A few days ago, I called two of my dearest friends, Asia and Daymé, to talk about their experiences as a WISE student, host, and admissions ambassador. WISE stands for Weekend Immersion in Science & Engineering, and it’s MIT’s fly-in program where rising high school seniors learn about the MIT experience over two days. You can find the application for this year’s program and further details here. I will now spend the rest of this blog explaining why WISE is amazing.
Applying to WISE
Both Asia and Daymé heard about WISE through programs they did the summer after their junior years. A professor at the university where Asia was doing research mentioned that his son visited schools for free during his senior year. “Good schools do it,” he told her, so she googled it, learned they were called fly-ins and applied to several. Daymé heard about WISE through LEDA, a program for high-achieving students from under-resourced backgrounds. Her LEDA college guidance counselor told her about WISE, and that was the first fly-in she applied to.
Daymé had her heart set on MIT since at least the eighth grade. Coming from a low-income background where the majority of the people in her area didn’t have college degrees and didn’t leave her town, she was always told education was her way out. She realized that if she did well in school, the government or the school she’d attend would assist in paying for her degree. She loved math, so she researched what the best place to study math was. “[MIT]’s where I’ll go,” she decided.
Asia’s reason for applying to WISE was simple: “it was free”. We both laugh at this. More seriously, since she had always been interested in STEM and chemical engineering, MIT was on her list of schools to apply to. But she wasn’t genuinely considering it. “I didn’t think I’d get in,” she confessed, “until I got accepted to WISE.”
Misconceptions about MIT
MIT was very different than Daymé and Asia imagined it being. Daymé was always told she had a big personality and was a very social and outgoing person. Her high school teachers would joke that MIT students were “sitting in the basement with glasses on in the dark,” and she would not know how to socialize with them. Daymé was especially inclined to believe them because many of the people sharing these sentiments were college counselors and other higher-education related advisors. Asia had a similar picture of MIT as a really depressing, weird school where she wasn’t going to fit in because she was cool. She applied anyway because MIT was a good school.
WISE Events and Memories
Asia and Daymé both distinctly remember going to House 2, a living group in one of the undergraduate residential halls the first night of WISE. Many of the House 2 residents were talking or making brownies. Asia remembers looking at one House 2 member with her hair in two buns and a shirt that said ‘hot sauce in my bag’ walk by and thinking “where do they find these people?” Daymé and Asia list the people they met that night, people that made their WISE experience fun and worthwhile, people they would eventually become really close friends with.
They also visited Chocolate City, another living group in New House, that same night. Daymé says the kitchen was “on and popping”. People were playing music, talking to each other, and doing problem sets. Asia remembers playing dominoes with Daymé and two other current students, who were doing math during the game. “They would talk about school when they didn’t have to,” she said. One of the students playing dominoes with Daymé was an Admissions Ambassador, and it was inspiring to see a guy from Miami who is Cuban―just like her―going to MIT.
Between sitting in on classes and touring departments, WISE provides many opportunities to explore MIT’s academics, though both Daymé and Asia didn’t utilize this to the fullest extent. Daymé remembers attending a big lecture, being confused, and leaving. She ran into an admissions ambassador in the hallway who took Daymé to the Latino Cultural Center where they watched Jane the Virgin until Daymé’s next event (Daymé didn’t end up going to any other classes). Asia tried to go to a French class, but couldn’t find the room until 30 minutes after its start. She didn’t want to interrupt a small class, so instead, she wandered the halls with another WISE student. They ended up running into a literature professor and talked for a bit. The other class she went to was a course 10 class that a current MIT student who went to her high school told her about. However, she went to class, and “knocked out.”
That’s because they both stayed up late doing various activities. “WISE is so short, but it feels so long,” Dayme remarks. Asia slept so little, but she wasn’t as tired as she expected. The same thing happened when she came for CPW and Ebony Affair. She continues, “every time I came, I didn’t sleep, and I wasn’t tired” (she clarified it was not true anymore). Asia explored the different corners of campus well past midnight. Going through her Snapchat memories, she finds a video where someone was showing her a spot where one could nap at the Barker library, a spot she has since also napped in. Daymé went to Harvard and saw the statue of John Harvard and had ice cream at Harvard Square.
One of Daymé’s favorite parts of WISE was getting to build night lights at the Edgerton Center. She was so stressed because she had never built anything before. She remembers asking the instructor how to solder, and he demonstrated it once and encouraged her to just play with it. Daymé says that his outlook was very much along the lines of “if you burn it down, burn it down, on to the next.” She had a great time building and making things, and while this wasn’t the exact moment she decided to be Mechanical Engineering it opened her eyes to what engineering looked like.
