's application that he was lazy. Even his teacher recommendation said something bad about Juan, that he turned in late homework. And Juan being lazy reflected in his average grades. His test scores, although high, meant nothing if he couldn't work in a classroom and turn in work on time. This is why although he had extremely high SAT scores, most of the committees denied Juan. This goes to show that the person who is more well-rounded will get in. I pretty much knew this already, but it's just nice to be in the admissions officer's shoes.

One thing that frightened me a bit, however, was the realization that I had to raise up my standardized testing scores. Although colleges look at an applicant's application holistically, test scores still do play a big part, because many of the applicants will have high test scores already. Well, I still have time to study and practice, so I can raise my SAT and ACT scores. I shouldn't worry too much, but this is the only part of my application that I'm afraid of. When I come back from this trip, I'm definitely going to practice and study for these standardized tests.

Today was a great day for self-reflection. I looked back at my faith and what I believe in, and I started to think more and more about my college applications. I am not frightened; I just know that this school year will be an intense and exciting one.

Wow, tomorrow's already Thursday. Good night!

Dinner And A Workshop

Class today was the complete opposite of class yesterday. The day before, we did a whole ton of walking around and looking around different research places; however, today we just sat and had a lecture for the whole school day. Lectures are never too bad, in fact, they are pretty interesting. I think I learned a lot about Cancer and a bunch of random facts that pretty much blew my mind.

Apparently a babies’ placenta is used in about 135 medical and scientific uses including: body lotions, “protein-rich” face creams, and shampoos. Placenta even treats gum disease, arthritis, and eye problems. Just imagine, something you use at home can have baby placenta in it. Yes, I know the stuff we use every day has even weirder stuff in it, but just finding out about specific things like this creep me out a little.
Anyway, today’s topic was mainly about one of the leading causes of death: Cancer. Cancer is caused by some malfunction in a normal cell – basically the cell’s DNA is mutated in a way that it makes the cell multiply infinitely and become harmful to the body. There are four types of cancer which include carcinoma (skin, lung, and breast), lymphoma (immune system), leukemia (bone marrow), and sarcoma (tissue, muscle). As everyone knows, cancer is extremely difficult to get rid of; however, there are some ways to fight it. The typical ways to combat cancer is through Chemotherapy, surgical removal, and bone marrow transplant.
There are many different drugs to use to against cancer. One I found that was interesting was Taxol. Taxol comes from the Pacific Yew Tree and is found to be extremely effective against ovarian cancer. It targets malignant tumors by interfering with the microtubules that are responsible for dividing chromosomes during cell division. The problem is, it takes about 20,000 pounds of bark to make only 1 kg of Taxol. As you can imagine, many trees will have to be cut down, which isn’t good for the environment. Also, it is expensive, with 1 kg of Taxol costing about 600,000 dollars. I don’t know about you, but I sure don’t have that kind of money lying around. Regardless, scientists have made a semi-synthetic material that is almost exactly like Taxol, so hopefully one day it can be used to effectively treat this cancer.
Once we finished with the lectures, Dr. Sulikowski informed us about our final projects. We will basically come up with our own research ideas and how we plan to use it and also present them in front of college grad students. Yes, college grads, and yes, I am a little nervous. Nevertheless, these challenges are what make this class unlike any high school class out there, and I really want to do my best with this and prove my abilities.
After class, we all got dressed up for the dinner with the Dean. The dinner was supposed to be outside, but due to the storms rolling in, the dinner was moved inside the Commons. The Tex-Mex food wasn’t too bad, but in all honesty, I am not a big fan of Tex-Mex.

My roomate and I :)

After dinner, we had this activity called, “You Decide: An Admissions Case Study” which involved 4 kids that we had to either accept, waitlist, or deny to this fictional university. We were all separated into groups to decide the fate of these four students. I, along with a few others, was put in a room with Ricky Thrash, who was an admissions officer at Vanderbilt. He was really relaxed and humorous, which made it really easy for everyone to express their opinions on this admissions case study.
The applicants were 4 totally different people named, Michelle (who had a recently deceased father, Christina (a girl who turned her life around), Stephen (a quirky, creative applicant), and Juan (a bright but lazy boy). After about a whole hour of discussing, weighing options, and voting, we finally came to a conclusion. We admit Stephen, waitlisted Michelle and Christina, and denied poor Juan. In the end, this case study really showed me how hard it was to be an admissions officer; I really don’t know how they do this every year – it really is painstaking work. Also, it gave me more of an in-depth view of the whole admissions process. Things like these are really helpful to anyone who wants to apply to college soon and even the curious student. It would be really beneficial if there were more workshops like these. Maybe one day they can be more widespread, and in turn everyone can benefit from it.

