Thursday, August 12, 2010

Missing Ivy Scholars Program

Two weeks, two long intensive weeks. Where do I start? Instead of writing chronologically, which can be somewhat difficult, I will be writing in sections and sub-sections.

Social Life


Brandon, Marisol, Connor, and I walked into thedorm place and quickly checked in. Because we were in different rooms, we were all split up. A student mentor helped me into my lovely fourth story room where only one of my four roommates was present. I promptly introduced myself to him, Colton who is from Pleasanton not far away from my home town Hercules. I went back downstairs and then met the future “class clown”, who invited me and other people to go to lunch together. I went back up to put the fan down and in turn invited Colton to join the mini-group.

After lunch, the group of six that went to lunch together sat down on a table to fill out our seminar forms. During the course of about two hours we were there, literally everyone in the program at one point came to the table and introduced him or herself. The table served as the meeting point to everyone. After dinner I met my other two roommates, both from New York. I found out that roommates were probably the most important people in this program, even more than the Marshall Brief group. At night, I was able to just take time out off working and relax by talking and playing cards with them. The time I spent with my roommates help me to unwind a little bit and not worry about work.

Naturally at every program certain people make groups of friends. My group of friends was a great bunch that always had fun together, for better or for worse. In this program interaction between people besides the Marshall Brief groups is rare so I only spent minimal time with my friends but always had a blast with them. Like any academic environment, having a social group is essential not to go insane, especially in this challenging program.

This summer program is relatively small with only 71 students sharing the same lectures, and dorm buildings. This way everyone knew everyone. I was happy to have at least three personal conversations with almost everyone in the program. The different personalities of every student mixed well to create a very dynamic academic setting. In the program, a lot of people described me as the “the happiest person in the program”. Now I don’t know how I became to be known as that but it is certainly better than being known as the saddest person. The people I met at the program are ones that I want to keep in touch forever.

The student mentors and staff of the program are truly indispensable. They are the pivotal role in this program for both the students and the program overall. At first the student mentors seem a little intimidating, having so many achievements and already survived this program. But as the time progresses and more time is spent with them, they are not that much different from the students, being only two years older than us.

The mentors were essentially older siblings to the students. In addition, the director of student life was more like a father figure. He made sure we had enough sleep, did not go crazy, and did not reflect badly on the program. Without him, I think this program wouldn’t have been as good of experience. Of course this entire program wouldn’t be possible without the program director which I am sure everyone knows. He is the program which I, along with everyone else, am eternally grateful for.


Marshall Brief:
The bulk of the work is done for the Marshall Brief, which is a
group project. The basic point of this brief is to suggest a policy on a specific topic. Each Marshall Brief group consisted of 6 students. The Marshall brief group was assigned the first Monday. At first I was scared because I had heard horror stories from last year’s student that the Marshall Brief is brutal. My group’s main topic was Public Health and within this topic we choose to focus on Maternal Health in Afghanistan. Each group had two mentors. All the mentors scared everyone in the first meeting by saying “the Marshall Brief will be the hardest thing you will ever do in high school and possibly even college”. This definitely got everyone excited.

I came into this Marshall Brief with mixed feelings of fear and excitement. This project was assigned on Monday the 26th and due Sunday the 1st. Now six days for a 12 page double spaced group project may seem a long time, but the problem was that the only time to be able to work on this project was like 2 hours everyday, the wee hours of the mornings, and late at night. In addition, my group’s mentors demanded perfection in every step. Fortunately for me, my group got along great and although had a slow start, progressed fairly quickly. The days in respect for the Marshall Brief felt long and short at the same time. During the course of the Marshall Brief, I did hear some group having horror stories such as policies that were already done, or policies that plan weren’t possible. I was lucky in avoiding these many misfortunes.

The Marshall Brief is definitely one of the most difficult assignments I had ever done but it was not as bad as everyone thought it would be. The written assignment was a little tedious in the research part. Since I had a topic in Afghanistan, my group had to make sure we chose something unique and plausible. As the week progressed, the Brief became the worry of the late night. Because each deadline was at midnight, every group worked on the Brief at night.

The Brief overall was extremely fun to work at; it was intellectual challenging yet fun to do. One of my friends asked me that “if we woke up Monday with another Marshall Brief to do, what would you say?” My answer then was no, but it has now changed, and I would definitely do one again. In addition to the paper, a PowerPoint presentation was also needed. The actual presentation was overseen by a “murder-board” whose job was solely to ask annoying questions. Prior to the “murder-board”, my roommates helped each other in preparing for this nerve-racking moment. The presentation was nerve-racking intense but well worth it. Our group did very well, one of our group member got best individual presentation award.


