After E2@MIT, alum mentored in New York and advocated for tech-based education in South America

Valarezo traveling through Ecuador via kayak to film interviews with community members

Valarezo traveled via kayak to film interviews with community members and learn more about education in Ecuador

Columbia University sophomore Jessica Valarezo knew that she wanted to shift perceptions and incubate ideas since taking part in Engineering Experience at MIT (E2@MIT) in high school. With a strong interest in education, Valarezo recently mentored students in New York and traveled to Ecuador and Brazil to prove that technology can benefit communities in immeasurable ways. The chance to give young women the confidence to seek out the careers they want and to implement new educational ideologies in the developing world drive Valarezo’s work.

In 2012, Valarezo participated in E2@MIT, a weeklong program that provides students with a project-based course and workshops in science and engineering. “MIT made me realize the value of mentorship and outreach programs and how startling of an impact they can make on people,” said Valarezo.

Valarezo felt reverberating effects of her transformation years later when she reviewed a journal entry she wrote during E2@MIT in which she pledged her college years to outreach efforts. “I found that journal the last day of my program this summer, and I came full circle,” said Valarezo.

Valarezo mentoring at Girls Who Code, a nonprofit aimed at reaching gender parity in computer science.

Valarezo mentored at Girls Who Code, a nonprofit aimed at reaching gender parity in computer science.

Spurred by the effects of E2@MIT, she became a mentor for Girls Who Code, an initiative that empowers girls to excel in computer science through programs in libraries, schools, and community centers across the country. During her time with Girls Who Code, Valarezo worked with one girl from Paraguay who felt self-conscious because of her accent. Over the course of her time in the program, she learned to code and gained the courage to speak with exceptional confidence. In another instance, two girls created a videogame in four days that was featured in New York Daily News and Seventeen Magazine.

Valarezo says her experience with Girls Who Code impacted her as positively as it impacted the girls she mentors. She is now resolved to start a chapter of Girls Who Code at Columbia University, where she is a member of the Society of Professional Hispanic Engineers and Women in Computer Science.

Valarezo and three fellow students from Columbia University travel across Ecuador and Brazil to conduct research on different education systems.

Valarezo and three fellow students from Columbia University traveled across Ecuador and Brazil to conduct research on different education systems.

Valarezo’s time with Girls Who Code inspired her to join a last-minute trip to shoot a documentary about education in Ecuador. “After Girls Who Code, I realized the difference a curriculum can make,” said Valarezo. “I was interested in seeing if using more technology can become part of community reform in Ecuador.” She traveled with three other young women who each had personal hopes for the trip but were united by a common ideal of cultural understanding. Throughout the journey, they spent time with people who shared stories of hope for their own communities as well as stories of success. “To be in some places where development was actually happening and corruption was lessened was hopeful,” said Valarezo.

Now, Valarezo carries what she learned in Ecuador and Brazil as she seeks out her own career. In the near future, she looks forward to pursuing an internship abroad with a software company in Europe, Asia, Africa, or Latin America, where she hopes to continue learning as much as she can and gain more experience in computer science.

—Sydney Lester

MIT Sloan’s EMBA students provide career advice, network with future scientists and engineers

This summer, experienced professionals from industry and academia in the MIT Sloan School of Management’s Executive MBA program contributed their time and career wisdom to rising high school seniors from across the country participating in programs offered by the MIT Office of Engineering Outreach Programs. The EMBA students served on panels and networked with the high school students in three programs.

MITES

The Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science (MITES) program hosted science- and engineering-inclined rising seniors from across the country for six weeks, teaching them college-level coursework and life skills to prepare them for college. Eight EMBA panelists attended a MITES dinner on July 22, during which they met with 72 high-performing high school students to network and share advice on a discussion-based panel. MIT Sloan guests included Neerja Bharti (Teleios International), Thomas Horstmann (Eisai Inc.), Karen Edwards (Biogen Idec), Laurel Taylor (Google), Hong Chen (Sanofi Oncology), Adel Malek (Tufts Medical Center), Thomas Stephens (Trinity Partners) and Jonathan Lehrich (MIT Sloan School of Management).