On the last day of WISE, Daymé and Asia took a cute picture together inspired by The Fault in Our Stars on Killian Court. Asia and Daymé went on to hang out together during CPW and Ebony Affair, did Interphase EDGE is a two-year scholar enrichment program which includes a seven-week summer session the summer before freshman year together, and now live together in House 2. Asia says that even if they don’t talk all the time, Daymé has “been a constant in her life.”
WISE and MIT’s culture
WISE debunked a lot of myths both Daymé and Asia had. For Asia, “the reasons [she] thought MIT wouldn’t be for her were all disproven.” She saw students’ excitement and the collaborative and supportive environment at MIT. She remembers a current student sharing her bad times at MIT and how her friends were so supportive. WISE helped her dispel the notion that MIT was going to be depressive and competitive. Daymé echoes the same points. Getting to see for herself that there was always something going on at MIT dismissed many of her misconceptions. She says it was really cool to see people up at 2 AM listening to Kendrick and doing quantum physics. Moreover, WISE allowed her to experience MIT through the lens of a minority and not MIT as the PWI. It felt there was a place for her at MIT and that she could see herself there.
Asia recalls how people seemed like they were able to do what they wanted to. Her host was undecided on her major well into her sophomore year, and that was okay; she was still taking classes she liked. Another student Asia met had switched his major from physics to math because he wanted to. She remembers walking past the glass blowing classroom in shock. People seemed genuinely interested.
Asia thinks that the academics she missed during WISE might have skewed her view of MIT a little bit. Everyone obviously said MIT was rigorous, but people weren’t dying. Though in hindsight she thinks it must have been purely by chance. The students she talked to at other fly-ins would talk about the stress constantly while the students she met at MIT did not (“though it’s definitely the case now,” Asia asserts). She guesses that she was either blinded by how much fun she was having or she spent most of her time with seniors or both. She remembers trying to visit a current MIT student who she had done a summer program with. She texted him asking to hang out, but he was busy with a problem set due the next day and could only say hi and chat for a bit. She thought to herself, ‘how busy could he be?’ But now that she goes to school here, she understands.
WISE, College Applications, and Decisions
Asia learned more about MIT’s application during WISE. During the information session, students were talking about recommendation letters, and Asia remembered thinking that she hadn’t even looked at that nor MIT’s application. She says she thought, “I kinda like it here, I might have to get the application in.”
WISE and fly-ins helped Daymé figure out what she valued in a college. At first, she didn’t care where she was as long as she wasn’t home. But after visiting other schools, she realized that she valued being in a city. Other factors such as campus size and population became important too. Getting to visit schools’ campuses before and after applying to schools not only helped her figure out what to value but also where to commit. This is something she tells prospective students: if you’re applying to MIT, you’re probably applying to a lot of schools of the same caliber, and you’re generally going to get the same quality of education. What makes the difference is the school, the infrastructure, and the community.
Both Asia and Daymé can’t remember if they talked about WISE on their MIT application, but WISE definitely informed why they wanted to go to MIT. Asia got a really good sense of the social aspect of MIT and the communities she would later be a part of such as House 2 and the Black community. WISE served as a lot of talking points during Daymé’s MIT interview and gave her a better idea of what to look for in terms of schools. For both of them, WISE influenced who they hung out with during CPW and Ebony Affair. When Daymé posted a picture of her at Stanford, the upperclassmen she hung out with told her to come to MIT, and texted her on other platforms telling her that she needed to “stop entertaining other options.” The fact that multiple upperclassmen she had spent only a few weekends with were “riding this hard for [her]” said something.
Daymé and Asia work in the Admissions Office as Admissions Ambassadors, who are current MIT students that help with recruiting. Being an Admissions Ambassador is Asia’s favorite job on campus. “All the people I have had the pleasure to work with are incredible,” she says. If she hadn’t visited MIT, she doesn’t know if she would have even applied since she really didn’t think she was going to like it. Once she got to MIT, WISE was such a big part of her decision because she had such a good experience, and the people she interacted with made a big impact and ultimately changed the course of her life. She remembers her senior year and the stress that comes with applying to colleges and choosing what college to go to, so she loves being able to help in that way.
Daymé agrees without hesitation. As a first-generation and low-income student who attended WISE and is now on the other side, she loves giving any and all advice. Daymé worked at the Admissions Office’s desk during her freshman fall because she thought that her acceptance into MIT was a mistake and she wanted to give back to admissions. “I know you guys messed up, but you’re too ashamed to say it so I’m going to throw you a bone and pay it back,” Daymé said. She would volunteer to help out with WISE and Ebony Affair, and when applications to be an Ambassador were released in the spring, she applied. Having a chance to make a positive impact on a high schooler’s life in choosing where they want to be for the next four years is something Daymé greatly appreciates. Daymé says that the same goes for most if not all Admissions Ambassadors, who are some of her close friends.
