Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Always Look Back. Always Look Forward.

After an essay and an interview, on January 24th, 2011, I found out I was going to Nashville, Tennessee to study World Religions at Vanderbilt University thanks to the ILC. I was excited, regardless of the fact that I had never even heard of Vanderbilt. I was ready to experience life as a college student. I was ready to see the South, and experience the differences in cultures between there and the West. I was ready to learn and explore about religion. I was ready to leave for Nashville as of January 24th with my cohorts Julia and Kye.

The reason I chose to take the World Religions course is a personal one. My family is not the religious type, and I had not grown up into a specific faith. I had always felt lost and confused when it came to religion. I was pressured into following faiths that my friends belonged to, despite the fact that I knew deep down, I didn’t believe in their same beliefs. I chose the World Religions class in hopes that by learning about the five major religions in the world, I could find a religion that I could connect with and finally learn about the faiths and beliefs of others.

With my World Religions class, I found exactly what I was looking for. Not only did I learn about the major religions, but I learned about the many sects of the religions. Through research projects and lectures, we dived deep into the beliefs of people around the world. Through field trips to a temple, synagogue, mosque, and church, we got a hands-on look and understanding of places of worship. We learned what college level work can be like: researching a lot in little time. On a personal level, I found a religion that I could relate to: Buddhism. I realized that I didn’t have to force myself to believe in the same God and religion as my friends. I don’t feel as lost anymore, and I am definitely less confused than before. I connected with Buddhism because it wasn’t about devoting your life to a higher power. Buddhism is about reaching enlightenment and salvation through your own self. Everyone reaches it in their own way. After taking this class, I'm considering taking some sort of Buddhist religious studies course in college.

The World Religions course was not the only course with hands-on learning. The Medicine, Health, and Society class members lived the life of a wheelchair bound person for 24 hours. The Law School 101 class got to sit in on a murder trial. Members of the Med School 101 got to shadow different doctors at the local hospital right on Vanderbilt campus. Literature and Cognitive Theory took trips to the wilderness to ponder and analyze nature and their surroundings. The Engineering 101 class learned how to make an app for Apple and built bridges out of spaghetti. Each class at VSA isn't just filled with lecture after lecture. The professors make sure we learn through experience as well as learning in class.

After getting into the Vanderbilt Summer Academy, I began to research the school. What was it known for? Where was it exactly? Did it have my major? What extra-curriculars did it offer? What made this college standout? After my research, I put Vanderbilt on my college possibilities list. It had my major of elementary education, and even had the top graduate school of education in the country. But like every college admission officer told us, you have to visit the campus in order to truly feel like it’s a good fit for you. Brochures and website research can only get you so far. When I arrived at Vanderbilt, I instantly loved it. It was large and open with spacious green fields all across the campus. The buildings were beautiful. It wasn’t too big of a school, in which it was spread out across the city, and it wasn’t too small either. The freshman dorms were a nice size, although not the biggest I’ve seen. The food was surprisingly fantastic. Everything you needed was either on campus or within 15 minutes of driving. I felt comfortable at Vanderbilt. I could see myself attending the university. It will definitely stay on my college possibilities list with a few others. But by the same token, Emory had also been on my college list. After visiting the campus, I still loved it. However, I was not sold on the city of Atlanta, and the city life and feel is definitely a factor when choosing a college. A pro and con list is always good to use in situations like these.

I am so glad I got to attend a college summer course at VSA. It is very different from the other summer programs that the other ILC participants attended. VSA has a work hard, play hard ethic to it. We spent 6 hours a day in class, compared to other summer courses of around 3 hours of class. The rest of the evening was packed with scheduled activities. We had the opportunity to take arĂȘte classes that included fencing, improv, staged combat, dance, Glee, art, step and stomp, and more. We could sign up for activities like spa night, tie-dye, movie watching, kickball, and more. I loved that VSA had so many activities for us to try because we discovered things we liked and didn’t like, and found some activities that we could participate in at college. There were dances once a week, providing fun and chances to let loose of all the work, while dancing the night away with close friends. We went on trips to an arcade and various Nashville tourist locations. College workshops were also hosted by VSA, where we got a hands-on feel for what college admissions officers look for when going through admissions of prospective students. We had the opportunity to bond with our proctor group and become a family. VSA is unique because of all of this. The program allows so many choices and so many possibilities to learn, discover, experience, and meet new people who have similar interests to yours.

