Tuesday, July 31, 2012

From the Parents of Eric Wang

Our son Eric is back from ILC’s Cornell University program. This is his 2nd and last participation the ILC. Like other parents, we followed his cohort’s blogs daily. It’s obvious he and his cohort got a lot from it. What great experiences and fun memories it was for him and his cohort! Through the program he made many new friends and expanded his area of academic interests. This program has done much more to him! He learned through this program that a lot people in his community care about education and would go out of their way to support a program out of modest means. He learned that there is a great deal of support from his teachers and school administration staff. He learned that he needs to be responsible and live up to expectations to be good ambassador of his community and school. Above all, he learned that only great leadership can make such programs possible. We cannot think of a better program that can do all those. As parents, we feel so lucky our son was given such opportunities. On behalf of our family, we would like say a big “thank-you” for everything the ILC did for our and all ILC students

To donors, it’s without a doubt that your generous support will be remembered for many years to come, and surely made a positive influence on our son. On this point, we think we speak for all parents. The ILC program gave all of them opportunities to experience what would otherwise be impossible! Once you kindle their aspiration of trying to be as good as they can be, there is nothing that will stop them from pursuing their dreams. Some of the ILC participants will continue on the journey you put them on through your generous support. They will remember where their journey got started, and find ways to make sure the same generous spirits you taught them live wherever you call home. Thanks you for teaching my son and all ILC participants a valuable lesson of life.

To ILC leadership, your tireless efforts and unwavering support are amazing. We all know that it is no easy task to organize and administer a program like the ILC. You believe not only we can do it, but also do it with the highest standards. We appreciate you made every effort to include more students in the program and at the same time hold the same high standards. Starting from the 1st meeting, you showed that safety and students’ best interests are always at the core of this program. We are so impressed with attention to details in the program’s administration from the trip checklist, campus visits, to all group activities. It comes as no surprise that our son enjoyed his every visit. Thank you for setting a fine leadership example, and proving a great opportunity to our son and all other participants.

To students who cannot make up their mind, you are missing an opportunity of your lifetime. There are only a very few high school students who have a chance to experience what is like living on an Ivy League campus. It’s all right you are not thinking about those schools yet. Visiting them alone is well worth your efforts. Get ready for the next ILC announcement!

To parents who have doubts what ILC can do, you maybe think too hard for yourselves. First of all, going through the ILC selection process itself is good experience regardless of outcome. Your children will learn to present themselves to a selection committee much the same way they would have to in a situation of a job interview. Secondly, chances are you are not quite as good at organizing a college trip as ILC does even if you have desire and means to do. The ILC has done a superb job to organize the program and your children are in a safe and positive learning environments. Thirdly, it really does not matter which program your children get in to. All ILC programs teach them critical thinking and problem solving, skills required in any profession. Having your children to work with other students from other areas can broaden their view in a great way. Lastly, the truth is that our children are not always cut out for what we do. Some of them can do a lot more than we can ever imagine. All they need is to have a peak at what is possible. Let’s give them a chance! ILC is designed to do just that. Encourage your kids to give a try, they do listen to you!

Finally, thank you, ILC, for everything you did on behalf the school district. Let us know if there is anything we can help.

Parents of Eric Wang

Monday, July 30, 2012

From the Parents of Frank He

A great program, a great experience
We would like to give our hearty appreciation for our son Frank He’s participation in the 2012 Ivy League Connection Hotel Management program at Cornell University. Frank enjoyed the trip immensely and gained a broader insight into top universities. His experience will be invaluable to him in preparing for the college admissions process.

The Ivy League Connection provided Frank with a taste of being independent. This was the first time he lived away from home, and he learned to care for himself as well as mutually support his fellow cohorts. It was very beneficial for Frank to experience the independence of college life.

We have observed that the program’s blog is a great platform for the participants to reflect on their days and express their feelings. It is also a great way for parents to catch up on their children. Reading Frank’s blog was our pleasure and allowed us to follow his adventures on the East Coast. We felt that Frank matured as a writer through his daily blogs.

Visiting Ivy League colleges and attending the Cornell summer course were the two main parts of the program, and both were very beneficial to the students. By visiting UPenn, Columbia, Princeton, and Cornell, Frank learned of the various academic atmospheres of these colleges, which may later influence his college choices. The Hotel Management course was wonderful from what the students described in their blogs. We believe that the trip was a very valuable experience that will help the students in their future academic endeavors. We also appreciate the hard work of the Cornell teachers and teaching assistants.

The Ivy League Connection is an amazing program organized by the West Contra Costa Unified School District. As parents, we would like to sincerely thank the WCCUSD School Board, especially Mr. Charles Ramsey, Ms. Madeline Kronenberg and Mr. Don Gosney for their time and dedication to our students.

