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MIT staff blogger Matt McGann '00

Introducing the Class of 2013: Trevor ‘13 by Matt McGann '00

The sixth in a series of articles about the incoming MIT class.

Continuing our series Introducing the Class of 2013:


Franklin High ‘regular guy’ bound for MIT
by Betsy Hammond, The Oregonian
Monday June 08, 2009, 8:53 PM


Bruce Ely/The Oregonian: Franklin High valedictorian Trevor Zinser reacts as an impromptu tower of paper cups collapses during a class barbecue to celebrate the success of their woodworking venture, which he helped direct. Zinser likes to work in the wood shop, lift weights, play football and help his dad with construction. But he’s brainy, too, with a penchant for chess and crossword puzzles. He’s headed to MIT with scholarships that pay nearly the total $50,000 cost of freshman year.

Portland high school senior Trevor Zinser has long excelled where muscle matters: playing football, heaving a shot put, framing a house, lifting weights.

A working-class kid raised just off Foster Road in Southeast Portland, the 6-foot-2, 240-pound teen is a leader in the school wood shop, set a school record lifting 600 pounds in the squats and counts his football coach as the teacher who knows him best.

But Zinser also quietly stacked up an academic record prompting Harvard, Stanford and MIT to court him for his brains. Few local graduates in the class of 2009 were as sought after by top colleges — a remarkable achievement for any teen, and particularly one who will be the first in his family to attend college full time.

Zinser will graduate tonight having aced every college-level Advanced Placement course Franklin High offered, from physics and calculus to English and psychology — 10 in all.

His straight-A record made him one of six Franklin valedictorians. But his performance on AP tests and the college-entrance ACT exam put him in the stratosphere, above the 99th percentile, among college-going students nationally.

The MIT-bound teen insists he is “a regular guy” and “not naturally intelligent.” He wears inexpensive jeans and tank T-shirts that show his strapping arms and shoulders. He says he “hates doing homework” and calls himself “one of the worst procrastinators in the world.”

Money has always been tight at home, especially after his parents each got laid off in recent years. Dad Scott Zinser is now a home remodeler, and as a result, his son knows his way around roof trusses, glue-lam beams, 10/12 pitch and compound angles — places where math meets the real world.

Still, Trevor Zinser says he was unsure he could get into MIT, and was floored when the university flew him to Boston to sway him to choose MIT over Harvard or Stanford.

He says a scholarly turning point came when he got A’s in his AP classes as a sophomore but scored only 3’s on the national exams — decent results, but not great, on the tests’ five-point scale.

His take-away: Don’t be a grade-grubber; work to maximize deep understanding.

Ever since, “I focus on trying to retain the material and really learn it,” he says, “not so much on getting an A.”

His mother, Kami, says his academic drive and talent surfaced early. As a 2-year-old, he potty-trained himself in a week when she told him that was a prerequisite for going to elementary school. At 3, he made a game of adding the numerals he saw on houses — 349 S.E. Main Street was a 16, for instance.

At Woodstock Elementary, his second-grade teacher let him take math with fifth-graders. His third-grade teacher steered him toward Winterhaven, a math and science magnet, for middle school.

At Franklin High, Zinser took physics, chemistry and junior-level math his freshman year, then opted for four college-level classes as a sophomore.

He says exceptional teachers, particularly science teacher Dave Sherden, worked hard to make classes deep and engaging.

Zinser took weight training or another PE class every year, too. “I enjoy it,” he says. “It gives me a place to release a lot of aggressive energy.”

Two pivotal summer experiences — an engineering camp at New Mexico Tech and a trip to see sustainable agriculture in Thailand — helped him figure out what he wants to do with his life.

The camp convinced him that chemical engineering is the field for him. Chemical engineers get to draw on math and science to test the limits of speed, temperature and other boundaries. Launching projectiles, blowing things up and propelling vehicles to top speed — all feats of engineering he tried at camp — were very much his style.

Studying global economics and witnessing extreme poverty in Thailand helped cement his desire to help low-income people by working to develop affordable renewable energy.

