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MIT student blogger Anna H. '14

Alan Guth and Day 1 on the Navajo Reservation by Anna H. '14

Warning: this post may blow your mind

My first final exam at MIT was 8.012: “Physics For Masochists”, otherwise known as “Physics I: Mechanics” (Masochists, Mechanics…close enough).

I was a little jittery. I set three alarms that morning, and donned my most comfortable pair of sweatpants (Manchester United sweatpants, otherwise known as “Best Football Team Ever” sweatpants). Exams were passed out. My desk remained empty. I raised my hand. A proctor yelled “BEGIN!” I stood up and glanced around; no one around me had an exam, either. We shared a hall with a few other physics classes, and it looked like the entire 8.012 section had been left exam-less.

Panic attack. I marched up to a group of proctors, and tapped one of them on the shoulder. He turned around, and some gears at the back of my mind began to turn; he looked strangely familiar. I ignored them, and explained that no one in the 8.012 section had an exam.

Proctor (smiling): “8.012? Are you sure you’re in the right place?”
Me: …
Proctor: “Is 8.012 even in this building?”
Me (bristling): “Um, yes. 8.012 is DEFINITELY in this building, and we DEFINITELY do not have exams.”
Proctor: “Oh…okay. We’ll sort it out.”

He turned to the other proctors. I took ten steps in the direction of my seat, and then froze as the gears in my head clicked into place. I freaked out, and grabbed the girl next to me; a shout-out to Sophie ’14, friend and dorm-mate. I’m sorry if I scared you.

Sophie: “What?”
Sophie: “Uh…no? Should I?”

Alan Guth (scroll down to the bottom). Also known as the father of inflationary universe theory and, apparently, a professor at MIT.


He was there because he’s a recitation instructor for 8.033 – General Relativity – who had their exam in the same hall. He also, I found out, is a recitation instructor for 8.286 – The Early Universe – which is pretty mind-blowing, since we owe much of our theories on the early universe to him.

If that didn’t blow your mind, maybe this will: I am currently living on a Navajo reservation, forty miles from the nearest grocery store. There’s a gas station, two schools, and a cluster of houses occupied by teachers…and that’s it.


It looks like this in every direction

I’ll be here for the next four weeks – for IAP, which you read about in a recent post by Hamsika – as part of MIT’s Four Weeks For America Challenge.

The high school I’m working at is 100% Navajo, and has a graduation rate of 27.6%. The teacher I’m paired up with teaches math, and her roommate teaches English; I’ll be helping both of them out over the next few weeks. She told me that the kids are currently busy chopping wood to prepare for the winter, and that “about half…live in hogans and/or house/trailers without electricity and running water.” In case you don’t know, this is a hogan:


Is your mind blown yet?

It’s a completely different world.

This afternoon, my host and I took a walk around the area, to clear our heads and get some exercise. I was horrified at how quickly I became out of breath, until I found out that we’re about 7,000 feet above sea level. The fact that we were almost knee-deep in snow made it even more of an adventure; at night, the temperature here drops to below zero (Fahrenheit!). I don’t know about you, but when I think “New Mexico”, “Arctic tundra” doesn’t immediately come to mind.


Did not expect this.

Since today was my first day at school, I don’t have much to report about the students or about the work that I’ve been doing, but you can expect to hear plenty more from me in the next couple of weeks :)

A final note: the house I’m staying in has this sign by the front door, which I thought I would share…


“She believed she could so she did.”

And here’s a beautiful New Mexico sunset. Happy New Year!


12 responses to “Alan Guth and Day 1 on the Navajo Reservation”

  1. Steph says:

    Good luck out there!

    The Mojave received snow too. :

  2. Emad '14 says:

    Whoooooaaaaaa everything is all centered even after your post!

  3. Anonymous says:

    FFFFF- I was skeptical but my mind actually is blown, haha. I would freak out if Alan Guth proctored my exam. Like, a lot.

  4. Tanay says:

    Hey, MAN U is not the best team, Although i envy you for your meeting with Mr Alan.
    Best of Luck in Mexico!!!!

  5. Justin says:

    yep, alan guth (and also the hogan) did it. smile

  6. Anonymous says:

    I’m curious about what you have learned and experienced regarding some of the problems on the Rez and what’s being done to address them. I’ve spent time volunteering on two other northern Reservations and have been absolutely overwhelmed by the destructive cycles of abuse, poverty, and alcoholism. Are families better off on this Rez than others? If so, why?

  7. Vivek says:

    This post covers 2 of the reasons I want to see myself at MIT so badly:
    A) The high probability that you might quite literally bump into some brilliant people.
    B) The opportunity to be part of something that can impact other people’s lives.
    Hope you have a great time there.
    In the days leading up to mid-March, all I’ll be doing is *sigh*…

  8. Gabe says:

    “Best of Luck in Mexico!!!!”

  9. Anna H. '14 says:

    Thanks for all the ‘good luck’s, everyone!

    @Anonymous: It’s extremely overwhelming. This reservation in particular is very spread out and isolated, and so the families here tend to be on the more traditional side (and the less contact-able side, which makes life difficult). My first impression is that the students have very challenging home situations; it’s a constant battle for them to balance academic work with what’s going on outside class. I know that alcoholism, poverty, and drugs are all big problems…it’s pretty heart-breaking to see, knowing that the kids just want to do well, graduate, and get good jobs. I’d love to hear more about your experiences volunteering, and will fill you in more as time goes on!

  10. catecolon says:

    This definitely blew my mind!

  11. Michelle says:

    Please, Liverpool all the way raspberry

    Your IAP sounds awesome!

  12. Shubham says:

    Hey anna dont think that i’m wrong, working there cn be hard as i cn consider by ur blog presented…..
    All d very best. You owe it…& definately a happy new year.