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MIT staff blogger Matt McGann '00

Meet the Class of 2012 by Matt McGann '00

Profiles of MIT's new freshmen.

Today, the Class of 2012 formally register for classes and thus become official college students!

Often, I get emails asking what the students we admit are like. Who are they? What are they interested in? What have they done, and what do they hope to do?

So while I can point to some general demographic data in the freshman class profile, giving a sense of their individual achievements, passions, and dreams can be harder. So this summer, I watched the news wire for stories of incoming freshmen in their hometown newspapers. As you may have seen in your community, local and regional papers love to publish stories of locals doing well. Many of these student are from small towns or areas where few students go to out-of-state private universities. These stories, I think, give a nice insight into the lives of some of our incoming freshmen.

Here are the stories I collected this summer about the new MIT freshmen…


MIT scholarship fulfills dream for San Luis teen
May 26, 2008
BY WILLIAM ROLLER, SUN STAFF WRITER

San Luis, Ariz. – Living modestly with a single parent, she may not think of herself as a role model.

But Angelica Ceniceros blazed a trail for other students and earned a scholarship to a prestigious university.

Ceniceros, 18, a senior at San Luis High School, was recently awarded a full scholarship in an honors program to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

She said she arrived at high school with a passion for mathematics and had her sights set on submitting an MIT application since 10th grade.

“I like word problems and always wanted to go into a field to apply my knowledge about math. I want to explore the possibility of applying my skills to design vehicles or systems used in space.”

After returning from a visit to Mexico, Ceniceros checked the MIT online account she established to discover she had been accepted for admittance.

“I was shocked but really glad. I showed my mom the acceptance letter and she was happy, but I told her we can’t afford it. Three weeks later I got my financial aid package and now I can finally enroll.”

Already granted a full-ride scholarship at Arizona State University, Ceniceros had been participating in ASU’s honors program for the three previous summers.

“I was comfortable with the idea of going to ASU and my mom was supportive, but there was no way I was going to throw away the opportunity to go to one of the finest schools in the country.”

Attending school in the Northeast is a major transition, Ceniceros acknowledged, yet she already purchased winter clothing. She will be traveling East this summer for orientation and checking up on living accommodations. And she has been busy e-mailing MIT sophomores to get an insider’s take how to adapt.

“I have asthma, so I have problems with my health. I also asked about which dorm is best to study and about restaurants. I’m a vegetarian, so I need veggie options so it shouldn’t be a problem for me.”

Miguel Contreras, San Luis High School guidance director, said Ceniceros is an all-around excellent student.

“It took a lot of extra work to get to this point,” Contreras said. “But she came with a good foundation from the K through 8 system.”

It was Contreras who shepherded Ceniceros through the financial aid process, helping her become a finalist for the Gates Millennium Scholars, the “Mercedes- Benz” of scholarships, established by Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

Ceniceros ultimately didn’t get it. But Contreras knew many schools maintained their own scholarships and with some effort, the financing came through.

“It was awesome, close to being a miracle, because we knew how expensive it was,” Contreras said.

Despite the largess of the $52,370 scholarship, there was an insufficient amount to travel back and forth on holiday breaks. So a local campaign was started to fund Ceniceros’ travel expenses so she concentrate on a good performance, Contreras said.

“It’s a major breakthrough but hopefully she can serve as a motivation for other students to follow,” Contreras said. “It takes a lot of work. It’s not for everybody but Angelica is proof it can be done.”

Ceniceros said after graduation she would like to return to San Luis to encourage students to continue their education by teaching before she focuses on a specific career path. Yet she would advise younger students it is never too early to begin the search for what may become their life’s endeavor.

“A lot of kids in middle school think, oh, high school is going to be party time,” Ceniceros said. “They’ll have time to enjoy life here but you can’t have fun all the time.”

Just how well a student can perform in high school largely falls on the shoulders of each individual, Ceniceros cautioned.

“I came here to do what you’re meant to do,” Ceniceros stressed. “I came here with the idea to learn and explore what I like and didn’t like. I think I’m going to graduate with a pretty good idea.”


HHS graduate becomes the first accepted to MIT
By Kathy Parks
Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Competition in the classroom gets harder each year, but 2008 Hargrave High School senior Tyler Thompson has realized his dream of being accepted to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., and became the first Hargrave student to receive the honor.

“I am ranked second in my class and I applied at several out-of-state universities including Yale, Carnegie Melon and Stanford,” said Thompson. “For a local school, I applied at University of Texas, but my first choice was MIT.”

Thompson said that he knew that he had the grades and extracurricular activities required, but he also knew that he would be competing with a lot of other highly qualified students. He said that he remained hopeful about his chances for being admitted.

“I got word I was accepted as a freshman in the MIT Class of 2012 through the Internet,” said Thompson, who was monitoring the application process online.

His university of choice is a private university with approximately 4,100 undergraduates and 6,100 postgraduates. Founded in 1861, MIT has a strong emphasis on science and technology research and its alumni include Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin and Federal Reserve Bank Chairman Ben Benanke.

Thompson started his education in Humble ISD and attended the Oaks Elementary School. His parents moved to Huffman before he entered high school.

Thompson said his parents heard that Huffman was designated as an exemplary school by the state of Texas and said they felt the smaller class size would work to his benefit.

While climbing to the top of his class, Thompson also participated in a variety of extracurricular activities including marching band, jazz band and the church band at Atascocita United Methodist Church. Thompson serves as an escort for the drill team, helping the team with props and providing support for the performances. He is a member of the National Honor Society and developed leadership while serving as drum major for the high school’s band.

Thompson’s advice to underclassmen wanting to apply at a top university is to get involved in high school clubs and activities.

“It’s not just about the grades,” said Thompson. “It’s about how much drive and ambition you have.”

Thompson plans to enter MIT this fall as an electrical engineer and computer science major. His senior class will hold their graduation ceremonies on June 6 at the Campbell Center in Aldine.


G. Ledge grad first from school to enroll in MIT
Student ready for college’s traditions of competition, pranks
By Derek Wallbank, Lansing State Journal
June 2, 2008

No one from Grand Ledge High School has ever enrolled at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of the world’s most prestigious science and engineering schools, school officials said.

