With MITES ’01 as launching pad, aerospace engineer targets entrepreneurship

Theresa Johnson, MITES ’03, is combining aeronautics and astronautics with entrepreneurship as she works to inspire future scientists and engineers along the way.

When she arrived on MIT’s campus for the first time in June 2001, Theresa Johnson didn’t know anything about engineering. Her high PSAT scores and academic drive had helped secure her a spot in that year’s Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science (MITES) program, but her primary reason for attending was to enjoy a summer outside of her hometown of St. Louis. Over a decade later, Theresa is a Ph.D. candidate at Stanford University, where she is combining aeronautics and astronautics with entrepreneurship as she works to inspire future scientists and engineers along the way.

Raised in a series of college towns – first Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, then Austin, Texas, and finally St. Louis, Missouri – Theresa experienced deep socio-economic divides. Theresa’s parents did not have college degrees and were looked down upon as “townies” in communities dominated by large universities.

Despite their social status, Theresa’s parents worked hard to thrive and shield her from potentially toxic atmospheres. Theresa recalls her mother taking on a number of projects, including launching her own dog walking service, to provide for her. “I hadn’t heard the word ‘entrepreneur’ until my summer in MITES,” Theresa says. “But I saw it in my parents.”

Through grade school, Theresa’s teachers identified her as an academic star. Theresa remembers taking a liking to math, in particular, as early as second grade. By middle school, her academic talent began to work against her. “In eighth grade, I had a teacher, Mr. Brownfield, who saw that I was getting bored,” Theresa says. “He pushed me to improve my work ethic.”

That increased work ethic would put her into a position to enroll in MITES in summer 2003 after her junior year of high school. During MITES, Theresa faced a number of challenges. Academically, she says, “it was the most rigorous experience I ever had at that point in my life.” She had to put more work into her MITES physics class than she did for any of her high school classes.

Outside of the classroom, Theresa faced challenges as well. It was the first time she had been surrounded by people from such different socio-economic backgrounds. “Some people could just go out to the movies or out for dinner whenever they wanted,” she says. “It was difficult for those like me always budgeting. And we didn’t have the vocabulary to talk about socio-economic disparity.”

Ultimately, her experiences academically and socially gave her new perspective. “It matured me. It grounded me,” Theresa says. Most of all, she appreciated the sense of community that MITES provided, and she still keeps in touch with many of her MITES peers and teaching assistants, especially those now on the west coast.

During her senior year of high school, Theresa gained acceptance to her top three schools – Stanford, MIT and Harvard. Ultimately, she chose to attend Stanford “for its interdisciplinary engineering education, entrepreneurial vibrancy, opportunity for exploration, and cultural groundedness,” she says. Entering Stanford with the insights she gained during MITES, Theresa breezed through her first year in a Science, Technology and Society program. “MITES prepared me for that workload,” she says. “I probably had a 3.8 or 3.9 GPA in my first year of Stanford undergrad, and I certainly have to credit MITES for preparing me for that level of rigor.”

Theresa points out a calibration chamber used for an experiment at the Max Planck Institute in Germany. Theresa managed a team of research scientists and other graduate students for the experiment as part of her work toward a Ph.D. from Stanford.

While excelling academically, Theresa explored the cultural vibrancy that Stanford had to offer by joining Delta Sigma Theta, a historically black public service sorority, studying as an exchange student at Spelman, a top historically black college for women, and studying and working abroad in Japan, Ghana, Ethiopia, Switzerland, Greenland, and Germany, among other places.

Today, Theresa is a fifth year Ph.D. student in aerospace engineering at Stanford. She is working on a number of projects with the Stanford Technology Ventures Program, which develops inventions and ideas in the lab and spins them out into startups. She hopes that one of her projects will become a launching pad for her career out of graduate school, but she is also interested in joining one of the many existing startups in Silicon Valley that are focusing on aerospace or “the internet of things,” which, with its connection to satellites, drones, and high-altitude balloons, she finds deeply interesting.

Ultimately, Theresa says, she has learned and grown with the help of many role models along the way, and she wants to be a role model, herself, to let others know that anything is possible. “Flying cars are possible. Getting us to Mars is possible. It’s all going to happen,” she says. “It just takes the will, intellect, and spunk of a few to light that fire.”