Everyday there was about 8 hours of lectures. This may seem a lot, well, it is a lot. However, the lectures always were about interesting topics and very engaging. With the lectures, were split seminars which we were assigned to. On the first day, we were asked to rank 49 seminars. I did not have all my favorite seminars but I did get the majority of them. The seminars in my opinion were generally more engaging than the lectures because there was more personal interaction with the students and professor. For the lectures, the students had the chance to attend lectures by Paul Kennedy and John Lewis Gaddis. I appreciated that they were able to take three hours out of their busy schedule and come to speak in this program. The lectures spanned a wide variety of topics with many guest lecturers.

Other assignments:

Along with the Marshall Brief were an essay and two speeches. The essay was a response to the Speluncean Explorers, a trial case which presented a hypothetical situation for murder and cannibalism. It was assigned on Tuesday and was due Friday. Because this dilemma is presented to Harvard Law students, it was a challenging topic to write about. Me, and all the other students, grappled with this question for a while to pound out a two page response to it. The best part of this assignment for me, however, was the discussion on it. People were cold-called on to read and defend their point and frequently to argue against the opposing view. At the end of the discussion, two people volunteered to make a final statement for one point of view. I was the one to overturn and Ethan was the one to keep the judgment. In the end the majority ruled to overturn.

There were two speeches that we had to give. The first was a 5 minute persuasive speech which we chose our own topic. The second was an impromptu speech which we were given 7 minutes to prepare and give a speech on a topic we randomly chose right before the speech. Because I am one of the few science major students in this program, I did not have the same experience as most of the other students who did speech and debate. Going in with very little public speaking experience, I was extremely nervous. My nervousness was apparent in my persuasive speech, but not in my impromptu speech where I had a short spiel on teatime. I was very happy to learn that I was chosen as one of the six finalists for the impromptu speech. My roommate helped me prepare for the speech. I did not win, but one of my friends who well deserved it did. The speaking exercise helped me and the other students greatly by identifying our weaknesses and how to fix them.


The last Saturday had a formal dinner with all the students
and staff. First on the list was a class picture for which I am in the back because of my he
ight. Next was a reception where we had social time. For the formal dinner, we were seated in round tables of eight with at least one staff mentor each. The dinner was one of the best nights in the entire program because it was a relaxing and exciting mood. The food was delicious and the entire meal went smoothly. After the dinner, the entire program had a forced-fun night where everyone was forced to have lots of fun. Included in this night was a talent show where people were able to showcase their non-academic talents.

The next day was Sunday, the final day when everybody leaves. It was a sad day because I was just getting used to the program. I was saddened to hear that some of my friends left early in the morning that I missed them. Fortunately, I was early enough to see the second batch of people leave. My goal that morning was to say good-bye to as many people as possible and thus skipped both a shopping run with friends, and lunch. But it was well worth it, seeing the majority of the people leave.

Now the program is done and I am back at home. Right after I left Yale, I began to miss the program and the people that I lived two weeks of my life with. The two weeks spent at Yale was without doubt extremely intellectually challenging. It was well worth it and will be remembered forever.

I would like to thank Dr. Luong for creating and running this wonderful program and giving the WCCUSD Ivy League Connection the great opportunity to attend it. I would also like to thank Charles Ramsey and Madeline Kronenberg for setting up the ILC and letting many students go to great schools over the summer. Lastly, I would like to thank Don Gosney for all the logistical work he put to make this happen.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

It's Really Over...

I had to change my computer back to West Coast time. It was one of the saddest moments of my life. It’s finally over. I made so many friends and grew up in so many ways while I was at Yale. Although I only spent two weeks there I made what feels like life-long friends. I suppose only time will tell. The academics were hard but I proved to myself I could handle it. I saw colleges on the east coast and realized no west coast school can really compare.

The first few days were a dream, jumping from one Ivy League school to the next. Although I wasn’t a fan of them all, I did find a place in my heart for the east coast. Yes, I will have to go back at other times of the year to make sure that I can handle the weather but I think that is where I want to go to school. It’s far away but I felt at home. The college towns held so many like-minded people and the cities held the kind of hustle and bustle that makes you want to be always moving foreword. I discovered that that was the sort of environment I wanted, if only for the four years I would be in college.

While at Yale I was pushed hard. There was always something important to be done and lots of reading to stay on top of. However, I powered through and discovered that I can handle the load. I even learned that I have what it takes to be a public speaker. Among all the debaters I was chosen to go on to the speech finals. Although I didn’t win, I am proud of myself for getting that far. Never before have I considered myself the type to write and read speeches. Somehow I showed the judges that I had it in me. By picking me to move on, the judges showed me I was capable.

Sometimes things got hard. My Marshal Brief group had more bumps then anticipated, the reading was hefty, and there was little sleep. However, with the amazing friends I made and my own inner strength, I proved that I could power through.