“That’s all Peter needed to hear,” said his mother, Sarah Gilliland.

So, during his junior year, Peter Gilliland set out to defy the odds. It’s the same thing he did when he became the first student at the school to test out of a pre-calculus class with a perfect score, taught himself advanced placement physics and battled back from injury to become an all-conference linebacker for the Grand Ledge football team.

That’s why MIT is such a perfect fit, said Gilliland, 17, who plans to study either nuclear or aerospace engineering.

“One of the reasons I wanted to go there is because the smartest kids in the country are there and I want to compete,” he said.

The competitive fires burn quietly but constantly inside Gilliland, friends and teachers said. To most of the world, the classroom Superman is but a quiet Clark Kent, who doesn’t mention his 3.96 unweighted grade-point average or the fact that he has successfully answered calculus questions in 30 seconds that stumped teachers in the math department.

“You don’t get that so often with students that achieve at an academic level like Pete does,” said Matt Bird, his football coach and government teacher.

“He definitely doesn’t walk around with his head inflated,” agreed friend Julie Barrons, 18. “You know how some people that are smart look down on others.”

“I would feel really awkward doing that,” Gilliland said.

There is, however, another reason MIT appeals to Gilliland.

Gilliland is known around his school less as a genius and more as a prankster. And MIT is a school legendary for its pranks.

Among Gilliland’s favorites were when he disabled the automatic doors at Meijer and watched with glee as unexpectant shoppers barged into them with shopping carts. Another favorite – and this is the censored version – involved collecting reindeer from neighborhood yards at Christmas time and strategically arranging them into a herd in one very surprised neighbor’s front yard.

But MIT is a school for masters, not apprentices.

It’s where banners reading “I’ll have thesis finished pronto” were unfurled during graduation, where students installed a putt-putt golf course overnight on the university president’s front lawn and where the Dark Mark – sign for the evil Lord Voldemort – appeared over the school’s student center the day the last Harry Potter book was released.

The pranks bring a smile to Gilliland’s face every time he thinks about them.

“I knew it was a great school, but that just shows they do more than study,” he said.


Colton High student headed to MIT
12:09 PM PDT on Thursday, June 5, 2008
By ERIN WALDNER
The Press-Enterprise

COLTON – In Melina Flores’ family, there was never any doubt what she would do after high school.

“You’re going to college” is the message she got while was growing up. “It wasn’t if. It was when,” said Melina, 17.

Melina, who will graduate this month from Colton High School, indeed is going to college. In fact, she’s going to one of the most eminent universities in the country: the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“I’ve always been math- and science-oriented,” she said.

She won’t have to pick a major until the end of her freshman year but is leaning toward brain and cognitive sciences, which combines physiology and psychology.

“I’ve always wanted to know how the mind works,” she said.

Melina leaves later this month for a summer program at MIT, for which she won one of just 80 available spots, she said.

Though it means losing her last summer off before college, “I think it will be worth it,” she said.

MIT ranked seventh on U.S. News & World Report’s 2008 list of the best colleges in America.

Competition for admission is fierce. In 2004, 12,445 students applied for the freshman class and 1,533 — 12.5 percent — were offered admission, according to the school’s Web site.

Melina is the first in her family to go to a four-year college, said her mother, Claudia Quen.

“We’re very proud of her,” she said.

Quen is a bilingual school aide. Melina’s father, David Flores, is a project supervisor at an environmental engineering and construction company. Both immigrated to California from Mexico.

“Education has been important to us,” said Quen, who after five years of college course work earned an associate degree in 2005.

Melina has a younger brother and said her parents have provided a strong support system.

As a student in the AVID program, which stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination, Melina learned what she needed to do to prepare for college. She was in AVID all four of her years at Colton High.

“She is definitely hard working,” said John Kitchen, who teaches AVID at Colton High.

Quen described her daughter as self-motivated.

Melina took four advanced-placement classes last year and three this year. As of May, her grade point average was 4.3.

“I definitely think I am a nerd,” she said. “I spend a lot of time reading. I like studying.”

But that’s just part of her personality, she said.

“That’s not all of me. There’s more to me than studying and learning,” she said.

She is president of the Colton High drama club and last summer worked as a congressional page in Washington, D.C.

Melina said she appreciates that MIT, while strong in math and sciences, is a well-rounded school with “a lot of personality.”

She also applied to UC Riverside, San Diego, Santa Cruz and Berkeley, the Cal State campuses in Long Beach and San Bernardino and MIT.

The first acceptance letter she received was from MIT, she said. Most of her first year costs will be covered by a combination of grants and scholarships from the school.

“I’m ready to go,” she said. “I’m done with high school. I’m ready for new experiences.”


Milford graduate is heading for MIT
By KATHY CLEVELAND
Thursday, Jun. 12, 2008

MILFORD — Jacob Wamala says it took him some time to get used to small town life and a small town high school.

But you would never know it from watching how easily he moves around Milford High School flashing a friendly smile. And you would never know it from his extraordinary academic achievements.

Jacob is one of 200 members of the class of 2008 who will graduate this Saturday from Milford High School, at 10 a.m. in the Hampshire Dome on Emerson Road.

He started school here as a junior last year, transferring from Lowell High School in Massachusetts.

Now he’s anticipating another big move soon after graduation — to Cambridge and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he’ll be part of a summer “jump start program” for freshman.

He plans to study engineering and chose MIT after being accepted to Cornell, Dartmouth, the University of Pennsylvania and Notre Dame, because “Boston is my favorite city,” and it’s not too far away, he said.

That those top-tiered colleges wanted Jacob doesn’t surprise anyone who knows this young man, who earned perfect scores on his advanced placement math test and his math SAT test.

Jacob is tall and lean, with a modest manner that can’t quite hide his pleasure at his achievements, and maybe that’s because his success is relatively new.

“I was always an A or B math student in middle school,” he said, “but when I got to high school I decided to push myself.”

Pushing himself included teaching himself enough algebra over the summer before he started high school so that he could take Algebra II with trigonometry and skip Algebra I.

Summer reading between freshman and sophomore year included a calculus textbook, so he wound up with a perfect 100 for the course and another perfect score, 5, on the Advanced Placement test. No surprise that he received another perfect score, an 800, on his math SAT.