Thank you all so much!
Dao-Yao He and Chun-Mei Xie

Sunday, July 29, 2012

From the Parents of Calvin Kuang

We can truly say that the Ivy League Connection is the most valuable program to our family. It not only guided our children (Jennifer and Calvin) to reach a higher education—getting into college (which we did not have the chance to do when we were their age), but also allow them to see another world outside of the Bay Area and explore some of the top colleges in East Cost. This is all through the hard work and great dedication of the people in our school district, the supporters, and donors. For that, we cannot thank the ILC enough.

The four-week trip to the East Cost touring colleges and attending the Cornell summer program, Freedom & Justice, brought Calvin great joy and memories. During the first week of college visits, he had the opportunity to see different colleges, learn their cultures and get the first hand experience of their campuses, which widely opened his eyes and helped him understand what college he will be a better fit in.

The following three-week course at Cornell, it really provided Calvin the opportunity to experience what college life is: independent, decision making and time management. As a result, he has gained confidence in himself especially in writing. Reading his blogs each day, we could see Calvin’s writing has improved; he had a great time studying and living at Cornell. He enjoyed the lessons from professor Kramnick—which lit up his world. He misses his class, professor, TA, and all the friends he made on the campus.

After the one-month ILC experience, we found him to be a more grown up and mature person. We have more confidence in him making his own independent choices & dealing with difficulties when facing pressure and challenges. Calvin now has a better understanding of colleges and interesting courses. He is so fortunate to have this lifetime opportunity, and he knows he will give back by doing his best in school and helping the community and others as well.

We would really like to thank the Ivy League Connection for giving Calvin the opportunity and widening his knowledge and experience.

We want to thank all the people who made this possible: the administrators, the sponsors and the donors. We truly believe no other school district is like ours that the management is so much involved & engaged with students, I always admire the strong leadership from Mr. Ramsey, Ms. Kronenberg, Board members, and all the staffs involved. We really appreciate Don and Alfredo Chan-Law so much for their dedicated works.

Sasa & David Kuang

From the Parents of Ying-An Wang

Growth in Every Step with ILC
The first time we heard about the Ivy League Connection (ILC) was when Ying-An mentioned a school assembly regarding ILC toward the end of fall semester. His eyes sparked with some excitement and uncertainty. After some research, we all thought this would be a valuable experience if he could grasp this opportunity, a precious funded opportunity to study summer programs at Ivy League schools that we could not afford.

Over the winter break, he worked on the essays for the ILC applications. A willingness to trade off short-term play time for a life-changing rewarding experience was a hidden test embedded in the ILC application process, and we were glad that Ying-An made a wise decision.

The wait for the interview list was longer than expected (several days past the scheduled notification date) and created some anxiety. His hope level went from high to almost zero. Plucking up courage with preparation to face the reality of being rejected, he followed up with Don and quickly got a hopeful response. The interview list was not sent out on time due to some delay in the selection process. The delay resulted in only two days to prepare for the interview. It was somewhat a nerve wrecking experience for Ying-An, as this was his first interview experience and had only such a short time to prepare. He took up the challenge and did the best he could.

Even he was not satisfied with his interview performance, I was very hopeful in the waiting room because I knew he has always set a very high standard for himself. He was totally surprised when the selection result was announced. Regardless a long night, it concluded with excitement for the whole family. If not for ILC, he would not have been through all the essay writing and interview experience that he will eventually face when applying for colleges.

Along the way, he participated in the blog webpage design, gained blogging skills, was presented to the School Board, and enjoyed a fancy dinner and meeting with sponsors and Brown alumni. He learned that his responsibilities came with privileges given in each of the events.

During the four-week trip on the east coast, he completely soaked himself in all the activities from college tours, dinners with network resources, the biotech course, exploring campus and places, bonding with his cohort and meeting new friends. The whole experience has changed him. The immediate impression when we saw him at the airport was that he looked more confident. And he should feel confident as he managed to adapt to a new environment and take care of things on his own the first time being away from home for four weeks. He is now more enthusiastic about going to college. Ivy League schools and MIT that seemed unreachable are now under his consideration for applying. He is also more sure that biotech is the field he wants to pursue.

We would like to thank Mr. Ramsey, Ms. Kronenberg, and Don for the countless hours and effort they have devoted to ILC. We also want to thank Ms. Kaplan for taking excellent care of the students. We appreciate very much for the wonderful opportunity given to Ying-An. There is no doubt that the whole experience has expanded his knowledge, broadened his perspective, and enriched his life experience. This experience has also prompted him for self discovery. He has striven for excellence and might have set a high bar for himself. By recognizing that not every thing comes easily, he will work harder, improve, and grow.