“The biggest problem with renewable energy systems right now is that efficiencies are low,” Zinser says. “I’m one of those people who enjoys puzzles, and figuring out how to improve renewable energy is one of the ultimate puzzles.”


Trevor Zinser

High school: Straight A’s, including in every Advanced Placement class Franklin High offers. Took seven AP exams junior year, earning top scores in biology, statistics, English.
College: Accepted by Harvard, Stanford, MIT and others. Will attend MIT on $47,000 in scholarships.*
Family: Parents Scott and Kami Zinser; sister, Gabryelle; brother, Krys.
Likes to: Lift weights, play chess, hike, camp, play football, square-dance, procrastinate, hang out with people older than he is.
Doesn’t like to: Lose.
Tough side: First-team all-league offensive lineman. Former heavyweight wrestler. Third at districts in the shot put. School record for weightlifting in squats: 600 pounds.
Tender side: Found and raised an abandoned kitten.
Career plans: Wants to be a chemical engineer working to make breakthroughs in renewable energy.
Wants to: Get a good-paying job so he can afford to “do the really cool things” such as sky diving, bungee jumping and owning a motor boat.

49 responses to “Introducing the Class of 2013: Trevor ‘13”

  1. navin says:

    first to say first and impressive wink

  2. rasizin says:

    does everyone HAVE to be a valedictorian to get in to MIT????????????
    cause, I am not one….

  3. mysterian says:

    You don’t have to be a valedictorian to get into MIT. Or to get on a boat.

  4. Amit says:

    Does anyone knows whan the application forms would be online

  5. Su ('14?) says:

    I love it how he says he realized he wanted to learn and understand the material rather than just attain an A in the class.

  6. rabid_dingo says:

    Why the application is taking sooo much time to be posted??? aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!

  7. Divyansh says:

    congrats Trevor for making it to MIT

  8. Snively says:

    Yeah Oregon! Trevor, where are you temped?

    Also, this part:

    Still, Trevor Zinser says he was unsure he could get into MIT, and was floored when the university flew him to Boston to sway him to choose MIT over Harvard or Stanford.

    It’s interesting how newspapers phrase things. Unless you had prior knowledge, you’d never guess that this was MIT flying him out to CPW, which they also flew several others out to, and where 1,500 kids toured campus.

  9. Snively says:

    Not to cheapen anything, of course! I just reread that comment, it was a bit jaded.

    MIT is going to rock, you’ll have a great time here!

  10. Anon says:

    Cheapen all you want. Trust me, MIT is getting plenty of money at $50,000 a pop.

  11. Isra Shabir says:

    Highly inspirational ’13er!
    It’s just so amazing to find that each student at MIT is so unique and greatly accomplished!

  12. You know all these stories are both inspirational and frightning, like it seems like everyone has to be a valedictorian, have helped find a cure for cancer, and built houses for the needy in third world countries. As inspirational as these stories get, each one I read makes me more and more nervous. (And what’s up with the application taking forever?)

  13. Tyler says:

    I have to agree with mister (14?) here. These stories are almost discouraging for us un-superman like folks…

  14. VAL '14? says:

    Very impressive.

    @Tyler and (’14?): I agree… these previews scare me a bit. Ah well. I guess this is a good start of my preparation for rejection.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Don’t be discouraged. I’m an accepted ’13 and actually pretty intimidated reading these. I’m from a small town and didn’t take more than 5 “AP” courses. I didn’t play sports after my sophomore year of high school. I have an interesting hobby and I volunteer at the library. Certainly not super-human winkJust be yourself (cliche as it sounds).

  16. Shiv says:

    @Bharat: Hi! I am from India too, Delhi to be specific. Where in India are you from? For admission into MIT whats required is two SAT subject tests, and the SAT I or TOEFL, depending on is english is your first or second language and your high school marks. But thats just whats required. What you need is some Extra-curricular activities you are passionate about, some awesome academic achievements, great character, personality and a love for maths and science!
    Hope that helps, but I think what you really want to know is the procedure, is it?

  17. Vicky ('15?) says:

    I want to hear about some kids going into ‘planned’ majors within the school of Architecture and Planning! Having more information from that side of the school would, in my opinion, be very beneficial to a lot of MIT hopefuls.

