In the way that many high school seniors incessantly check their e-mail accounts each spring while waiting to hear from colleges, a pair of Weehawken juniors spent much of the past few months doing the same. They’re not skipping their senior year and heading straight for the big leagues, but they did apply to two highly-competitive science and engineering summer programs at the Massachusetts Institute for Technology (MIT), and the suspense was just as gripping.
And then a few Fridays ago, they got the e-mail. Pearl Lee and Cristal Abud were chosen out of a pool of more than 2,000 applicants to take part in the Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science program (MITES) and Science, Technology, and Engineering Community program (MOSTEC).
“They told us the acceptance e-mails would be sent out on a Monday, so we didn’t expect it at all,” said Lee. “We checked them together, so it was good that we both got accepted.”
Abud, who will take part in MITES, will spend her summer in Cambridge, living in the university’s dormitories and taking classes with its professors, while Lee will work remotely on engineering research while attending yet another program at Caldwell College. Lee and Abud are good friends, and have worked together on physics and chemistry projects at Weehawken High School before.
“I couldn’t really speak for about 10 minutes.” – Cristal Abud
Two programs, same school
According to MIT’s website, the MITES program is a program in which “participants tackle advanced academic challenges, develop the skills necessary to achieve success in an increasingly globalized economy, and forge relationships with individuals from diverse racial, ethnic, cultural, and socioeconomic backgrounds.”
Abud said that she’s ready for the challenge and excited to experience MIT’s campus life.
“It’s going to be a lot of group work, which is cool, but there won’t be much play time, although there are weekend outings that the program organizes,” she said.
Abud said she was undecided whether she might apply to MIT in the fall and wondered aloud if the experience of living there for the summer would sway her one way or the other.
“I’ve got a feeling I’m going to fall in love with the place,” she said. “I’ve spent a lot of time on their website and it seems like the type of place that’s very inclusive and has a great community.”
Lee, who will have a full course load during the summer between MOSTEC and her work at Caldwell, will continue her MIT program into her senior year at Weehawken High, as MOSTEC is a six-month program. The research she does over the summer will culminate in a four-day conference on MIT’s campus in July, but also includes a networking and admissions component, which will work in Lee’s favor should she decide to apply to MIT in the fall.
However, like Abud, she said she’s unsure about where she wants to go to college. She said she definitely wanted to go somewhere outside of New Jersey, but is looking for a more hands-on approach than what MIT offers.
“MIT is pretty heavy on the research, which is cool for the summer, but I’d like to do something that’s a little more practical,” she said.
Abud and Lee both said that acceptance to their respective programs had garnered lots of praise from their teachers and classmates, though they were modest about it afterwards.
“We looked at some of the other people that applied, and they’d won robotics competitions, had 5.0 GPAs, things like that,” said Lee. “It was a big confidence booster for us.”
Both MITES and MOSTEC actually have a lower rate of acceptance the MIT itself, said Abud.
Still, they got the typical response from other students, who wondered why on earth they’d choose to spend their summers inside learning about physics and engineering.
“But this is cool for us,” said Lee. “We don’t think of this as being a chore. It’s very exciting.”
Dr. Peter Olivieri, the principal at Weehawken High School, said that Lee and Abud’s summer plans speak highly of the high school’s science and math programs.
“You know, we offer lab courses that happen six or seven days a week, and a great deal of our classes are hands-on,” he said. “I think this does great things for our students beyond just sitting and listening to lectures.”
“They learn more and become more enthusiastic about it through this method,” he added.
The school’s guidance counselor, Ms. Chiara Ziek, said that she wasn’t surprised when she heard that Abud and Lee were accepted. Ziek assisted both students in their application process, said that she was “only the driver. They told me which direction to go.”
“They’re motivated and they want to be successful,” she said. “They both have wonderfully well-rounded personalities and they know the value of an education.”
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org