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Hello Blogosphere! by DJ Rock

My dirty little secret...(I've never taken calculus)

December 8, 2018

Last June, I returned to my former high school to present an Information Session about MIT. Afterwards, I was visiting some teachers when I walked into my former chemistry teacher’s office (he was now the principal which made me feel incredibly old). As soon as he saw me, he shouted, “YOU work at MIT Admissions!? The kid who used to complain about how much you hated science at the back of every one of my classes?”

And, well… he’s not wrong. If you rewinded back to high school, a younger me (still just as good-looking, even without the locs on my head) got perfect scores in every math class I took. Although my high school was incredibly diverse, as I rose up through honors-level and advanced placement courses, I increasingly became one of few Black/Puerto Rican students in those classes. Particularly in STEM courses, there was a group who called themselves “The Nerd Herd,” who constantly competed for the top GPA and class rank whenever they could. They agreed that they would apply to every Ivy League school together (not because they had done good research on school fit, just only for the prestige), and would often belittle me and make me feel dumb in those classes despite the high grades I was earning. One time, when I was paired up with one student in the nerd herd for a quiz, the rest of the group pointed and laughed at him for having to work with me.

Needless to say, I stopped taking honors STEM courses. In fact, in my senior year, I didn’t take a single one. Instead, I buried myself in AP Government and AP Literature because those classes felt less focused on scores and grades, and more about learning about people and society. Naturally, this aversion to STEM continued as I went to college and pursued a major/minor in Journalism and Political Science (which only required 2 semesters of STEM to graduate).

When I first accepted my role at MIT, I thought I was a great fit for the Visit Team that I sit on. I organized a tour guide program at my undergrad institution, I had worked with students for two years a college counselor and learned many insights about the application process, and I had ample experience working in college admissions and access. Even though I was hired out of a competitive pool of applicants, I was still incredibly anxious and experienced hardcore imposter syndrome for my first few months at MIT (even now and again it still pops up!). My biggest fear was that the students and community I would be joining at MIT would be ver similar to the “nerd herd” who shamed me in high school.

However, after meeting more students and learning about what the MIT community is actually like, quite frankly, I’m upset that I didn’t apply to MIT for undergrad myself. I’ve been surprised to learn that there is a community of students that is passionate about STEM and as passionate about the outside world and the people in it as I am. MIT isn’t this cut-throat battle to have the highest GPA and to be smarter than the people around you. Whether students are developing methods to improve emergency transportation services in under-resourced countries or finding new ways to study underwater ecosystems without destroying their natural habitats, there is a sense of collaboration and giving back to the world that excites me to work on this campus every day.

As a first-generation-to-college student, I have many regrets about my college application process mostly because of a lack of accurate information. That’s largely why I do this work; to share accurate information about the college process with all of you. I’m incredibly excited to join the Blogosphere to share my perceptions of this campus and dispel any rumors about MIT that aren’t true (like the rumor that MIT isn’t a place for students who love the social sciences!).

Lastly, I was also worried that MIT was a place where there were only super nerds who code and build robots in their rooms all day. I remember wondering if I’d find anyone who shared the same interests as me – hip hop and R&B music, reality TV shows, cooking new recipes, etc. And yes, there are probably students who do code all day here at MIT, but there are also so many different types of students on this campus. Ty Dolla $ign, one of my favorite rappers, performed on-campus at SpringFEST last year, I’ve debated many students on who their favorite drag queens from RuPaul’s Drag Race are (#TeamMonet), and I can admit that some MIT students are better cooks than I am. My goal is to share these stories – the ones that you may not think of when you think of MIT – with all of you!

Also, can you imagine what “the Nerd Herd” would think if they found out that I was an admissions officer at MIT?