—Nick Holden

M.D. candidate Dania Joseph shares her alternative path to a career in medicine in MOSTEC webinar

Dania Joseph spoke with MOSTEC students about her winding journey from biology undergrad to M.D. candidate.

Last fall, students in the MIT Online Science, Technology, and Engineering Community (MOSTEC) participated in a virtual webinar with Dania Joseph, an M.D. candidate at Drexel University College of Medicine. Dania shared the story of her path from a high school student with her heart set on psychiatry to her current aspiration of working as a specialist in obstetrics and gynecology (OB/GYN).

Dania earned her undergraduate degree in biology at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. She arrived at Johns Hopkins with a dream of working as a psychiatrist. As she told MOSTEC students, after doing relatively well academically her freshman year without significantly altering her high school study habits, she struggled as a sophomore.

“I was really overwhelmed with all the extracurricular activities I was involved in, and my classes took a back seat,” Dania said. After ending up on academic probation, she returned to school the following semester “with a vengeance” and earned a 4.0 in the courses she retook. “It showed me that I was capable of doing well,” Dania said. She advised MOSTEC students to take time management seriously.

As Dania told MOSTEC students, her lackluster performance during her sophomore fall would have repercussions. In her senior year of college, she realized that despite her strong desire to go straight into medical school, her GPA was not competitive enough for her to do so.

Nevertheless, Dania persisted in her dreams. She decided to remain at Johns Hopkins to pursue a Masters of Health Science with a focus on mental health. Dania had always intended to work as a psychiatrist, and in her master’s program, she learned to see mental health from the broader perspective of public health.

After completing her master’s degree, Dania applied to medical school but was discouraged to learn that she had not been accepted. “It was a really tough time for me,” Dania said. “I wanted to go to medical school so badly.” Refocusing on her dream, she completed a post-baccalaureate program at Drexel University called the Drexel Pathway to Medical School Certificate Program. As part of the program, Dania took the same courses as a first-year medical school student and retook the MCAT.

The Pathway program was a time of intense focus for Dania. “I worked my tail off,” she said. “I made a lot of sacrifices.” Dania said that it was at times difficult to balance school and studying for the MCAT once again. She set a strict schedule for herself, always prepared with flash cards for idle moments on the train or in a friend’s car. After a committed period of study, she completed the program successfully and was accepted to Drexel Medical School.

As a medical student, Dania was surprised to find that during her clinical rotations, in which she shadowed and assisted physicians, she found her psychiatry rotation interesting, but she found her OB/GYN rotations even more fascinating. OB/GYN, she found, mixed surgery, internal medicine, pediatrics, adolescent medicine, and her longstanding fascination with mental health. “I absolutely loved it,” said Dania, “It incorporated everything I was interested in.”

Dania is especially interested in high-risk obstetrics, and helping women who have difficulties maintaining pregnancy due to conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure – conditions for which African-American women are at higher risk. “A lot of these problems affect a lot of people that look like me,” said Dania, “and I think that’s really important, at least for me as a future physician.” She is currently involved in a high-risk obstetrics research project, investigating whether giving blood thinners to obese women either during or immediately after a pregnancy can help prevent them from developing blood clots the year following childbirth.

Student Karen Pulido of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, asked Dania about her priorities since medical school. Revealing the insight she has gained since her tumultuous sophomore fall, Dania said she now focuses more on her own health and needs. “I have done really well, but it took a lot of time and effort,” Dania said. “But at the same time that I say that, it’s also important for me to stay balanced. … So if I’m studying for 18 hours, I need to know when to give myself a break.” She also focuses on succeeding academically and receiving high scores on the licensing examinations so that she can soon enter a top OB/GYN program.

Dania advised students interested in medicine or medical research to work hard academically, engage in shadowing opportunities, get involved in research that’s personally compelling, and be passionately involved in one’s community.

Looking back at her own path, Dania advised students: “If you are really considering going into medicine, and if anyone tries to discourage you from doing so, don’t let them. It’s not a matter of when you get to medical school. It’s just a matter of how you get there.”