My proctor group!

A Little More Insight

Tonight I gained a little more insight on the admissions process that happens here at Vanderbilt University. A dinner was held this evening with the dean of the Commons; all the VSA students dressed in their best "snappy casual" clothing and reported to the Commons for dinner and a brief introduction. After the dean introduced himself and some admissions officers (none of whom were the admissions officer for California), he gave a succinct speech. We chewed our food slowly and respectfully listened to his speech before heading to the Rotunda, where we were divided into groups of fifteen. Our job in those groups were to evaluate the applications of four different students and deliberate which one of those students should be accepted, which should be wait-listed, and which should just be denied.  

It was interesting reading some faux admissions applications to " Redbrick University"( which is a fictitious college). The four students who's applications we read were very different. Each of them had specific skills and weaknesses, so it took a while to decide who earned what. I realized that a strong application has everything:exceptional grades, leadership and commitment in extracurricular activities, recommendations, and your personal essay. Therefore, we chose the candidate who best fit this description. 

This activity really gave me some insight on what I need to do to have a strong application. I have to admit, I wasn't feeling too confident about college when I looked at some of those example applications because I have not done nearly as much as those sample students have. I returned to my room despondent after that activity. I picked up a pen and paper and began listing every significant achievement  of my academic life and realized that I may not have done as much as some students, but I have done a good amount. 

Everyday at Vanderbilt is like an adventure. I am learning new things and meeting new people everyday. I am discovering more about myself and who I am personally and academically. I am no longer an ignorant little kid; I have evolved into a mature young adult, with a more thoughtful curiosity about the world. I can now recognize mistakes and things I am doing wrong and fix them. I am finally starting to grow up now. 

More Challenges=More Confidence

Unfortunately, I woke up this morning with a swollen eye. I’m glad it’s not too bad, but I hope it gets better soon. I'm not exactly sure where it came from, but hopefully I'll find a way to get rid of it as soon as possible.

Our proctor group picture!
Our professor brought us Dunkin' Donuts!
It was my first time eating it and it was the best! 
I tried something different for breakfast, so instead of eating eggs, bacon, and hash browns, I ate Captain Crunch cereal with milk. It was not too heavy, but I was satisfied. It was only 9 AM in the morning, but it was extremely humid outside.  As soon as we entered class, we went straight to a lecture on cancer drugs. Did you know that one in four people in the United States under the age of 80 die of cancer? Everyone has cancer cells in their body, but since most of our immune systems are working properly, our cancer cells are not active; therefore, nothing is uncontrollably multiplying our cells. One interesting fact I learned was that: if you had a CAT scan already, you have fulfilled the amount of radiation exposure you can have in your lifetime. I took in so much information about cancer; this blog would end up being pages and pages long. I’ve come to realize how fast pace this Pharmacology class is, and although I may not understand every single thing, I am able to grasp the concepts as a whole. My professor doesn’t expect us to know every single fact, because she understands it’s a rigorous course load designed for undergraduate students.
This guy always gives you a good laugh!

On our second half of the class session, we began discussing our final project. In groups of three, we are to pick a drug, form three research questions about the drug, research the questions, and come about a way to actually start researching. Now you may think this will be a simple class presentation, but it’s not; we will be presenting to a panel of graduate students! VSA is a summer program where they do challenge you and push you over and beyond what you thought you would be doing at a summer camp. We can’t just sit there and begin forming simple questions; my group literally sat for 45 minutes, with our minds boggling, forming three complex research questions on ADHD/ADD medications. It will require a lot of hard work and confidence to present it in front of highly intelligent group of graduate students, but I know we have the capability to do so.

Fencing is getting more and more challenging each day. New moves, new tricks, and let’s say I’m not the best at it.

Fencing with Narges!
Some awesome people I've met here!
 We had a special dinner tonight with Dean Wcislo, the dean of the Commons building. We dressed to impress to show our appreciation for letting the VSA sessions use this part of campus. We ended the night with an opportunity to read and discuss real accepted, waitlisted, and rejected college applications with Vanderbilt college admissions officers. This for me was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see how college admissions officers think and decide. We were divided into groups and as a group we acted as a college admission committee. In the end, I learned there is not one way to get into college and being a college admissions officer is a tough job. Each individual has his/her own strengths and weaknesses, and there is not one perfect student. With all the college information sessions, meetings with college admission officers, tours, and talks with students I’ve been to these past 3 weeks, the one thing I will always remember is, “Take your passions and run with it.” Each person is different, but colleges are looking for how you will impact their institution, their community.

The sweetest people!
So to all college applicants out there, "Do your best and be yourself!"