Admissions Ambassadors play a big role in matching prospective students with their hosts for WISE. Students fill out a survey of their dorm and host preferences as well as academic and extracurricular interests. Daymé says that she goes through the list of students and makes connections with her friends who she thinks might be a good match based on the information she has from the survey. And if those friends haven’t signed up to host, she’ll call and bother them until they do. If she can’t find a really good match, she will go out of her way to connect them to resources available on campus that would interest them.
WISE students interact with Admissions Ambassadors a lot. Admissions Ambassadors lead ice breakers, tours, and student panels. Admissions Ambassadors also help students figure out what they might want to do in their free time, hang out with students, and explore campus with them. Essentially, all the “fun stuff outside of scheduled things,” Asia adds, “where the magic happens.” It’s during these moments where a lot of the sincere conversations happen―whether it’s with the host or other students both WISE and current. Students bond over other fly-in programs, colleges, and applications.
There is also a panel where students ask current students and Admissions Ambassadors any questions. Admissions Officers and other adults don’t stay in the room to give WISE students the freedom to ask difficult questions or other questions geared towards student life. WISE students will ask questions about the different scenes at MIT, mental health, stress, lack of diversity, and discrimination, and the panel tries their best to answer those questions. Daymé says that she answers truthfully regardless of whether the answer is good or bad. For instance, she is not afraid to admit that her experience as a first-generation student was incredibly difficult during her freshman year. But now, three years later, there’s a First Generation Program and a working group for First Generation, Low Income students. A student group called CASE, Class Awareness, Support, and Equality, has formed, and Student Support Services has started giving out meal swipes. While there is still a long way to go, there have been drastic changes.
Overall, WISE is a valuable time for students to get advice from people who have gone through the college process whether it be through fly-ins to college application to transitioning into freshman year. Admission Ambassadors were high school students not long ago, and both Asia and Daymé encourage students to ask them questions about anything. Daymé vividly remembers being a high school senior having a “million breakdowns on a daily basis about college applications.” She loves answering questions students didn’t even know they had. Examples include ‘do you need to bring your own furniture?’, ‘what is it like having a communal bathroom?’, and ‘do you need to bring a pillow?’ She tries to throw every bit of information out there.
Favorite Parts of WISE and Admissions Ambassadors
The last question I asked Asia and Daymé was to list their favorite parts of being a WISE student, host, and Admissions Ambassador. Daymé’s experience at the Edgerton Center was her favorite part of WISE. It gave her an insight into the maker culture at MIT and what engineering classes would look like. Plus, she had never built anything before, so it was an incredible new experience. Every time she has hosted a student, she has pulled an all-nighter. When she hosted a student she knew from high school, she stayed up till 4 AM and talked about absolutely nothing even though she had an exam the next day. She says that “it’s so fun to get to meet so many cool people through WISE.” As an Admissions Ambassador, her favorite moments happen not during WISE but after it, when students come to CPW and attend events such as the WISE reunion. Students will come up to her and say that they remembered her or that what she had told them about MIT or the college application was true or helpful. “In the moment,” Daymé reflects, “you don’t even realize how much of an impact you’re going to have on someone’s life.”
Asia’s favorite part of WISE was definitely interacting with the current students. The conversations and experiences she had with them, who she is still friends with to this day, have been really impactful. Asia enjoys being a host and the opportunity to open up her home to someone else. Every year she will host a student for HackMIT to get a free air mattress to add to her growing stockpile and prepare for hosting WISE students. As an Admissions Ambassador, her favorite part is picturing WISE students at MIT. While she doesn’t force people to come to MIT, for a lot of people, she believes that “they can find a home at MIT.” She imagines where certain students would fit it on campus. She also loves watching friendships form, seeing students who are shyer come out of their shells during icebreakers, and playing games with the students. It reminds her of her own WISE experiences.
There is no doubt that WISE holds a special place in Daymé’s and Asia’s hearts. I spent nearly four hours talking to them about WISE, most of which we spent smiling. WISE is an incredible opportunity to meet amazing students from all around the US as well as really amazing MIT students like Asia and Daymé. I want to underscore that Asia’s and Dayme’s experiences are uniquely theirs, and this blog post is not a guarantee for what someone else’s experience could look like. Still, I hope you recognize that the people who organize and shape this program genuinely love it and care for it deeply and give their all so that everyone walks away having had an amazing time. You are in good hands.
- one of the undergraduate residential halls back to text ↑
- Mechanical Engineering back to text ↑
- Interphase EDGE is a two-year scholar enrichment program which includes a seven-week summer session the summer before freshman year back to text ↑
- First Generation, Low Income back to text ↑