MITES students shared dinner with and sought career advice from EMBA members during an event on July 22.

MITES students shared dinner with and sought career advice from EMBA members during an event on July 22.

MOSTEC

Another group of EMBA members participated in a professional mixer on July 31 for the MIT Online Science, Technology and Engineering Community (MOSTEC), which provides students with six months of online coursework, admissions support and mentorship. The Alumni and Professional Mixer combined dinner with casual networking and opportunities for mentorship. EMBA participants included Tim Piccirilli (American Tower Corporation), Hasshi Sudler (Internet Think Tank, Inc.), Stuart Hart (University of South Florida) and Dan Cosgrove (DuPont Pioneer).

MOSTEC students practice their networking skills with EMBA student Dan Cosgrove at the professional mixer on July 31.

MOSTEC students practice their networking skills with EMBA student Dan Cosgrove at the professional mixer on July 31.

E2@MIT

The MIT Office of Engineering Programs also welcomed EMBA students on August 5 for a dinner and discussion with the 109 students participating in the Engineering Experience at MIT (E2@MIT) program, a one-week project-based prorgam. EMBA members involved in the panel were Charlie Maher (Naval Undersea Warfare Center), Alvero Diez (Corporacion Multifranquicias), Cheryl Campbell (MA Department of Public Health), Ken Bobu (Safe-T Discs, LLC), Joe Schloesser (Iron Mountain Data Solutions), Bill Van Schalkwyk (MIT) and Kamran Hameed (Panera Bread).

EMBA members share career wisdom at a panel and dinner with E2 students on August 5.

EMBA members share career wisdom at a panel and dinner with E2 students on August 5.

—Sydney Lester

SEED Academy seminars teach local high school students about college admissions and financial aid

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On October 18, Diane McKoy of Columbia University spoke to SEED Academy students about navigating college admissions. “You want to find that place where you can grow as a person,” McKoy said.

The fall semester of Saturday Engineering Enrichment and Discovery (SEED) Academy – a science and engineering enrichment program at MIT for students from Boston, Cambridge and Lawrence, Massachusetts – concluded Saturday, December 6 with project presentations and an award ceremony. While much of the semester focused around hands-on science and engineering coursework, the students also attended seminars to learn more about the college admissions and financial aid processes.

A place to grow

Diane McKoy of Columbia University Undergraduate Admissions spoke at one seminar on October 18 during which she offered advice to students on college admissions and the art of choosing the right university. Discussion highlights included the benefits of studying science and engineering in college and the opportunity for students to further enrich themselves by taking humanities classes and working in science labs. Students also discussed their interests in exploring fields outside of science and technology.

By pursuing paths in science or engineering at Columbia or anywhere else, according to McKoy, students will learn valuable skills needed later in their professional lives. McKoy herself dabbled in a few different courses of study during her time in college, learning as much as she could at Columbia before entering the workforce. “I was premed, prelaw, and pre-engineering by the time I graduated,” she said. For McKoy, a balanced education in science and engineering supported her as she moved through her career to where she is today.

McKoy also stressed the importance of seeking out an institution that will incite personal growth and individual passion. “Find the right place that will allow you to be challenged and be the best that you can be,” said McKoy. “You want to find that place where you can grow as a person.”

For those interested in applying to Columbia, 5,000 internship opportunities await students enrolled in undergraduate education, as well as $900 million in research grants. SEED students also found through the event that the majority of undergraduates at Columbia find jobs in their fields of choice after graduation, a concern of many high school students entering college. SEED students left with confidence to apply to scholarships and the knowledge to strategically approach the college application process.