Before coming to VSA, I was a bit apprehensive about the people that would be there. I was worried that coming from a small town in the Bay Area, from a public school nonetheless, I would not fit in. I was worried that everyone there had SAT scores up the roof, and perfect AP scores. I learned, however, that I was wrong. I met many people with similar scores to mine, and people from public schools and small towns across the country. But I also found out that many students also came from private schools and wealthy families. It made me happy to realize that even though some kids may have better opportunities than I did, I was at their same level. Despite other students having personal tutors and more classes to choose from at school, we were alike in more ways than one could even imagine.

Through the college tours and meetings with admissions officers of Emory, Georgia Tech, Clark Atlanta, Morehouse, and Vanderbilt, I learned a great deal about what we students should be doing to prepare ourselves for college. One of the most important things I learned through these meetings is about testing scores. They stressed that students shouldn’t worry about tests making or breaking them in their application. Yes, it is important to take them, and yes, it is important to do your best, but do not think that just because of your test score, you will not get into a college. So many students feel like their test scores aren’t good enough to get into the college they want. But colleges don’t just look at scores. They look at your dedication to your life at high school. Did you take rigorous courses and challenge yourself? Does your GPA decline or increase? Did you take advantage of the extra-curriculars your school offers? Did you work or do community service? Based on your choices in high school, will you be a good asset to our college?

Before the ILC, there was so much I didn’t know about college. But there are so many students at our school that do not have the same opportunity that we have had. The ILC is big on this question: how will you bring what you have learned back to your community? The first logical answer is to spread the word. I first find out about the ILC at the college fair, thanks to Ms. Dyana So. But I still didn’t know much about it, and my friends weren’t interested because they thought it was impossible for them. What we ILC participants need to do, is to let everyone at Pinole Valley know about this program and that each of them can get into it. If we start out giving this information to incoming freshman, they can get on the right track, not just to be in the ILC, but to graduate with the right aspects that colleges across the country are looking for: good grades, nice test scores, participation in extra-curriculars, and challenging classes. Everyone can go to college, and everyone can have the chance to be in the ILC.

The second concern of the ILC is that students stay in California to attend college. There is nothing wrong with California schools, besides the fact that California has no more money, but there are so many schools out there that could be a perfect fit for students at Pinole Valley. The problem is, is that we aren’t aware about the colleges out there. If someone had mentioned the name Vanderbilt to me a year ago, I wouldn’t have known what they were talking about. Emory? Georgia Tech? Clark Atlanta? No, no, and no. These are all schools that are unheard of at my school. A possible solution is to ask more far off colleges to come visit the Bay Area and our school. A second solution is for the ILC members to get together and host info sessions on college admissions and different colleges with prospective students.

We Vanderbilt cohorts have already talked about possibly being ambassadors at the Pinole Valley college fair for Vanderbilt University if an alumni or college admissions officer from the school is unavailable to attend. Otherwise, I would like to be a spokesperson for the ILC and help inform others of the program like one did for me earlier this year.

I am incredibly grateful for what the ILC has done for me. I never could have imagined that I would have taken a college course in the summer in the South. And free of charge for that matter. The ILC also pushed me to understand the responsibilities and duties I had. It was my responsibility to blog every night about what I learned and it was my duty to represent the ILC and my school. I was given freedoms and chances. I learned so much and experienced so many things. I got to live the life of a college student before even being an actual college student. I would like to thank Mr. Ramsey, Ms. Kronenberg, and Don Gosney for giving me this opportunity. I would like to thank the panel of judges during the interview for selecting me for this program. I would like to thank the ILC sponsors for helping this program reach out to so many students in the district. I would like to thank Ms. Bulls for taking such great care of us. I would like to thank Kye and Julia for being the best cohorts and friends. And lastly, I would like to thank the readers of the Vanderbilt blog for following us in our adventures. Thank you all for everything.

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