—Lena Bae

SEED Academy instructor training fosters an inclusive learning community

Since the fall, Saturday Engineering Enrichment and Discovery (SEED) Academy instructors and teaching assistants, along with some Office of Engineering Outreach Programs (OEOP) administrative staff members, have participated in a series of workshops on how perceived stereotypes can become detrimental distractions for students in their classrooms. Bolstered by a generous grant from the 484 Phi Alpha Foundation, the training is part of OEOP’s increased focus on teacher training and professional development.

Dr. Anique Olivier-Mason of the Drennan Education Laboratory led SEED instructors in workshops on stereotype threat — the perceived risk of confirming a negative stereotype.

Dr. Anique Olivier-Mason, an instructor in the Drennan Education Laboratory at MIT, leads the training, which focuses on a phenomenon called stereotype threat. Stereotype threat is the perceived risk of confirming a negative stereotype, which can stem from attributes such as race or gender, but can also be related to less obvious differences among individuals.

“Racism and sexism are major issues in the world, but they’re not the only things that can affect learning,” Olivier-Mason says. “There’s just a lot more of a student’s personal experience that can get in the way.” Anything from a student’s learning style, to the clothes he wears, to his extracurricular activities can prevent him from being fully engaged in the classroom, Olivier-Mason says.

SEED Academy Electronics Instructor Joe Steinmeyer has witnessed subtle barriers to students’ engagement in his classroom. Steinmeyer often leverages music in his assigned projects to appeal to his students’ interests. It’s an effective technique that invigorates his students – who are high school seniors with busy schedules and external stressors – to bring a new level of energy to their projects. But sometimes, it can cause a hiccup in learning.

“There are always really interesting class dynamics about who’s playing what,” Steinmeyer says. “Some students always have really good underground hip hop and trade off all their tracks with each other. Others are nervous because they don’t have the same music choices, and maybe they think they don’t have as much musical taste.” Steinmeyer says this occasionally leads some students to be hesitant to test out their projects.

Steinmeyer counteracts his students’ insecurities by allowing them to form teams with their peers with whom they are most comfortable. He also emphasizes his own shortcomings to show that even MIT graduate students aren’t perfect. And he’s careful not to dismiss his students’ problems, especially by taking note of his vocal tone, when he provides feedback.

SEED Instructor Joe Steinmeyer (right) employs a number of techniques to address stereotype threat in his electronics classroom.

Steinmeyer’s response demonstrates two of the lessons from Olivier-Mason’s workshop. By being aware of his tone and content of his feedback, Steinmeyer is giving what education researchers describe as “wise criticism,” or criticism in which instructors tell their students that they are capable of attaining a high level of success or achievement. And by highlighting his own shortcomings, Steinmeyer is “changing the narrative” by demonstrating that people who struggle from time to time can still be successful.

The research on stereotype threat also suggests that changing the visual cues that students receive from textbooks and in the classroom to show that more people like them can be successful is an effective method of combating stereotype threat.

Through educating SEED Academy staff on the pitfalls of stereotype threat, Olivier-Mason hopes to improve learning experiences. “SEED students are chosen because they are high performers, and the pressure they’re under can be similar to that of undergrads at MIT,” she says. Armed with the skills to combat stereotype threat, she says, “Instructors can break down barriers that prevent students from taking on the identity of scientists in the classroom.”

—Nick Holden

Middle School Mentoring students engineer creative prostheses in design challenge

On Saturday, November 16, over 60 middle school and college students wielded plungers, bubble wrap and duct tape in a design challenge to construct a functional prosthetic leg. The activity was part of the OEOP Middle School Mentoring Program, which matches undergraduate and graduate mentors with middle school students from Boston, Cambridge and Lawrence, Massachusetts.

The design challenge began with an introduction to common biomedical engineering terms and an overview of the engineering design process. Mentors and mentees then broke off into small groups and began sketching and building prosthesis prototypes from a limited supply of household items. In the end, the teams were judged on their prostheses’ comfort, durability and usability.

The design challenge was partially funded by the NSF Engineering Research Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering, a partnership between MIT, the University of Washington, and San Diego State University that works to develop robust and adaptive closed-loop interaction between human nervous systems and sensorimotor devices.

MITES alum launches 3-D printer company, sparks passion in future engineers

AJ photo

AJ Perez is CEO of NVbots, creators of an efficient, affordable 3-D printer.