From the Father of Kelly Xi

I might be the last one of all the parents to write, but not the least to appreciate the ILC program. It was Kelly's second time to go. I was a little bit disappointed to know that she was not even selected in the first round. When she was called for the interview, I did not have too much confidence if she could make it to the final. I tried to comfort her by telling her that it is fair to let other kids have the same opportunity. She surprised me again with her well rounded preparation and confident presentation in front of the board members. Since Kelly already had her experience from last year, I was not worried for her at all for her 4 weeks away from home. I tried not to call her and let her handle things independently.

By the way, kids were together with the two most wonderful chaperones. Why should I worry? To tell the truth, I did not have the time to read all she wrote everyday, but I tried to make sure that she wrote everyday. As she was always a last minute person, she managed to write and post except missing a few times for some reasons. It is fair to say that she is much better this year in terms of keep writing her blogs. She is obviously more mature and confident.

The ILC experience really prepared the kids well for college both academically and mentally. By reading her last long blog, I am very impressed and proud of her idea to plan mock interviews to prepare other students for the ILC. I noticed that she uses the word "community" more often these days since she's returned. In my mind, when the kids learn to appreciate or give back what they received to their community, they are getting mature. A few years ago, we moved to Hercules from Davis and I thought we made a mistake for the kid. For the past two years, I actually feel lucky to have moved down here to live in the West county. Our school district has done an excellent job to overcome the disadvantages financially and geographically. They have worked so hard to unite the local businesses and community, to create such a wonderful program for our kids. When I proudly talk about our school district to my colleagues, they showed their envy in their eyes. I have not heard any other school district with similar program.

When I talk about our school district, I always mean the strong leadership from Mr. Ramsey, Ms Kronenberg and other board members that I could not name them individually, the generous sponsors and Don and all the staff involved. I really admire Don so much for his dedicated works. Please don't forget that he is a volunteer for us. He has done more than any of parents did. Mr. Ramsey really set a good sample for the kids and the parents how to follow the rules. I like the chaperones because they acted like parents, babysitting my smart but hard-headed teenager.

The party was over especially for Kelly. She is going to college next year. I don't know where she will end up. But I want her to realize that she might be smart but somebody else created the chance for her. She has to appreciate all the help from others and to give back to the community some day. 

Finally, I wish more kids from our West county will benefit from this unique ILC program. No matter where you go, be proud of where you are from.

Million thanks again to the people that I mentioned above and not mentioned but involved. You all are great people!

Side Xi

From the Mother of Nick Shebek

Our son, Nick heads to Brown: Insightful Rising Senior Returns
Junior year at El Cerrito High for Nick seemed to require better family communication skills than prior years; there were school and club sports practices that still required rides; college admission tests to schedule, classes to juggle, and Ivy League Connection deadlines to track. Things seemed to go relatively smoothly; and we were glad when Nick was selected for Brown's macroeconomics course; an area of study which we thought he might find to be a nice combination of practical knowledge and mathematics, located in the heart of New England, where Nick would love to attend college.

My husband and I both grew up on the East Coast, and the opportunity for Nick to become more familiar with the pace, the lifestyle and the humidity should serve him well. The Ivy League Connection deadlines were going by quickly--we had met with the chaperones and cohorts at a casual potluck dinner at the high school; we had carpooled to the blogging training session, we had a moment of anxiety when the School Board meeting might have conflicted with a post season varsity baseball game, but all was on track as we boarded BART for our dinner at Boulevard with Brown alumni, School Board members and ILC sponsors. Nick was going to be speaking that evening; and was very entertaining with his pre-dinner jitters en route to San Francisco. He did well; fit in a Boston Celtics reference and got a smile from many of the guests, and we enjoyed a great dinner. I sat between two recent Brown graduates; both of whom spent some of their professional career with investment houses; my experiences as a commodities trader when they were toddlers both dated me, and provided a bit of a common language.

As I learned about Brown that evening, I saw that it fostered creativity and a strong sense of community. Soon after the dinner there were finals and SAT subject tests; quick double checks of the items needed list, and before we knew it, Nick was on his way.

The college visits had a huge impact; Nick was impressed with Yale, intrigued by Dartmouth, and thought Wesleyan might be a good fit for his younger sister when the time came. The opportunities to mingle with recent alumni and admissions staff further rounded his impressions of the schools. I think it's fair to say that Nick was blown away by MIT; besides its well-earned reputation as a top engineering school, Nick was glad its students were well rounded; that its humanities offerings were stellar as well. Meeting with alumni, Nick enjoyed their sense of humor, and glad to learn that majors weren't declared until sophomore year. On top of all of that, it is in Boston, home of the Celtics and the Red Sox; Nick is descended from a long line of New England sports fans. The one issue is that it is nearly impossible to be accepted, but at this time, Nick wants to apply.