Personalized college guidance

In another seminar, Gabriela Gomez Coates of UAspire Boston, a non-profit focused on college access and affordability for area high school students, provided SEED participants with information about choosing the right school to fit needs and interests, building a network in college, and financial aid. Coates also led a discussion about the importance of researching and applying to scholarships. “Scholarships may take two or three or five hours, but the payoff is really good,” said Coates. Coates explained that colleges and universities have a large sum of revenue devoted each year to financial aid awards, which is why students need to do the appropriate amount of research when looking into and applying to schools.

Once scholarships and financial aid are awarded, students and their families need to review all aspects of their financial preparedness for college, Coates said. “UAspire sits down with you and your award letters and we talk about award money, work study, and where the gaps are,” said Coates.

UAspire plays a role in helping students comprehend their pre-college financial situation in a way that makes sense for their families and makes sure that they understand how to take action and appeal when necessary. Whatever students’ ideas and educational goals are, UAspire works to make them happen. “If this is your dream college, we’ll help you afford it,” said Coates. Because UAspire works hard to advance students in the direction of college, students are expected to reciprocate those efforts. “Juniors and seniors, you have a lot of academic responsibilities.”

—Sydney Lester

Workshop helps high school students communicate science to the public

132 rising high school seniors from across the country fine-tuned their abilities to communicate science to lay audiences during a science-writing workshop on July 30 at MIT. Part of the MIT Online Science, Technology, and Engineering Community (MOSTEC) conference, the workshop featured a panel of ten experienced writers and highlighted the importance of communication skills in science and engineering careers.

MOSTEC students present information in science writing style at the annual conference.

MOSTEC students present on their peers’ science and engineering projects in layman’s terms during the workshop.

The conference was part of the MOSTEC program, a six-month experience that challenges high school seniors with rigorous, technical projects and gives them the opportunity to discuss science, engineering and college admissions in a supportive online community. Inspired by the MIT Graduate Program in Science Writing, this year’s four-week MOSTEC science writing course, which included the July 30 workshop, matched ten science writers from the MIT graduate program with groups of 12 to 14 students whom they taught remotely before the conference. Program Coordinator Louis Fouché added the course to MOSTEC in 2012.

One MOSTEC science writing instructor who participated in the workshop was Emily Ruppel, who studied English literature for her undergraduate degree and felt unsure of her career path before finding a home at MIT. As a graduate student, she learned how apply her nonfiction writing skills to science and technology stories. “The MIT graduate program has a focus on really making you a better writer,” said Ruppel. With a new passion for science writing, she jumped at the opportunity to teach the MOSTEC course upon finishing her graduate studies.

Ruppel sees the course as crucial to the success of the future scientists of MOSTEC, who will one day find themselves writing grant proposals for their own research funding. “Writing and communication are such integral parts of the process of science,” Ruppel said. “Scientists can explain their projects to a multitude of audiences, so the better prepared they are to talk to those audiences, the better prepared they are for science.”

Science writing instructors teach students how to simplify sentences for general audiences.

Instructors share tips on simplifying language in science writing intended for the general public.

Another reason science writing is so important, according to MOSTEC science writing instructor Erin Weeks, is that the public plays a significant role in scientific advancement. “So many discoveries are made with public funding, so scientists owe it to the public to tell them what they’ve been doing with that funding,” said Weeks.

During the on-campus workshop, instructors led activities to test students’ ability to write with clarity and brevity. During the first exercise, instructors presented complex sentences for students to simplify. In another exercise, students paired off and discussed their MOSTEC project work with partners, who presented what they learned to the group. Whenever students heard something an audience might not understand, they “buzzed” for the speaker to use more accessible language.

Through both exercises, instructors reinforced that communicating with general audiences requires writers to think carefully about word choice and narrative. “You have to be very entertaining,” Ruppel said. “You want your audience to enjoy it so much that they don’t realize they’re picking up complex concepts along the way.”