He is the reason Milford High started a Calculus-II class when he came here as a junior after taking Calculus-I as a sophomore in Lowell.

And pushing himself paid off with academic honors. PSAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test scores put him in the top 5 percent of African American high school students.

Jacob is also an athlete and played basketball and was a wide receiver and cornerback on the Milford football team.

Personal high spots of the past two years include the camaraderie of football camp and the summer he spent at the St. Paul’s School Advanced Studies program were he took Introduction to Engineering.

“I really, really enjoyed it and it got me prepared (for college life) — I stayed in a dorm, learned to manage my time,” he said, and to balance schoolwork and activities.

Jacob was also a Massachusetts state chess champion in ninth and 10th grades. He won a New Hampshire Athletic Directors Association and New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association award for athletics and academics, a State Farm Character Award for varsity boys’ basketball, and a Rensselaer Medal Award for excellence in math and science.

Other school related activities include the math team and chess team. He was also a member of the Latin Lyceum and Junior Classical League Latin Chapter at Lowell High School and was on the swim team there.

It just makes sense to be involved in many activities, he says. “It’s really good to be well-rounded, because it makes it easy to find something to do you really enjoy.”

Guidance counselor Paul Christensen calls him a “rare talent in the area of mathematics,” and “a person of tremendous character.”

“Students at Milford High have really embraced Jacob,” said Christensen, “which is not uncommon for them, but it also speaks to his personality — he’s tremendously positive and gregarious and very appreciative of the opportunities he has been exposed to — and they are opportunities he has earned.”

And Marcia Breckinridge, his honors English teacher, says Jacob is an easy person to like because of his “insatiable curiosity and warmth and humor.”

“Jake was never a braggart and often helped others without a condescending tone,” she wrote in an e-mail. “He was open to suggestions on writing, and his papers consistently showed proofreading and painful revisions.”

Outside of school Jacob volunteers at the Harborside Healthcare/Crestwood nursing home in Milford where he has organized a men’s group that plays cards and watches movies regularly. And the Boys & Girls Club of Souhegan Valley also gets some of his volunteer time.

They are all part of his goals: to do good and have a happy life.

“I want to have a successful job, so I can give back,” he says, “but I want to enjoy everything along the way.”


Dream leads to MIT for Redmond math whiz
Meet Stephen Rigsby
By Patrick Cliff / The Bulletin
Published: June 01. 2008 4:00AM PST

REDMOND — Stephen Rigsby first became intrigued with math when he helped count his mother’s tips from her waitress shifts.

Next fall, the Redmond High senior will put that love of mathematics to the test when he steps through the doors of the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Stephen, 17, used to organize the coins and bills his mother brought home after work by denomination before counting them up.

“He’s really ordered, but not as far as his room or anything goes,” Mary Thibault, Stephen’s mother, said. “He’s like one of those Rubik’s Cubes kids.”

Stephen earned a perfect score of 800 on his math SAT, and he’ll finish somewhere in the top 10 of his class when he graduates Friday. Then he’ll go to MIT with tuition and expenses paid.

Stephen settled on MIT in eighth grade, even if the school didn’t settle on him for another four years. He remembers seeing television shows with experts at the forefront of their fields who often were from the university, which is known for its science and technology programs.

But when he told his school counselor where he wanted to go, the counselor, said Stephen, had his doubts.

“Do you even know what MIT stands for?”

Stephen did.

Stephen, an only child, lives with his mother in Redmond. His father, Andy, was a commercial fisherman who never made it beyond third grade.

“He taught himself how to read and write,” Thibault said. “From third grade on, he lived on a boat called The Pursuit.”

Even though Andy didn’t have a formal education, he wouldn’t have been surprised that his only son was going to MIT, Thibault said.

“The thing about fishermen is they’re the best dreamers on the planet,” she said. “The next catch, the next time you get to be home. What else would you do out there?”

Andy Rigsby died when he was 42 from a heart attack while fishing near the Big Island in Hawaii, just as Stephen was about to start high school.

“It was really tough, it was really tough,” Thibault said.

Both Stephen’s father and grandfather were fishermen. Stephen jokes that he is a failure because he’s not going to become a fisherman.

After his father’s death, Stephen and his mother moved around the West until arriving in Redmond about six years ago.

Stephen was home-schooled for most of sixth and seventh grade. He and his mother moved to Redmond during his seventh-grade year.

“I told my mom I wanted to go to high school in one place,” he said.

Although he enjoyed being in class with more students, he said he missed the flexibility at home in studying what he wanted: math and science.

When he first decided he wanted to go to MIT, Stephen was a bit naive, he said. When he found out how difficult it was to get into the school — only about 12 percent of applicants are admitted — he was worried.

“It was kind of a buzz kill,” Stephen said.

He researched what it took to get into the school, Thibault said. Based on that work, he started going to summer camps at MIT and other schools. He was stunned, he said, by the intelligence of the students at the camps.

He remains a bit intimidated, or modest, about the students he’ll be in school with starting with his August orientation.

When he went to his pre-orientation, he said he felt like he was the only one who slept, if even for a couple hours a night.

“It seems like no one sleeps there,” he said.

Stephen knew that the admission decision would come down in April. MIT allows candidates to check if they have been accepted online. Not wanting to wait, Stephen headed to the school’s Web site.

He’d long convinced himself — and sworn to his friends — that he wasn’t getting into the university. But he still had hope. As he clicked through the site searching for his name, he began to worry that he had been right.

“I was by myself, it was really stressful,” Stephen said. “I was really scared.”

Then, he saw the decision: He was accepted.

“I jumped around excited, like everybody else does,” he said.

Then, he called his mother, who works at Bronco Billy’s restaurant in Sisters. She screamed to her co-workers that her son had gotten into his dream school.

“We’re just so fortunate his merit is being rewarded,” Thibault said. “It really is about him. He’s so diligent and focused and happy, above everything else.”

On a recent afternoon, just before her shift began, Thibault spoke about her son going east to Cambridge, Mass.

“He’s such a good kid,” Thibault said.