On his return home, he set up his "mymit" account, read through the college materials that had accumulated in his absence, and seemed to be more focused and reflective. Nick enjoyed the macroeconomics course; it made him realize that if doesn't find his passion in engineering, there are other areas that will interest him. The pace of the class was challenging and in retrospect, he realized that Mr. Coleman had covered an enormous amount of material in just over two weeks. At the dinner at Mistral I suspect he already knew this was getting to be the end of a wonderful journey, and he enjoyed interacting with his cohorts as well as Brown II students and the alumni from the local prestigious schools visited by the various Brown groups. There was such a change in our son; he called more frequently than on other trips wanting to share insights he had learned about himself; joke with his sister about blog titles, advising her on the 'errors' of his high school career, encouraging to stretch herself in many directions.

For me, I've realized that there is now a whole new network of folks that I wouldn't have met except for the Ivy League Connection; I've made "linkedin" connections with young traders in the investment arena from Brown; I realized that when I reached out to an attorney in Hercules for a district-wide parcel tax measure initiative that he may have known Terilyn Chen as a mock trial attorney coach. Sure enough he did; Terilyn heads off to Harvard, he shared, a fact that was known to the other parents at the School Board meeting where Terilyn shared her Harvard interview experiences with the new ILC students.

The Ivy League Connection can be about more than opening WCCUSD students' eyes to the opportunities across the country; it can be about making connections locally. Coming from the East Coast thirty years ago, we had been envious of students who could study at the UCs for a fraction of the price. We had looked forward to taking advantage of California's university system for our own children, and frankly hadn't thought much of sending our children to the East Coast before the Ivy League connection reminded us that things change; and that now, WCCUSD students can stand out as talented contributors to a college campus in the Ivy League. I really believe that Nick's experience with the ILC has put him in a position where he will make an informed, intelligent and socially aware decision about where he is most likely to succeed in college.

We are so grateful for the ILC sponsors and team with the vision to keep all doors open for our WCCUSD students.

Thanks again, Karen and Pete Shebek

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Fisk University Report

Jubilee Hall
Fisk University, a historically black college located in Nashville, TN, minutes from downtown, as well as Vanderbilt University, is the most friendly and welcoming of the Southern universities I visited this summer. Madeline Kronenberg and I were only on campus for mere minutes before we had engaging conversations with a member of the university’s staff and two of their students, both of whom were struck with awe at the idea that we would want to bring California students to Tennessee, as the Golden State is a dream destination of their own. It was through these students that we were introduced to Anthony Jones, Fisk’s director of recruitment and admission. Before arriving at campus, we had heard word of Fisk’s struggles and seemingly unavoidable demise. Reports of their impending doom have been greatly exaggerated. Fisk University, while admittedly facing some bureaucratic adversity, is continuing to serve their students at a level unmatched by many of their peers.
Fisk is considered one of the five Black Ivy League schools, which also include Howard, Spelman, Xavier, and Morehouse. Fisk by no means is a black-only institution. The school does include white and Latino students and is dedicated to expanding the diversity of their student body in coming years, an effort already well underway.
The school is well noted for its work in the sciences, especially in medicine. Fisk has arrangements with both Vanderbilt and Meharry Medical College that allow for combined and accelerated degrees in medicine and health. Fisk also has strong pre-law and pre-engineering programs. Need evidence of Fisk’s value? For the past ten years, Money Magazine has included Fisk on its “100 Best College Buys” list. Fisk is ranked 1st of moderately selective colleges when it comes to graduating low-income students. According to Anthony Jones, more than half of Fisk graduates go on to graduate school. This is source of great pride for the university, as they foremost consider themselves a preparation school for advanced degrees. In a day and age when schools seem to be focused on plugging out career-oriented labor, I find this to be both impressive and refreshing.
Aaron Douglas Mural
A highlight of the Fisk visit was visiting Jubilee Hall, the South's (and perhaps this country’s) first permanent structure built for the education of black students. The building includes a massive central staircase reserved solely for graduates of the university who have reached their golden anniversary, 50 years, of their graduation. The campus is rich in African American history, with the world famous Jubilee Singers, W. E. B. Du Bois, Nikki Giovanni, and Hazel O’Leary all calling Fisk home at one time. The school is also noted for their museum of art, which holds works by Georgia O’Keefe, Aaron Douglas, Pablo Picasso, and Alfred Stieglitz.
In addition to learning about college life at Fisk, Madeline Kronenberg and I discovered the school’s hidden jewel, a six-week summer program designed for high school students to gain exposure to higher education. We had a very productive conversation with Anthony Jones and Jason Meriwether, Vice President of Student Engagement and Enrollment Management, about creating a connection between WCCUSD and Fisk, one that I hope to see come to fruition next summer.
Students looking for a personalized education at an elite school should look at Fisk. Students invested in African American history and joining a supportive network of learners and educators should also consider Fisk as a viable college option.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Rhodes College Report