The panel of instructors fielded questions for the second part of the workshop. MOSTEC student Ashia Ajani, a Colorado native with a passion for poetry, asked about blending her own creative brand with the technical elements of science writing. Ruppel responded with an excerpt from the description of the MIT Graduate Program in Science Writing: “Science writers may, or may not, hold academic credentials in science or engineering. But they are always humanists, one foot in the sciences, the other in the arts, as apt to be seduced by a shapely sentence as by an elegant scientific idea.

MOSTEC students left with a better understanding of science writing and how to communicate their ideas and research. “I’m hoping that this course breaks down the notion that science isn’t for everybody,” said Fouché. “You want science to benefit everyone. I’m hoping as time moves forward that scientists more clearly see the importance of being able to engage in scientific discourse with the general public.”

—Words by Sydney Lester, photos by Meredith Lawrence

Senior Corning manager speaks to MITES students in career seminar

Dr. Gregory E. Williams, a 25-year-plus veteran of Corning Incorporated, hosted a career seminar on July 15th at MIT for 72 rising high school seniors as part of Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science (MITES). Dr. Williams, who graduated with a degree in physics from MIT in 1983, spoke about his work, the importance of different perspectives in the STEM field, and the value of lifelong friendships and passions the students would develop through MITES.

Dr. Williams talks to the MITES students about the importance of community and passion.

Dr. Williams talks to the MITES students about the importance of community and passion.

“This is the most wonderful experience you’ll ever have in your life: finding gifted, like-minded people,” Dr. Williams said. One of the main goals of the MITES program is to foster a community of motivated individuals who collaborate on projects that interest them in ways that encourage personal development. The students come to MITES from all across the country and from a variety of socio-economic and cultural backgrounds.

“I believe that diversity of thought, mind, religion and gender is important,” said Dr. Williams. He explained that today’s technology is the result of multiple viewpoints coming together to explore ideas that might not otherwise be given a chance. Because of these ideas, innovation is occurring so rapidly that some of today’s developments won’t see widespread adoption for twenty or more years, Dr. Williams said.

Students respond to questions on modern technology and the future of STEM.

Students respond to questions on modern technology and the future of STEM.

One piece of technology that attracted Dr. Williams to Corning is still a cornerstone of the company’s business. “Early in my career, I wanted to do something to further mankind, so I went to Corning, where we built fiber optic cables that stretched from the U.S. to the U.K.,” he said. Because of their high conductivity and strength, fiber optic cables remain a better choice for transmitting information than traditional copper cables.

Dr. Williams encouraged MITES students to search for the things that inspire them just like his work at Corning does. “Many of you will become part of the research and development field, seeing things that have never been seen before,” Dr. Williams said. “I want you to think very carefully about your future. Think hard about why you’re doing the things that you’re doing.”

With the MITES students carefully weighing college and career options, Dr. Williams stressed the importance of getting to know people with similar interests and maintaining those relationships. “When you go back to school, you’re still going to feel like a fish out of water, but now you’ve made friends, maybe friends for life,” he said. “Never stop dreaming.”

Sydney Lester

A different sense of pride

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Stephan Boyer, MITES ’08, is an MIT graduate student and member of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (Photo: Meredith Lawrence).

In 2008, Stephan Boyer was a top student at his California high school. Interested in electrical engineering, Stephan traveled to MIT to enroll in Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science (MITES) during the summer before his senior year. Through six weeks of new challenges and a college-level engineering curriculum at MITES, Stephan discovered there was much to learn from his peers.

“I had no idea what a top-caliber student, an MIT student, looked like,” said Boyer. MITES exposed him to other students who excelled at school and inspired him to pursue his interests in engineering and computer science. “The people I met were passionate and cared about their fields,” Stephan says. “They were independent thinkers.” 