It was the summer of 2012, and MIT engineering students and fraternity brothers Alfonso “AJ” Perez, Mateo Peña Doll, Chris Haid and Forrest Pieper ran into a problem. They were working on a project and needed to prototype parts, but they couldn’t easily access a 3-D printer on campus to create the prototypes. They did, however, have free time and an endless supply of creativity, so they took on a seemingly impossible project – building their own 3-D printer in the basement of their fraternity.

Today, the four are the ambitious co-founders of New Valence Robotics (NVbots), a company selling a more efficient, affordable and completely wireless 3-D printer to educational institutions and others. In early October, AJ, the CEO of NVbots, was also included among the winners of the Boston Globe’s “Hive 25 under 25,” an inaugural list of young local innovators. He is also the recent – and final – recipient of the Jerome Lemelson Fellowship, a scholarship for graduate students “whose research involves invention, innovation and intellectual property.”

The south Florida native first came to MIT as a rising high school senior participating in MIT’s Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science (MITES) program. MITES is a six-week residential summer program run by the MIT Office of Engineering Outreach Programs (OEOP) that provides academic enrichment for promising students, predominantly from underrepresented and underserved backgrounds. Even for AJ, a high-achieving student, the college-level coursework he encountered at MITES was an unexpected challenge. “I was a super arrogant kid coming in,” AJ admits. “I got beat down a little bit.”

While during MITES, AJ enjoyed the challenge of learning new material beyond the scope of his high school coursework, when the program came to a close, AJ was still unsure about his next steps. “I really wasn’t interested in all that much in high school,” AJ says. “I was just good at some stuff – I was good at school, for the most part.”

After MITES and his senior year of high school, AJ returned to MIT as an undergraduate. He initially majored in business but changed his major four times to political science, physics, material science, and finally, to mechanical engineering.

“I was totally lost,” AJ says. “I had no idea what was going on – I was 18 years old. Total existential crisis.” While wavering in his decision to drop material science courses he didn’t find interesting, a resident advisor in AJ’s fraternity encouraged him to do what felt right. “I thought, ‘I’m going to go try that for a while,’” AJ says, “and [I] got really excited about it.”

AJ, who recalls being a “Legos kid” as a child, found the hands-on aspect of mechanical engineering enthralling. The class that hooked him on mechanical engineering was 2.007 (Design and Manufacturing I). In 2.007, students are given design challenges to address with specific timelines and limited resources. “I really enjoyed that – you had to operate within a budget, you had to operate on time, and you had to deliver something that would, within the context of this little contrived game, operate to specification,” AJ says. He realized that he loved being creative under pressure.

During his junior year, AJ continued to develop his skills in production under constraints and deepen his leadership abilities through the Gordon-MIT Engineering Leadership (GEL) Program. The GEL Program is a co-curricular program that students can apply to take during their junior or senior year at MIT. Students attend engineering design and leadership courses, engage in leadership labs, and develop leadership skills by working on projects in a team-based setting.

AJ cites the GEL program as one of his most meaningful experiences at MIT. Through the GEL program, he fine-tuned his ability to work with engineers of diverse backgrounds, a skill AJ found more difficult to sharpen in departmental classes largely filled with students trained in similar engineering fields. “You learn to communicate very well with other mechanical engineers, computer scientists, and material scientists, but knowing how to communicate effectively with an interdisciplinary engineering team [is] probably one of the best skills I got [from the program],” he says. Effective communication with individuals from diverse backgrounds is a skill that AJ continues to value highly in his current work at NVbots, where he deals regularly not only with other engineers, but also with lawyers, accountants, politicians, and potential customers.

After graduating from MIT, AJ planned to stay in the Boston area to continue developing NVbots with co-founders Chris and Forrest, who were both a year younger than AJ. He applied to the Master of Engineering in Manufacturing (MEngM) program at MIT, but he was uncertain whether he would enroll due to tuition fees. When he found out that he had been selected for the prestigious Jerome Lemelson Fellowship, his main hesitation disappeared.

This fall, NVbots is currently piloting three printers in local high schools. They will be working closely with the pilot schools to get feedback on these initial prototypes and make further improvements as needed. In AJ’s coursework, which is highly complementary to his work for the company, he is working on ways to make the 3-D printer a more precise, efficient system.