Stephen is the captain of the Redmond High tennis team this year. He seemed more comfortable having his picture in the paper — even if for a season-ending loss — than talking about himself.

He shrugged off accomplishments and contributions. Asked what he did other than academics and tennis, he mentioned that he helped start a math club.

“We started the math club just to be nerdy,” he said.

Denny Irby has taught Stephen math for the past four years. Through the years, Irby has tried to keep Stephen interested, but it has been a struggle.

“To have a student like Stephen, specifically, it’s a challenge in a couple of ways,” Irby said. “I can’t ever push Stephen as hard as he needs to be pushed without leaving other kids behind.”

Stephen, on his own, searched out online math courses from MIT, just to keep challenged, Irby said.

“He’s about as intellectually gifted (a student) as I’ve come across,” said Irby, who has taught at Redmond High for about a decade. “I’m a very lecture-oriented teacher. He’ll ask questions about where this is leading. He’s always thinking ahead, looking ahead at the implication.”

Stephen and his mother won’t have to pay for college. Soon after Stephen found out MIT accepted him, he also found out that it had a new financial aid program. If an accepted student’s family made less than $75,000 per year, the student wouldn’t have to pay tuition. The university estimates it costs $50,100 for tuition and living expenses.

It’s a trend at private and public schools. They need to find a way to bring students in who otherwise would be blocked by the rocketing cost of college, said Donna Nordstrom, a counselor at the high school’s career center.

Stephen plans on studying physics in college. It’s easier, he said, to move from theories of physics to an applied science like engineering, rather than the other way around.

He’s not sure exactly what career he’ll want to pursue after he graduates, but he suspects he’ll want to work on the West Coast. It’s the pace, he said.

“It’ll probably be a bit of a shock (going east),” he said.

Thibault is excited to see what her son ends up doing after college.

“As many things as have been discovered, there are so many more things to be discovered,” she said. “I really have an optimistic view of the future because of all the bright kids I’ve met around here. There are so many neat things about to happen because of these brilliant kids.”


Incoming frosh numero ‘uno’ on invention list
David Chandler, MIT News Office
May 14, 2008

Canadian teenager Ben Gulak got a bit of a head start on his training in mechanical engineering. As an incoming freshman in the MIT Class of 2012, he’s already been featured on the cover of Popular Science magazine for having come up with one of the year’s top 10 inventions.

In fact, his was number one.

Gulak, who is just 18, will also be a guest on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno later this month, demonstrating his unique electric unicycle-like vehicle. He has been working on the project for two years, initially as a science fair project that made it all the way to second place in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (where he also won a special award for the project with the most marketability).

Gulak first applied to MIT last year, but was waitlisted and decided to take a year off rather than settle for another school. So he spent the intervening year working on his invention–designed to be a practical commuting vehicle for dense urban areas–before applying again to MIT.

“The perspective that MIT brings to engineering is really unique,” he says. “I really like the experience that MIT brings to engineering, especially the hands-on approach.”

The inspiration for the cycle came when Gulak visited China in 2006 and was amazed at the overwhelming pollution that completely blocked the view of the surrounding country as his airplane came in for landing. He realized that much of that smog was coming from the thousands of motor scooters whizzing through the streets and figured that there had to be a better way.

The design he came up with has two wheels mounted side by side, very close together, and powered by electric motors. A computerized control system keeps the vehicle balanced, in a system similar to the Segway personal transporter. But unlike that vehicle, which is ridden in a standing position and is not considered a street vehicle, Gulak’s “Uno” is ridden like a motorcycle and designed for ordinary roads.

Operating the Uno is so simple that it requires no controls at all. There is only an on-off switch. Once it’s on, the driver accelerates by leaning forward, stops by leaning back, and steers by leaning to the side. By sitting upright, the driver can balance in one spot.

Gulak, who grew up just outside Toronto, has been tinkering most of his life. He started working with machine tools with his grandfather, who had a fully equipped machine shop in his house, “as early as I can remember, certainly by the time I was 5,” he says. When his grandfather died in 2004, Gulak inherited all the equipment. “I only wish he was here now, for all the things that are going on,” he says. “The more I get into engineering, the more I miss him.”

Gulak knows that despite his achievements so far, he still has a lot to learn, and that’s why he was determined to study at MIT, where he plans to take a dual major in mechanical engineering and business. But he’s not abandoning his pet project: He has already formed a company to develop the Uno, set up a web site and filed for patents in several countries (the United States, Canada and the European Union for starters). And as a result of the recent publicity he has already started to get calls from “quite a few investors,” some able to provide production facilities for the vehicle.

When he found out Jay Leno wanted him on his show, Gulak rushed to complete a whole new version of his prototype bike, incorporating several new features in time to demonstrate it on the program.

Why bother with school with such business prospects already in front of him? Gulak takes the long view. “I think the Uno has a lot of possibilities, and people really seem to like it. The reaction from the public and the press has been quite overwhelming. However, I really wouldn’t want to jeopardize my future or limit my options by just going ahead without getting a degree. So I’m very committed to coming in the fall–MIT has a lot to offer and I’m really looking forward to it.

“The Uno has taught me how important it is to have a deep and varied knowledge base and a solid grounding in all the basic engineering principles,” he says. “When I was working on the bike, much of what I learned came through through trial and error, so I know first hand the value and importance of increasing my knowledge base through education.”


Boise teen accepted into Massachusetts Institute of Technology
BY ANNE WALLACE ALLEN – [email protected]
Edition Date: 05/07/08

Of the 13,396 top students from around the world who applied to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology this year, only one in nine got in.

The only one in Idaho is Alex Johnson, a valedictorian at Meridian Technical Charter High School.

Johnson grew up with a single mother, Susan Johnson, in Boise and Meridian and spent a lot of after-school hours at her bakery, Cookies by Design. Somewhere along the way, he also read everything he could get his hands on and developed a love of learning that has led him to one of the most competitive universities in the world.

He’s defied the odds, said Susan Johnson.

“Nobody else in my family has really gone to college,” she said. And financially, “we’ve struggled all his life to keep above water.”

Alex is going to MIT on a full scholarship. He said his mother always told him he could do whatever he wanted, and he knew early on he wanted more education.