During MITES, Stephan found himself and his peers working harder than they ever had before. “Everyone in the program is united by one thing,” Stephan says. “They have this fire that can’t be put out.” That fire shifted many of Stephan’s preconceived beliefs. “MITES put me in an environment where everyone was passionate,” he says. “They made me more open minded to things I’d never questioned before. I’d never had the opportunity to see things from a different perspective.”

Confident before MITES, Stephan met people who showed him that there was room to grow. “If your ego leads you to believe you’re already at the top, then you don’t have that drive,” he says. “There’s no motivation to push it further. MITES removed that sense of pride and replaced it with a different sense of pride. I come from a family of people who push me every day to be better than I thought I could be.”

As a graduate student at MIT and member of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), Stephan now uses his MITES foundation to move forward in his computer science career. While at MIT, he has taken on a number of challenging projects, which have led him to build a self-balancing unicycle, develop and implement a new computer programming language, and launch an app with 72,000 registered users.

Through his journey, Stephan has found creative motivation in people. “I draw inspiration from my closest friends, mostly at MIT,” he says. After MIT, Stephan hopes to start his own company in order to explore new ideas in a collaborative environment – a dream that started at MITES and continued through his education. “I want to push boundaries and do things that haven’t been done before,” he says. “I want to push the frontier of what’s possible.”

—Sydney Lester 

MIT Aeronautics and Astronautics Professor Wesley Harris speaks to MITES students as part of lecture series

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Professor Harris engages MITES students with modern engineering questions.

Charles Stark Draper Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics Wesley Harris facilitated a lively discussion with the 72 Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science (MITES) students on June 24. Topics included recent technological advances and the intersection of science and ethics.

“Build something, do something, study something,” Professor Harris said. “Get a passion in your heart. Get a passion in your belly.” Professor Harris spoke to the eager group of students about finding their niches in higher education and the greater world, as well as the “wonderful problems” awaiting them.

The following discussion focused on responsible progress, with an emphasis on keeping human interests in mind. In an era of rapid scientific growth, robots have replaced entire populations of workers. While technology can eliminate jobs, it has the ability to cultivate and expand the job market, Professor Harris said.

“Would you build a robot for Ford that eliminates jobs?” Professor Harris asked. The challenge of balancing progress and human interests became obvious to the students: If more jobs are eliminated than created by new technology, the purpose of scientific advancement is defeated.

Professor Harris started his career studying ecology at the University of Virginia and later researched rotorcraft technology, aerodynamics and fluid dynamics, sickle cell pathology, financial management methods, and defense systems acquisition. His lecture incorporated anecdotes from years of research and teaching.

Talking points

Throughout the discussion, Professor Harris posed the students questions from modern engineering challenges. One of these challenges involved stimulating human sensory responses with mere images and the obstacles associated with this task. “A rose is more than color. It has texture. It has fragrance,” he said. “How do I look at water visually and feel its wetness?”

“Our brains process things differently,” one student responded. “It is not your eyes that see, but your brain.”

Professor Harris also challenged the students to think of creative ways to ensure that space travelers return home with their original features and characteristics. “How does the human body respond to weightlessness? We want people coming back from Mars looking just like they did when they left, with one head, not two,” Professor Harris said.

Questions for the future

At the end of the presentation, students peppered Professor Harris with questions about glacial melting, genocide and efficient energy production without turbines, to name a few.

One student, Fabian Aristizabal of Hialeah, Fla., was concerned with the concept of life after human travel to Mars. “After Mars, what comes next? We’re stuck in our own neighborhood,” he said. Abigail Arnold from Seattle, Wash., asked, “Are humans fixed creatures, or do we move in conjunction with time and space to create our own perceptions of reality?”

Though the lecture focused primarily on engineering, Professor Harris left the MITES students with life advice. Asked to describe the legacy he wished to leave behind, Professor Harris said, “One: That I have been a good father. Two: To understand that I’ve been fair and positive, and that every day I move through this world with no intent to harm anyone. Three: That I’ve had a career in which there was modest success as a teacher and a researcher.”

—Sydney Lester