The team is also teaching a class on 3-D design and 3-D printing to fifth and sixth graders at the Lee School in Dorchester as part of the Citizen Schools program, an AmeriCorps-affiliated initiative in which volunteers teach afterschool classes to students from public schools situated in low-income areas. The 3-D design/printing class was inspired by his experience taking 2.007 and serving as a teaching assistant for an engineering design course in MITES.

AJ is passionate about bringing the kind of hands-on, team-based learning that engaged and inspired him as an undergraduate to elementary school children. As a student less interested in abstract theories than designing and constructing under real-world constraints, AJ understands the frustration that children can feel when given problem sets rather than a material problem to physically solve.

“Kids hate learning math,” AJ says. During AJ’s first lecture, a student asked him whether the course would involve math. AJ’s response of “no” was met with loud cheers. Instead of teaching equations, AJ and his team have their students compete in design challenges using objects found in their everyday lives. Through these challenges, AJ says: “We can explain the science to them – the concept of the gear ratios that are happening in [a self-rotating] cube – that they wouldn’t be excited about if they were taught ‘the geometric theory of cube ratios.’”

Ultimately, it is that excitement that AJ knows firsthand and that he wants to spark in fellow “Lego kids” at an early age. “We stifle inventors at a young age, by shoving them into a framework of very confined mathematical learning,” says AJ. “The most successful engineers and inventors in world history all stopped creating new ideas by the time they were 27 or 30. … So if we’re constraining the first 18 years of somebody’s life … it seems kind of absurd. We should get them at a young age.”

“That’s the hope. To get them passionate,” AJ says.

–Lena Bae

Coming home: Alum of MIT middle and high school programs returns to begin doctorate program in aerospace engineering

When Zi Peng “Hunter” Zhao was five years old, he knew what he wanted to be when he grew up: an aerospace engineer. “You see a rocket launch, and that to me was the coolest thing ever. You’re sending people to space, and it’s… discovery – exploration – it’s just really awesome to me,” he says. While the precise details of his dream have evolved over the years, his connection to MIT – beginning as a middle school student and extending through today as a first-year Ph.D. candidate in aerospace engineering – has remained constant.

Hunter Zhao is a first-year doctoral student in the aerospace engineering program at MIT.

Hunter Zhao is a first-year doctoral student in the aerospace engineering program at MIT.

Growing with SEED and STEM

While the doctorate program and research in MIT’s Systems Engineering Advancement Research Initiative (SEAri) marks a new chapter for Hunter, returning to MIT is, in a way, a homecoming. Hunter arrived at the Institute around a decade ago as a rising seventh-grader who had only a few years before immigrated to Boston from Singapore after spending his early years in China.

In 2004, Hunter, then a seventh grader at Edwards Middle School in Boston, enrolled in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Program in its inaugural year. In the program – provided by the MIT Office of Engineering Outreach Programs (OEOP) to students who attend public middle school in Boston, Cambridge and Lawrence, Massachusetts – Hunter and his peers spent five weeks during the summer learning math and science from MIT students and select Saturdays during the school year working one-on-one with student mentors. Hunter also participated in the Saturday Engineering Enrichment and Discovery (SEED) Academy, an OEOP program that provides hands-on curriculum to strengthen local high school students’ foundational skills in math and science over seven semesters.

The then-coordinator of SEED Academy, Nicole Stark Lane, remembers Hunter as a “soft-spoken young man with impressive abilities and a family that strongly valued academic achievement.” Stark wrote in an email: “Throughout his career in SEED Academy, Hunter’s notable dedication to his work endeared him to our staff and earned him the high regard of his peers.”

For Hunter, these programs solidified his passion for engineering and provided an opportunity to engage in his interests through hands-on activities, such as building a remote-controlled car for a SEED Academy project.

He credits the two OEOP programs with providing him an extra push to pursue his dreams. “The stuff I learned… prepared me for a lot of the classes I was going to take. The lectures were always quite enjoyable and [there were] always fun activities,” says Hunter. “These things helped me further along in achieving my goals.”

In 2010, Hunter returned to OEOP to serve as a teaching assistant for Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science (MITES).