“It was just kind of a fact to me; as long as I knew there was college, I was going,” he said. “If I ever brought up the issue of funding, my mother just basically said, ‘It will work out.'”

Alex attended Garfield and Cynthia Mann elementary schools in Boise and Pioneer Elementary and Lowell Scott Middle School in Meridian before winding up at MTCHS, a nine-year-old school that focuses on areas like programming, media, and electronics and offers college courses.

A family friend, Nick Nickerson, taught Alex to read when he was about 4.

“Once he started reading, it just opened up the entire world for him,” said his mother. “He kept reading and reading and wanted to learn everything. I encouraged him to read whatever he wanted.”

Alex hopes to go into research or to teach college-level physics. For now, he’s finishing up a busy senior year with Key Club and other groups.

Last week, Alex learned he was one of Idaho’s two Presidential Scholars for 2008 – an award based on academics and community involvement. And he’s applying to a summer program at MIT, hoping to get a start on his college career several weeks early.

“He will be in his element,” said Susan Johnson. “He will thrive with a bunch of people just like him.”


From Albania to MIT: O’Bryant grad meets the challenge
By Lindsay Perna
Wed Jun 18, 2008, 11:45 AM EDT

Roslindale – Born into a small farming family towards the end of the Communist era in Albania, 18-year-old Alban Cobi moved to the United States eight years ago and did so well, he was the valedictorian of the John D. O’ Bryant School of Mathematics and Science. Cobi is now getting ready to head to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the fall.

This West Roxbury resident struggled through elementary and middle school in speaking English. He realized how hard he would need to work to succeed in America.

Adjusting to a new culture was not his only feat.

With a 4.78 grade point average, Cobi dedicated his time to baseball and the National Honor Society. He tutored his peers twice a week, rising above his own courseload of Advanced Placement classes.

“I think I really understood the value of education in high school, and that is when I really got into it and liked learning,” said the graduate.

Many educators recognized his potential by recruiting him for such academic challenges as the robotics club and the Harvard Crimson Summer Academy.

As a captain of the club for two years, Cobi led his team to eighth place in a field of 51 other competing teams building robots within a six-week period. These competitions inspired him to pursue mechanical engineering as a future focus of study in college.

“He will only be able to excel at MIT because he already has all the tools to really make it,” said Jamie Shushan, the associate director of the Crimson Summer Academy.

Within this academy of lower-income, but remarkable students in the Boston and Cambridge area, the program recruited Cobi as a participant with 29 others for the three-year commitment to study college academics and visit universities in the Northeast.

“Many of the peers in my high school are as hard-working as I am, but the main difference is that we work hard at different things,” Cobi said when asked what separated him from his classmates.

Beyond naming him one of the most hardworking and caring individuals with a generous spirit, Shushan cannot help but applaud this scholar for being the first student from the program to get accepted to MIT.

Exalting him for his tough history, she finds his accomplishments “unbelievable — you would have never known it in his diligence with academics and willingness to seek out people to help him.”

Cobi attributes his motivation to pursue great things to his parents who taught him to want a better life.

“Living in a village is not as good as living here in Boston,” Cobi said.

His father, Nick Cobi, noted that the family “had a hard time” acclimating to a new nation.

However, he has nothing but pride about his son, who “dreamed about MIT,” the university where Cobi will receive a full-tuition scholarship.

Abiding by one of his famous quotes, Cobi has and will continue to adapt Einstein’s idea that “we never cease to stand like curious children before the great mystery into which we were born.”


A pitch for prestige
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
By Matt Wixon

In March, Chris Hendrix got his college acceptance letter. Since then, the Richardson Berkner senior has been careful what he says around friends.

“I say something dumb and they all get on me because I’m going to MIT,” said Hendrix, who was Berkner’s ace pitcher this spring. “But I’m just a normal guy.”

Hendrix might be normal, but his college is exceptional. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is one of the country’s most prestigious universities, and this year, it had its lowest acceptance rate ever. Of the 13,396 students who applied, only 1,554 were accepted (11.6 percent).

“Once I was accepted, I was like, ‘Whoa!’ ” Hendrix said. “It was pretty exciting.”

Exciting for Hendrix, his parents and the MIT baseball coach.

Yes, MIT has baseball. That made it even more thrilling for Hendrix, who was 3-3 with a 2.90 ERA this season and nearly pitched Berkner into the playoffs. Hendrix had hoped to play baseball in college and for a while considered walking on at Texas A&M.

But when Hendrix was accepted to MIT, he knew where he was going.

“At first, I didn’t even consider MIT as a college choice,” Hendrix said. “I knew you had to be extremely smart to get in there.”

Hendrix will be teammates with another pitcher with smarts: Fort Worth Arlington Heights senior Chris Vaughan. They’ll play for MIT’s NCAA Division III team, which is competitive but truly puts the student before athlete. That’s made pretty obvious by MIT’s mascot: the Engineer.

Engineering is also the field that interests Hendrix, who wants to be a civil engineer. Hendrix knows MIT will be a challenge, but Berkner coach Jason Wilson expects him to succeed.

“He’s incredibly bright, hard-working, very dedicated and goal-oriented,” Wilson said. “He had some offers to play baseball at other places, but he knows what MIT offers other than baseball.”

A great opportunity, and with more hard work, a very bright future.

“People told me that if you get a degree from there, you can pretty much get a job anywhere,” Hendrix said.

Especially if the employer fields a company baseball team.


Student champions math education
Stephanie Lin adds to her school and community one equation at a time.
By Jennifer Gutman
For the Poughkeepsie Journal
July 21, 2008

Neighbor
Stephanie Lin
Age: 16.
Residence: Town of Poughkeepsie.
Occupation: Student.
Family: Father, Chenting Lin; mother, Wen-Hui Chiu; sister, Jennifer Lin.
Hobbies: Playing violin for 11 years; creative writing.

The 16-year-old Arlington High School graduate started the Mid-Hudson Math Circle program two years ago for middle and high school students who want to practice and hone their already advanced mathematical skills.

Lin said she was motivated to begin the program after realizing students were not being taught math properly in local schools – they were unable to do math without a calculator.

“I decided I wanted to put a stop to that in the early stages,” Lin said.