  18. LR (?14) says:

    This introduction to the incoming class is great and all, but all of this is making me worried about my chances. But the people in these series have been hand picked carefully from the incoming class, so I’m pretty sure there are more down to earth people in there.

    I’m wondering when the app will be out. It takes time to get the process in motion, getting the transcripts from school, getting the teachers to write the recommendation letters, and if the application is releases at the end of august, one month might be a little rushed.

  19. Anonymous says:

    MIT >>> Harvard.

    teehee

  20. As several others have said before… Extremely intimidating, but that doesn’t make it any less inspirational. smile Kudos. It’s great to see someone so unique in such a colorful community.

    (…Though it’s BEYOND refreshing to hear of a human at MIT. Thank you, Anonymous.)

  21. bro says:

    GAHH! where’s the application?
    and jeez, all these personal profiles of the ’13 kids is getting me down a bit. Hope these are among the very best in freshman class. Otherwise, my chances have already passed away. :|

  22. anon says:

    2400 is human too; you can miss a few questions without getting penalized

  23. Tyler says:

    Well, I got a 36 on my ACT… the problem is that as of April I’m only 24th percentile in my class. Luckily it’ll go up when my 4th and 1st term grades are added to the registrar; otherwise…

  24. Bolstein says:

    I also want to know; where in the world are those applications for 2014?!

  25. Lora says:

    I think it’s too early for application, last year it was available only on last week of august, so don’t worry smile

  26. Olive says:

    Wow! That is really, really impressive. I’m happy for him, but at the same time, I too must admit that I am intimidated. I would love nothing better than to go to MIT, but all these stories are making me nervous! (Yes, I know, you don’t have to have cured cancer to get into MIT, but you also can’t blame us for worrying about such things raspberry ) And I’m glad I’m not the only one wondering where the 2010 application is…

  27. Luka ('14?) says:

    MIT really has a unique population!

    Weren’t the application forms supposed to be released on August 1st?

  28. 2013 Dad says:

    You don’t have to be perfect. MIT seems to understand that some very smart kids are not perfect students, and they are looking for a variety of interests, talents and backgrounds.

  29. Bobwrit says:

    Soooooooo……. When does the freshman app go up?

  30. Bharat bahri says:

    Hello Sir
    I am Bharat, from India and i am interested in taking admission to MIT.
    I had searched about the admission process on the site of MiT but the whole of the picture is not clear in my mind. So I request you to please tell me about the admission process.
    hoping for reply..

  31. @ ’14 hopefuls: Yea, my dad was talking about me. I didn’t have the best transcript; I wasn’t valedictorian, but, I was a science nerd who loved theater and liked to do lots of unlike things. I have to admit, not only be yourself, but make sure everything that makes you YOU, comes through on your application one way or another. The more complete the picture you give of yourself, the better the admissions office can advocate for you “Mr. Personality” over the stack of Straight-A Valedictorian President of student council with as much personality as brick wall, A very well crafted brick wall, but a brick wall nonetheless.

  32. Lora says:

    To: LR (?14)
    Even for early action you’ll have 2 months. And also, why don’t you start right now? I don’t think app forms changes a lot each year.
    I downloaded all the forms last year, so I have already started to write something, at least think about.
    If somebody need, I can send them to see, what they were. Just wright to me [email protected]

    To: Shiv
    If you have registered for MyMIT and checked there MIT entrance year as 2010, then you’ll receive a letter from Undergraduate Admissions office in September and they’ll be happy to answer all your questions. They are really friendly and ready to help.

  33. Anonymous says:

    Do previous C’s in the past look bad on the application even If you graduate Valedictorian?
    ( especially if they are in math..*cough*..*cough*)

  34. alexandria says:

    Can someone help me please? i have a myMIT, but i cant get to the application, it just keeps telling me the app. will be out in late summer. i might cry.

  35. NathanArce says:

    Woah, he has an awesome last name!

    *goes off to friend him*

  36. NathanArce says:

    Also, people, the early app isn’t due until the end of october =.=” (the beginning of november, actually, but whatever)

    The app didn’t go online last year until september started! So don’t be so worried about it this far in advance.