Making Connections at Caltech  

After high school, Hunter went on to the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), where he studied mechanical engineering with a minor in aerospace engineering. Like many students, Hunter had a broad sense of what he wanted to pursue, but he was unsure of how his interests would specifically coalesce under the umbrella of aerospace engineering.

In his academics, Hunter’s course load reflected his diverse set of interests. “I came into college knowing a lot about computer programming. I also liked the design aspects of mechanical engineering. I took quite a number of materials classes. I also took controls, mechatronics,” he says. “It [was] – I wouldn’t say ‘all over the place,’ because it infers a negative connotation, but it’s rather, I think, very versatile.”

Outside of class, Hunter pursued his passion for aerospace through a variety of projects. Under Professor Sergio Pellegrino of Caltech’s Engineering and Applied Science Division, Hunter conducted research on CubeSats – miniature satellites used for space research – and reaction wheels – mechanisms that handle spacecraft altitude control. He also worked part-time at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), a NASA research and development facility managed by Caltech.

At the JPL, Hunter worked in the Systems Engineering Department, and it was there that he recognized the match between systems engineering and the skills he developed through his experiences in and out of the classroom.

Systems engineering is a field that explores ways to design and manage complex engineering projects that involve a variety of fields. As Hunter explains, “[There are] all these different aspects of engineering. They’re very specific; all of them are very independent in a way. But your systems engineer makes sure all of these come together.” Hunter recognized that the versatility he pursued in his coursework could be an asset for a systems engineer and that a systems approach was the one he wanted to take within aerospace.

From Engineering to Policy 

Beyond systems engineering, Hunter encountered other kinds of connections – particularly those between science and policy. “I used to be this purely technical guy,” Hunter says. “I wanted to do really cool things. I wanted to be like [founder of SpaceX] Elon Musk.” However, work in an environment where engineers often expressed worries about dependence on funding altered his perspective. “More and more, I began to realize that if you stay purely in the technical field, while you can achieve a lot of things, the impact you make is still limited,” Hunter says.

Hunter believes deepening that impact is a critical concern for aerospace development today. “Most people out there, they think we invest like 20 percent of our national budget in NASA. But in fact it’s only 0.5 percent. And yet for every dollar we put into NASA, seven to 14 dollars come out to the economy eventually. But it takes time, and time is something our system doesn’t seem to allow,” Hunter says. “So I think that’s something I could go into and address.” He hopes that as a systems engineer, he can eventually shift his focus into the policy and business aspects of the aerospace industry.

Looking Forward and Looking Back

Anticipating life after graduate school, Hunter plans to first build further experience in the aerospace industry, either in government-funded agencies or in the private sector. Eventually, he plans to move into policy.

And when Hunter looks back at his own trajectory, he sees not only a student following his passion for aerospace one step at a time, but also the growth of a young person made possible by many others. Reflecting on his eighth-grade self, eagerly learning engineering in SEED Academy, Hunter says, “I was really arrogant. I thought I was everything.” Now he says, “A lot of the things in my life really didn’t happen by my effort … I’d say my life is the result of the inspiration of many, many other people.”

As Hunter puts it, the path to great achievements lies in “an art of responding.” “You can either look at something as an opportunity or something as work,” he says.

For Stark, Hunter is living proof that effective academic enrichment programs can empower students to succeed in technical fields and in life. “I often say that an investment in young people offers the best ROI possible; it’s infinite,” Stark says. “The fact that Hunter was accepted to and has elected to attend the doctoral program at MIT this year validates everything I believe about children’s ability to meet expectations… We knew our students were capable, told them so, challenged them whenever possible, and watched them achieve. Now grown, Hunter is a remarkable man and scholar.”

–Lena Bae

Minority Introduction To Engineering and Science (MITES) students showcase summer projects at the Final Presentations Symposium

The 38th summer of the Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science (MITES) program came to a close with the Final Presentations Symposium on Friday, July 19. 79 rising high school seniors from 27 states and Puerto Rico participated in the six-week residential program and presented final projects in five fields: genomics, electronics, digital design, architecture, and engineering design.

During the program, participants took rigorous classes and participated in hands-on enrichment courses. Outside of the classroom, they visited MIT laboratories and engaged with MIT faculty and students, practicing scientists and engineers, and admissions officers. Since returning home, the students have begun the application process to top colleges and universities across the country.

Photos by Joel Laino.