Her efforts won Lin a gold medal from the Prudential Spirit Community Awards.

The Math Circle, which meets every weekend in a room at the Arlington Branch Library, began with a few family friends and has expanded through word of mouth to more than 60 students, including schools that are out-of-state and abroad.

“There’s even a waiting list now,” Lin said. “There are too many students.”

The participants take part in MathCounts, a middle school competition and enrichment program, and many students qualify for the National American Mathematical Competition.
Group challenges skills

The Verkuils were one of the earliest families involved with the Math Circle.

According to Lillian Verkuil, her son Robert was always a good student, and his math results were very good, “but this was more challenging.”

He took first place in the regional competition and eighth place in the New York state competition as a result of his work with the Math Circle.

“They really instill a yearning in the kids to want to do well,” said Roger Verkuil, Robert’s father.

Lin tries to use unique strategies, such as incorporating math into creative writing, to make the lessons stick in students’ minds.

“A farmer story will turn into digging roots, which then gets into square roots,” Lillian Verkuil said, giving an example.

Using relatable material to form a connection with the students makes the Math Circle “something fun and not so intimidating,” she said.

Wen-Hui Chiu, Lin’s mother, believes the program is not only beneficial to the community and school, but to her daughter as well.

“From this experience she learned to be a leader,” Chiu said. “Right now she’s on fire, she wants to do more.”

Lin recognizes the effects the program has had on her, too.

The Math Circle has “augmented my self-confidence and responsibility,” Lin said. In addition to an overall personal growth, she said the Math Circle “has given me the chance to experience what a career in education would be like.”

The future goals for the Math Circle include recruiting students at a younger age when the most progress can be made and working with underprivileged children who, Chiu said.

Lin is taking a year off before she goes to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology during which she will continue her work with the Math Circle. She plans to double major in math and business.

“After that, I’m not sure,” she said.


Morris student bound for MIT
Thursday, July 24, 2008

Even when he and his family were homeless, Morris County student Jeremy deGuzman never lost sight of his dreams.

A resident of Peer Place family housing in Denville, deGuzman graduated from the Morris County Academy for Math, Science and Engineering in spring 2008, with a grade point average of 98.89.

He is a National Merit Scholarship finalist, Morris County College Fair scholarship recipient and a member of the Math and Spanish honor societies. He earned perfect scores on both the Math and Ver bal sections of the SAT, with an overall score of 2350, and a perfect five on the AP Calculus BC test.

Last month, he was presented with the 2008 Stephen J. Bollinger Memorial Scholarship at the Public Housing Authorities Directors Association Annual Conference in New Orleans.

In the essay accompanying his scholarship application, deGuzman expressed his gratitude for the opportunity to enter public housing because it provided him and his family, formerly homeless, with the stability and security necessary to realize his goals.

“The Housing Alliance is proud of Jeremy for his accomplishments,” said Michelle Roers DiNa poli, Housing Alliance co-chair and Director of Community Impact at United Way of Morris County.

“Stories such as his highlight the importance of affordable housing in empowering individuals to succeed by providing them with a place to live, work, and invest.”

DeGuzman was offered a full scholarship through the College Match Scholarship program to Princeton University, a full scholarship to Stanford University, as well as early admission to Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

He enjoys using his free time to repair discarded computers, which he provides to people in need, and he looks forward to entering Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the fall to pursue a degree in either computer technology or aerospace engineering.


To MIT, minus silver spoon or television
IIT dream shattered, boy pulls off feat
CHANDREYEE CHATTERJEE

Bankura, May 4: Illness spoiled his IIT dream but Anshuman Panda has hit back by grabbing a seat at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The 17-year-old Higher Secondary examinee from Bankura Zilla School is used to springing back from poor starts.

He’s never had a TV at home: Anshuman’s father, a private tutor, earns Rs 3,500 a month. And till six months ago, the boy was computer-illiterate and didn’t know that the MIT existed — although he was a Madhyamik rank-holder and dreamt of being a scientist.

“Getting into the IITs was my dream… I never knew I could go abroad to study,” Anshuman, who was stopped from taking the IIT entrance exam by a bout of sinusitis, said.

Surrounded by books in his room, the boy gives you the impression of being slightly unworldly.

It was a chance glance at a newspaper late last year that taught him about the US Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). He was excited but there was a problem. The form had to be filled in online.

So Anshuman enrolled in a cyber café 1km from the family’s two-room house in Panchbagha on Bankura’s outskirts, about 270km from Calcutta.

After scanning the Internet, he chose the top four universities — MIT, Harvard, Stanford and Caltech — unaware that these were the toughest to get into.

“I had no idea how difficult it was…. I wasn’t even sure if they all offered scholarships,” Anshuman said.

Fortunately for him, MIT does and he will be heading there this autumn on a full scholarship that will take care of his tuition and living costs.

The Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking fan, who has always wanted to do research, will be studying for a BSc and hopes to bag a double degree in mathematics and physics.

His father Bidhan Chandra Panda and mother Swapna Panda, a homemaker, are preparing for the day their only son flies the nest.

“I wanted to study medicine but couldn’t afford it,” Bidhan said. “I had pledged to myself my son would never have to make any compromises…. All the same, it has been tough paying for his education.”

Well-wishers and the local club have helped with the books.

Anshuman’s room has a desk and a wall shelf lined with books, mostly on math and physics although the biographies of his childhood idols find space, too.

“He studies at least 12 hours every day,” Swapna said. “When he’s studying he forgets everything else, even meals. At other times he reads storybooks — his passion is Satyajit Ray. He has hardly any other interests.”

With no TV Anshuman hasn’t had the chance to be a cricket fan. And the last movie he watched was Blood Diamond a couple of months ago when he visited his aunt.

“I never scored more than 52 per cent in work education and physical training,” the boy grinned, looking up from the math problems he was cracking for fun.

Anshuman ranked sixth in Madhyamik, scoring 779, and his teachers expect him to be on the HS merit list.

“It’s not just because he studies hard. He has potential and I’m not surprised that he has cracked MIT,” said Partha Meyur, his physics teacher.

Anshuman had practised on a borrowed computer for all of 10 days before taking his SAT in December. His perfect score of 2400 in his SAT subject, and the recommendation from his school, helped bag the full scholarship despite lower scores in critical reading and writing.

