The Journey Begins Within

by John Garcia III


Ivy_League_trip_2014_STILLS-Ivy_League_trip_2014_STILLS-0106.jpgBefore I begin this blog post, I feel it will only be right to share my background and how I came to be in my current position.  At the ripe age of 25 I decided to give up my career, working at NASA in Southern California, to become a middle school counselor in West Phoenix.  Inevitably, some may say, “Why would anyone do that?”  Well, when I was at NASA, I realized that I was the embodiment of the American Dream.  I had overcome the barriers, outlasted the struggles and persevered to have a life I could scarcely conceive.  But while I was there I also realized that I was the exception, not the rule.  Too many students were struggling academically and failing to see the importance of higher education as a means to economic and social advancement.  My goal became to show students the many possibilities for their future and to help them successfully navigate that future.


Now as a Harvard doctoral student, my goal is to look for ways to transform education in order to make sure that all students are prepared academically, socially and emotionally to go on to higher education and become leaders in their respective fields.  This summer I had the opportunity to work for the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics (WHIEE) and see the many collaborations and policies that were helping students in an assembly of ways.  There were advocacy groups, community organizations, colleges, foundations and policy makers all focused on making their communities better places.  My own group, WHIEEH, recently came out with a Financial Aid Guide in English and Spanish that can help Hispanic parents make sense of how to pay for college.  This guide was revolutionary in the sense that is has a section on resources for undocumented students and STEM based majors.  Subsequently, I took a position with Jobs for the Future, working on middle school re-design – infusing more career exploration and real world experiences throughout the school day.


Yet, for all of the great work that is taking place and all of the incredible programs for students, I still believe that the greatest resource is inside of students themselves.  Here are some tips I have learned along the way (backed up by research of course) that I wish someone would have told me earlier:


  • Don’t be afraid to apply to your dream school - Don’t let grades, test scores, finances or self-doubt hold you back.  Schools are looking for leaders and students with a diverse set of experiences.  Plus many top-tier schools provide generous financial aid packages


  • Find a major/career that is something you care aboutit matches your values, interests and you enjoy the work - Your work and your identity are intertwined.  You will be much happier if you are doing what you love


  • Find extracurricular groups and experiences to get involved with -Branch outside of your usual groups and join or create new ones.  Research also backs this up.  The more you are involved, the more likely you are to succeed in college 


  • Create your own support system - This goes along with number 3.  At some point you will need to form study groups or will need help along the way.  We learn best collaboratively – it’s how we’re hardwired.  But, you may also need support when times get tough and you get homesick or get your first bad grade


  • Look for Opportunities – This one is critical to rounding out your skills and experiences.  Look for summer internships, study abroad opportunities and fellowships.  And don’t be afraid to gain experiences outside of the field you are studying.  Many of these pay and many times your school will have scholarships that can help. 


  • Give back – Many of you may be the first in your families to go to college, some not.  However, you now have navigated the journey and in turn can share your knowledge with those who are just beginning.  Go back to your community, reach down and pull up other students who don’t know the way.  This is how you can make your communities better places!


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If You Do Nothing Else to Prepare for College, Do These Two Things

By Tony Losongco

yale.jpgOver the years, college-bound students and their parents have often asked me how to get into college. But they had different ways of asking that question, giving me clues as to what they considered the secret to college admission. Was it a 5.0 GPA? Was it a 2400 SAT score? Was it being president of 12 different clubs? Was it all of those things?


For these people, I never had an answer that was both quick and satisfying. I could give them two basic pieces of advice that I believed would help them for whatever their dream college was. How they chose to follow that advice, however, was up to them. So if you do nothing else to prepare for college, decide for yourself how you should follow these two pieces of advice:


1)     Pursue your passion.


2)     Use your resources.