  37. NathanArce says:

    I JUST SAID that the app didn’t come out until September last year, Alexandria.

    It is still summer until September 20~21 or so.

    The middle of august is, at best “the middle of summer”.

    Chill the hell out.

  38. Vinaya '15? says:

    WOW!
    sustainable agriculture in thailand..cool!
    Talking about Valedictorians, how important is class ranking in mit admissions?

  39. jennyqiu'13 says:

    To all the ’14ers and ’15ers.

    I was all around intimidated when I saw all these cool things that people do. It made me look like a fluke compared to these people. I admit, though I was Valedictorian, I never went to Mexico to build houses or anything. My SAT and ACT scores were awesome but what are scores to actions? All I did was play piano and work as a lighting designer for all my school’s plays.

    To answer your question Vinaya ’15, I doubt that class rank is really important because there are thousands of “Valedictorians” out there. Does MIT accept all Valedictorian? No. The reason is that some of those valedictorians like to study their lives out and forgo the extracurricular.
    For example, I had an interview (dude you guys HAVE to get an interview if possible and my interviewer was AMAZING) on the same day with this other guy at my school. This other guy took all AP classes (and 5 AP tests by his interview), was a full IB candidate, and more science-y and math-y than I could ever be at the time (he was in over his head with engineering). On top of that, he signed up for 11 tests for May 2009 (I think 5 IBs and 6 APs)because apparently he wanted to impress MIT with his “test taking skills and studiousness”. However, he didn’t have any extracurricular activities save for the one time acting he did in junior year.

    Take a guess who got in and who didn’t? (Hint: I have the ” ’13” for a reason!)

    If that doesn’t convince you, I also know someone who was on the Aca deca team, went to math and science competitions and won first places at all of them, took all AP classes, built robots for fun, and was a valedictorian. He got rejected.

    The admissions are going to argue your way through the pile. I think a healthy balance of good grades and extracurricular activities that you have stuck with your years in high school is a good way to go. Apparently sticking with my piano skills (NOTE: If you are good with an instrument, send a CD) and technical theater was a good way to go. Though they sure didn’t make my GPA any higher, they were my passions (so I used them in my essay).

  40. jennyqiu'13 says:

    apologizing for any grammatical errors… I’m going to go jump rope now.

  41. jennyqiu'13 says:

    oh by the way, the application comes out pretty late. Just write those common app essays and the resume. You’ll just up using them in the MIT essay. Also, don’t waste your time making individual essays for every single college. My friend made unique essays for every college she applied to (about 9-10 in all) and well, let’s say she was complaining about her work load for the entire fall semester.

  42. Anonymous says:

    not so impressive to me :(

  43. @Pretty much everyone freaking out about OMG VALEDICTORIAN-NESS?!:

    Keep in mind that not all high schools or valedictorians are equal. Some may take easy courseloads just to get on top and bump you down a ranking. Some schools weight, others don’t. Maybe there are a lot of fools in your class, so it doesn’t really take much to be val. Obviously, being number one doesn’t come with any guarantees at a high-caliber school like MIT. So many valedictorians apply, it doesn’t even standout or look unique.

    Class ranks are nowhere near as important as ESSAYS showing WHO YOU ARE!

  44. PC says:

    To all of those freaking out about being not-so-impressive:

    I applied to MIT when I was entering university, and was waitlisted. MIT had been my dream school for several years, so I was crushed when I could not attend. Despite that, I still attended an excellent university, received a well-rounded education, and had a great college experience.

    My tidbit of advice is to make the best of wherever you end up, because your experience is what you make of it.

    I did, and now I’ll be happily attending grad school at MIT in a few weeks! smile

    Best of luck to everyone!

  45. cal says:

    Any experienced general chem student can tell you that woodshop + football dont “react well” with chemical engineering.

  46. Evedizzy '12 says:

    Yeah for course 10!!!
    I’d like to have a friendly game of chess with Trevor though…I heard he didn’t like losing..

  47. Vinaya '15? says:

    Thank you guys for all the posts!
    They were very helpful!