Purnachandra Jana, inspector of schools from the district where the literacy rate is 70 per cent, said: “Bankura does well in Madhyamik and HS but to my knowledge, Anshuman is the first to have made it to MIT straight from school here.”

Anshuman’s experience of the world outside Bengal is limited to Kanpur, where he spent the first six years of his life, and a trip to Delhi last year. But he isn’t worried about living in the US.

“I know that language will be a bit of a problem, but they have a department for international students and they’ll help.”

Father Bidhan has one worry, though. “I’m still trying to figure out how to arrange the money for his US trip.”


Determined Teen Overcomes Obstacles to Get Accepted at MIT
Haines City High School grad is a Gates Millennium Scholar.
By STACY JONES
THE LEDGER
Published: Monday, July 7, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.

HAINES CITY | During an admissions interview with an alumnus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Everson Auguste was told the venerable institution was not looking for the variable “X” as much as it is for students with the potential to grow into “X.”

Whatever this X factor is, Auguste has it.

Of 10 Polk County students interviewed by MIT for the class of 2012, Auguste was the only one chosen.

On the way to achieving this honor, Auguste overcame the death of his mother and a move during his sophomore year to a Polk County high school not known for scholarship.

Auguste (pronounced august-eh) is a Gates Millennium Scholar who graduated in May from Haines City High School.

As a Gates Millennium scholar, his hefty MIT bill – upward of $50,000 for one academic year – will be funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Auguste also has been awarded a scholarship from the American Chemical Society.

Despite his achievements, Auguste remains anxious about the start of his first college semester.

“I’m going to be disadvantaged compared to those MIT kids,” Auguste said. “They’re geniuses.”

Auguste, who plans to go into chemical engineering, said that after talking to fellow incoming MIT freshmen on the Facebook Web site, he plans to brush up on calculus and physics before heading north in late August.

Proud Haines City High School teachers describe Auguste as a quiet, unassuming and engaging student who blossomed before their eyes.

Julie Roberts, the school’s career lab specialist, said Auguste has always seemed amazed at his own success.

“He is more astonished than anyone at his good fortune,” she said.

Deborah Ford, AP Literature and Honors English 3 teacher at the school, said Auguste was “probably one of my most diligent students, also probably one of the most humble. It’s almost like he didn’t think he’d get it.”

Auguste, 18, and his sister Gersuze, 10, moved to Haines City from Orlando in 2005 to live with his aunt and uncle following the death of their mother. His father lives in New York City.

“Other than, of course, God, my greatest motivation is my mom. She died the summer during my 10th-grade year, on Aug. 28. She had been diagnosed with lupus,” Auguste said.

“They never said ‘We’re expecting her to die in three months,'” he said.

The initial prognosis had been that his mother, Suzette Auguste, could live with the disease for up to 15 years.

“She always let me and my sister know that we were her No. 1 priority,” he said.

In Orlando, he attended Edgewater High School, ranked by Newsweek magazine as one of the best high schools in the country.

In Haines City, he came to a high school given a failing grade by the state.

However, Auguste discovered Haines City High School has its own merits.

“One of the most important differences was that I finally had time to do stuff like band and try out some sports,” he said.

A saxophone player, he became one of the leaders of the marching band. He tried out for both the tennis and soccer teams, having more success with tennis.

Academically, he took the hardest classes the school offered – honors and advanced placement.

He became a student leader, his teachers said.

In his AP macroeconomics course, “he would get up on the board and show how something was done without any prompting,” teacher Paul Roberts said.

“He was never one to stick out in a crowd. He was quiet until he had a question, but he wouldn’t let up until he had an answer,” Roberts said. “When it came time to take the AP test, he told everyone to be prepared and get lots of sleep.”

In his spare time, he gave pep talks about the FCAT to younger children to emphasize that grades do matter in second and third grades, teacher Ford said.

Teachers at the high school are thrilled with Auguste’s accomplishments – a feather in the cap for a school long connected with failure, which, they say, is getting better.

“We were an F school; the only F in the county,” Roberts said. “The kids worked so hard. (Principal Deborah) Elmore cracked down on discipline and dress code.”

Polk County’s School Superintendent Gail McKinzie said Haines City High School is improving.

“There’s been a huge change in the school in terms of academic improvement. Students are very supportive of one another and want their school to be a very important school,” she said.

Auguste starting becoming interested in attending MIT between the 10th and 11th grades.

“A lot of people were talking about what college they were going to,” he said. “I knew back then I wanted to go into engineering. I found out about MIT and saw that they had lots of Nobel laureates as alumni.”

According to MIT’s Web site, 72 of the 777 individuals and 20 organizations to win Nobel prizes have been associated with the university.

In his salutatorian speech at graduation, Auguste gave special thanks to his AP teachers. He also expressed gratitude for his father, his Aunt Jonette and Uncle Jean Lauture, and his church.

The church gave him a huge plaque, Auguste said, smiling and holding his arms out at full length. The plaque features an article with his senior picture, his full name and four verses from Proverbs.

“The person who gave it to me said, ‘When you’re at MIT, put this by your bed and think of me,'” Auguste said.


Strongsville High School’s Mathura Jaya Sridharan sees the beauty in both Indians arts, science
by Ellen Jan Kleinerman
Monday May 05, 2008, 10:22 AM

HEAD OF THE CLASS | “I stopped looking at chemistry as another subject in school worth passing, but almost as a human in its own respect, with beautiful features, relationships, strengths, weaknesses, shortcomings and even a certain shyness in revealing all it has to offer.”

Mathura Jaya Sridharan sees the mathematics in music and the creativity in solving differential equations.

Math, she says, is the root of her passion for academics and the arts.

The petite 17-year-old, who plans to study theoretical physics in college, explodes with enthusiasm as she describes her quest to master the intricacies of the South Indian arts — singing classical Carnatic music and learning the expressive Bharatanatyam dance.

Her numerous awards reveal her level of perfection.

“I wake up pretty early in the morning to sing and put in my time for dance,” the Strongsville teen explains. “If you really like the art form, you learn to want to do that much.”