Pursue your passion

Find out what you really love to do, then just start doing it. It could be academic or non-academic, on-campus or off-campus. But by the time you apply to colleges, you should be able to establish that you had a passion for something and tried to pursue it. Of course, your passion could shine in your transcript as an A in a class. But it could also shine in your teacher recommendations, personal statement, or admissions interview. You say you don’t have a passion? I suspect you already have a hobby or interest and just don’t realize yet that you could major in it or do it for a living. 


Use your resources

Resources can be anything: AP classes, clubs, sports, internships … whatever helps you grow as a student and person. Everyone’s set of resources is different. You can’t control what resources you were given. But you do have total control over how you use your resources. And if you run out of resources at your high school, look off campus. When you apply to colleges, your counselor will send off a “school report” that describes your high school and community. Make sure you’ve used the resources you’ve been given, especially if they align with your passions. If you tell colleges you want to be a doctor, yet you never participated in your high school’s nationally recognized health academy, that’s a problem. But I’d applaud the future doctor who took the one AP class offered at her high school because it was in biology, THEN took community college and online classes to keep learning!


Your dream college is different from your high school in at least two ways: 1) It has a larger platform for you to pursue your passions, and 2) It has a larger set of resources. Colleges want students who are in the routine of pursuing interests passionately and using their resources. They have the desire to get the most out of college, graduate, and do something with their degree. If you’re not used to using your high school’s resources, what makes a college think you’ll use its larger set of resources? So the advice is there: pursue your passion and use your resources. How you follow that advice is up to you.


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10 Things I Learned From My College Experience


MIT_2-1.jpgby Rachel Navarro, Brown Graduate


Read, read, read: You will be doing a lot of reading and you won’t get months to finish a novel; you sometimes get three days.  During the same week you might also have a ten page paper due, a 50 page chapter to read, and an exam to study for. Start reading daily for at least one hour a day.  Vary what you read (newspaper, classical literature, autobiographies, etc.).


Take notes: Find a style that works for you and start practicing now.   Don’t just take notes and forget about them.  You have to review them frequently.


Develop study skills: Do not study in your room; there are too many distractions.  Go to a quiet place and study in chunks of time (20 -50 minute time periods).  Take breaks, but not more than 10 minutes.  Unless you can handle it, don’t study too late at night.


Form study groups: Get to know the people in your classes; they are your best references before any exam.  Prepare before meeting; come with questions.  If you don’t, you will tend to socialize and not get very much studying done.


Know what resources are available: These were the things/people that helped me survive Brown.  You want to know if, and where, the following things/people exist:  tutors, writing center, peer advisors, and academic deans/professors.


Learn how to analyze: You will not be given questions or worksheets with every novel or article you read for class.  You will be expected to read the assignment and have questions, comments, and notes to discuss in class.  Many professors, especially in English classes, base a majority of your grade on participation.


Don’t procrastinate: In college you can’t write a paper the day before it’s due and still get an A!  You have to make sure you know when major assignments are due and work on them a little at a time.  Rank your classes and spend time on the most challenging one every day.


Develop your writing skills: I always got A’s on my papers in high school.  Unfortunately my A papers met with a lot of red ink in college.  It’s important for you to always keep going back to your writing.  Have other teachers read your essays and tell you what they think.  Even if your teacher gave you an A, ask what areas you could still improve.  In college, use your writing center.  These places have people trained to help in every part of the writing process.  Ask your professors if they would be willing to comment on a draft, before your assignment is due (make sure it is a good draft).


Talk to your professors: This might sound like brown nosing, but it can be very effective.  Find out your professors’ office hours and make it a point to visit with them at least every other week.  Come with questions on upcoming assignments or things you are finding difficult.  Professors will remember you and will feel more apt to help you succeed in the class. This will come in handy when you start applying for jobs or grad school and need recommendations.


Have a balance: Like high school, you want to find a balance between academics and your social life.  If you study hard during the day, you can find time to relax in the evenings.  Accept that you can’t be involved in every club or sport available in college.  Join only one that you feel very passionate about.  Finally, find a good group of friends that are going to support you.


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