From day one it all clicked. I walked into my room and just knew it was all going to be great. I met my roommate Grace, we introduced ourselves to the people around us, and I realized that there wasn’t one person at the program who wasn’t amazing in their own rite. For once I was in lectures where everyone wanted to be involved. I had a group that all wanted the best project possible, rather then one person carrying all the work. You could feel the intelligence in the air.

I felt at home. As much as I missed my family, I didn’t want to go back to the west coast. The people at Yale were amazing. Every student put care into their work and was dedicated to school. Each and every person wanted to put his or her best foot foreword. We bonded as a class over the workload and lack of sleep. I became known for my coffee addiction and tendency to take too many pictures. However, I found my place and made friends with all those at the program. I enjoyed every minute of it. I made friends from all over the world including Columbia, London, Brazil, New York, Chicago, and right here in California. It makes me teary-eyed just thinking of them all. Thank goodness for facebook and text messaging. I hope to stay in contact with all of the Ivy Scholars. There’s even talks of a reunion in Brazil. Maybe we should shoot for New York first though.

I am forever grateful to the Ivy League Connection for giving me the opportunity to have my eyes opened to this world: one where there are students like me. I got a taste for college life and fell in love with it. Without this program none of my amazing memories would have happened.

Connor's Reflections

From the beginning I felt like I didn't belong. I thought it was a mistake that the Ivy League Connection chose me to represent the school district. I applied for the Cornell and Columbia programs and was rejected by both. I couldn't understand why I had been accepted to the most selective and rigorous course the ILC had to offer, the Yale Grand Strategy Course.

I tried to talk to people about it, but everyone said the same thing. "You were accepted! That means you're just as qualified as everyone else!"

I didn't believe that one bit.

For weeks I heard people tell me how the Yale Grand Strategy Program was the hardest, and how I wouldn't get any sleep, and how Yohanna Pepa did so well last year. My parents told my grandma and my grandma told everyone. My whole family was so proud of me. "I know you'll do well." They told me.

I was afraid that I would let everyone down.

Nonetheless, on July 20th I found myself on a plane to Philadelphia. It was a fun ride. I bonded with Brandon, Marisol and Henry, and I'm pretty sure I saw Jason Sudeikis on the plane. I forgot about how scared I was.

The next morning I woke up in the hotel in Philadelphia and remembered. The butterflies in my stomach were too much. I knelt over the toilet and waited to throw up. I didn't.

The rest of the week we toured colleges. It was a pleasant, informative distraction. I went in thinking I was set on going to college in the city, but Dartmouth changed my mind. After the tour and dinner with the admissions officers, I'd have to say it's my number one college choice. This surprised even me, since Hanover is the opposite of the big city I had always imagined myself living in.

After a week of touring colleges, the Yale Grand Strategy program started. I settled into my dorm. There was no turning back now.

I learned so much inside and outside of the lectures. I learned about Identity Politics, 21st Century Entrepreneurship, and how to cut meat in America. I wrote complicated essays and ended up presenting a proposed policy to a panel of judges who were there to tear our plan apart. I loved the academic rigor, and I didn't find it impossibly challenging. Contrary to what everyone told me, I got about seven hours of sleep every night.

However, I still didn't feel like I belonged. My Marshall Brief Group was dysfunctional, and I felt like I wasn't smart enough or qualified to take charge. At mealtimes I listened rather than participated in conversations, since I felt my input wasn't very important or substantial. I raised my hand in class to ask questions or to comment, but I would feel like everyone else had a better question to ask.

It wasn't until the end of camp that I felt good enough.

At the end of the program some students suggested that we put together a talent show. The administrators were all for it, and I took charge of putting it together. I made a list of everyone who wanted to participate, I organized practices, and I was the Master of Ceremonies for the actual show. I ended up performing a rap I wrote about the Ivy Scholars program as well (I'll upload it on YouTube soon).

The talent show was a success, and I felt just as qualified as everyone else.

It took a week for me to find my confidence, but once I did it was the best feeling in the world. People I was afraid to talk to days before patted me on the back and congratulated me.

When we left the next day, one of the administrators came up to me and said, "Wow, Connor. I didn't know you had it in you."

I wish I had proved myself earlier. I wish that I had believed in myself. However, no one could have told me that I was worth something, I had to find that out by myself.

I now know a ton of Grand Strategy tactics that I'm going to implement as Drum Major of the Marching Band and as co-President of Speech and Debate. However, I also know that I exceeded my expectations. Not my family, not my friends, not even the ILC's expectations. My own, and for that I am thankful.

This was one of the most enlightening and inspiring life experiences I think I'll ever have, and I thank the Ivy League Connection from the bottom of my heart for making it possible.