For the past 10 summers, Mathura has traveled to her parents’ native India to study singing with renowned musicologists and performers.

“It’s an entire field of study about India, its background, its heritage,” she says of the Indian arts. “It has a lot to do with religion. It has a lot to do with culture, philosophy, who we are and why we do stuff.”

When she was in eighth grade, Mathura started spending hours reading her father’s college textbooks. That’s where she discovered her fascination with quantum mechanics and astrophysics.

“It’s the marriage between math and science,” she says. “So incredibly exciting, so counter intuitive, but at the same time so obvious.”

She loves school and the Strongsville High School student excels on many levels. Mathura is a National Merit Scholar, an AP Scholar With Distinction, a Phi Beta Kappa nominee and an award winner for the Cleveland Technical Societies in math and science. She is president of the Science Club and a member of the Science Olympiad Team, National Honor Society, Mu Alpha Theta math honorary and the Academic Challenge team. She also tutors students in math and volunteers at the local hospital.

Mathura is the daughter of Bhuuaneswari and Srinivasan Sridharan.

She’s now deciding among a number of top colleges, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and California Institute of Technology. [note: obviously, she has chosen MIT]

Though she chatters on about her fascination with math and the arts, Mathura musters up only a few brief phrases to describe herself.

“I’m motivated and passionate. I get into everything I do,” she says. “Whatever it is, I’m all over it.”

26 responses to “Meet the Class of 2012”

  1. Ivan says:

    tou xiang

    So many intelligent students, who have overcome so many obstacles study at MIT.

    The intellectual drive that these students possess, the inspiration they bring and the knowledge/passion the teachers have is what I think makes MIT the Best in the World.

    Congratulations to such an amazing class.

    Maybe next year I will be an MIT student.

    @ David Chandler, nice invention. I hope to see it on the streets some day.

  2. Shari '12 says:

    Hooray for MIT ’12. That freshman picture was crowded. It’s crazy once you actually get here, unfortunately classes start tomorrow and it feels as if i’m already behind =]

  3. Anonymous says:

    I love reading these! Usually when you read an article about a well-qualified student, it’s about how that student DIDN’T get in. Well done to all of you!

  4. '12 says:

    I feel inadequate in comparison. Are you sure I wasn’t accidentally accepted? =]

  5. Anonymous says:

    congratulations!!!you guys deserved it!

    makes me feel really pessimistic about my acceptance next year!

  6. Nooooooo! Why oh why did MIT do this to me? I have to say that I’m rather not sure how exactly I feel about this thing about me being seen and in view to all other of m friends…. not to mention the horrible picture! But I do find it interesting that MIT thinks I’m representative of their institution….

  7. Barack Obama says:

    Kudos to all the MIT students! You are the BEST!!

  8. woah, you guys made it to the big league…congrats! u guys really are, just WOW –” im worried bout myself being actually looked upon by the admissions (>_woah, you guys made it to the big league…congrats! u guys really are, just WOW –” im worried bout myself being actually looked upon by the admissions (>_<)

  9. Another12 says:

    @12 I feel so inadequate, too. Maybe I was the first one to be accepted by mistake? Matt?

  10. Anonymous says:

    @Another12: Be honored and thankful for getting in. Befriend and learn from your MIT’12 class mates. Even though you might feel overshadowed, don’t–focus on yourself and your personal/intellectual development. Many would love to be in your shoes right now.

  11. Piper says:

    I still stand by my story that a bizarre gust of wind blew my application off the tall unaccepted pile, floating down to land perfectly on the acceptance pile =D.

    Amazing stories, and so many more like it from people I’ve bumped into on campus, classmates, hallmates, etc…

  12. MITParent says:

    Great stories. I hope this becomes a yearly tradition.

  13. Ahana says:

    This is really inspiring. I’m proud and glad to be applying to MIT all the more after reading this post. Thanks Matt!

  14. Alumnus says:

    Congratulations to the class of 2012. It has been many years since I was a freshman. The years at MIT are a wonderful memory and the preparation for life is unsurpassed.

  15. Ehsan says:

    YES!!!!
    I cant’t believe a Canadian is represented! What’s more cool is that I’ve already read the article in Popular Science and immediately thought that a senior mechanical engineer invented it. But no, a MIT Freshman.

  16. Ehsan says:

    @ Ivan

    Just FYI David Chandler did not invent it. Ben Gulak did – A CANADIAN.
    W00T!

  17. Monorina says:

    I have a question.Do I get the evaluation A and B filled by one teacher each.I mean,I wanted a maths and a computer teacher to fill that;because those are the classes I struggled most in and I feel these two teachers will be able to convey to MIT what sort of a person I am.So,can I have it done twice?
    Sorry for the queries,if they seem silly.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Ohh!I read about Bidhan from Bankura.Hats off to him once again!

  19. Ivan says:

    @ Ehsan and Ben Gulak

    Thank you for pointing out my error.

    I’m sorry I wrote the wrong name on my comment above.

    I meant to say to Ben Gulak that his invention is very nice. Sorry for this mishap.

  20. Marina says:

    These are really inspiring stories! Especially David Chandler, what he did is amazing!!!

    Are there any stories about international students?

  21. Rebecca says:

    so i am seriously reconsidering whether or not i have a chance at getting admitted, with the prevailing feeling of…Nope, its hopeless! =)

  22. Whole lot of Interphasers in there–YOU GO, FOLKS!

  23. Wow! It’s giving me butterflies in my tummy. I wonder if I’ll be there next year. I guess I will smile

  24. Maksud says:

    Well, I’m just a sophmore now in high school, and I would think that I should feel inadequate. But I’m not because I just have to be not someone else. Congrats ’12, you have earned your spot. Hopefully I can in a couple years :D

  25. indra says:

    I bumped into this page while searching for some background on a state finance minister in India (who I find happens to be an alumnus of MIT). I am simply amazed to read about these young ladies and gents- not just talent, but passion and a will to achieve. I sure know now why MIT is the mecca of such innovations and excellence.

  26. Kazi Tamanna says:

    congrats! folks you had the talent and now you got the right platform to polish it up.Hope one day I would be living my dream life at MIT.Best of luck everyone!Show the world that with MIT beside you,you can change the world..