Quite literally, Memphis, TN is the soul of the South. It is the rhythm and blues of this country. It is the roots of rock and roll. Memphis is a sprawling city of delicate suburbs, hardened industrial tracts, and gritty urban avenues. There is no doubt as to why such spirited and tense musical sounds have continued to emanate from this city. It is also a city of history, as it was one of the homes (and the assassination site) of Martin Luther King Jr. The city sits on the banks of the mighty Mississippi River and is a simple stone’s throw away from Arkansas.  

Memphis has a feel unlike the other Southern cities I have passed through recently. It possesses an energy and sense of hospitality that is unmatched by Nashville, Raleigh, or Atlanta.  It is predominantly a black and African American city (63%). In the midst of all of this excitement is the esteemed Rhodes College, located in the center of the city- just a mere ten minutes from the bustle of downtown’s Beale Street. Unlike the city, Rhodes is predominantly white, with an 8% African American student population.

According to Newsweek, Rhodes College is the most service-minded college in the country. 85% of undergraduates involve themselves with service learning, and it is not even a requirement at the university. 65% of students end up studying abroad, and with the likes of Federal Express, Auto Zone, and St. Jude’s Hospital in the immediate area, 75% of students end up with some sort of internship. Rhodes values the traditional liberal arts approach to education, and it is clearly reflected in their foundations curriculum. The school boasts a 95% graduate school acceptance rate, no doubt attributable to a 10:1 faculty to student ratio and an average class size of 14. After all, smaller class size leads to increased student success. 

Rhodes is well known for their honor system. Each student takes an oath and swears to not steal, cheat, or lie. While on my campus tour I saw three unlocked bikes and a number of unattended laptops in the school’s library. The honor system is so respected by the students that there are rarely any infractions on campus.

Rhodes uses the common application and looks at the following six areas: transcripts, SAT/ACT scores, extra curricular activities, letters of recommendation, essays, and demonstrated interest in the school. 

Like some of the other colleges I have visited this summer, Rhodes emphasized the importance of including family responsibilities and time spent working in the extracurricular section of the application. I am told that there are two lines of space there, so students need to use that space to give the school a better sense of how exactly the students spends her/his time outside of school hours.

Merit based scholarships are available, and all applicants are automatically considered when they submit their application. There is not a separate application process. Rhodes College typically does not meet the gap between expected parental contribution and the total tuition price. However, there are instances in which the school will work with targeted populations (such as those who attend our district’s school) to ensure there is not a burden of debt. Rhodes asks for a FAFSA and a CSS (College Scholarship Service) profile. This ensures that those families who cannot provide a FAFSA will still be eligible for monetary assistance.

Rhodes, much like Emory, is for those who have proven themselves to be exemplary students. Rhodes will be especially attractive to students interested in music and music history. Al Green, Booker T and the MGs, Otis Redding, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and a number of famous gospel acts all owe a debt of gratitude to Memphis for growing their careers. Those interested in African American history, the civil right struggle, and Southern history in general will benefit from attending Rhodes. I heard some parents express concern about crime in the area, but I think this was due more to visitors not being able to accurately read the urban landscape around Rhodes, something we in the Bay Area can gauge much better.

I would like to suggest that next year Rhodes makes the list of schools that students will visit, especially because they consider demonstrated interest when reading applications. A visit to Memphis would provide both an increased range in college options and provide the opportunity for valuable and memorable lessons in history.

Duke University Report

First of all, the student representatives from Duke’s Intercultural Affairs office were impressive. They were friendly, inviting, engaging, and interested. I recommend that future stops at Duke University include activities with students from this office. The students will, of course, change from year to year. Linda Capers, the center’s assistant director, is the contact person and is excited to continue working with us.

Samuel Carpenter, Duke’s admissions officer for Northern California, is also someone the ILC needs to maintain a relationship with. He too mesmerized the students and made them feel comfortable and relevant. He was warm and engaged in vibrant discussions with all four students and was honest with them about expectations, requirements, and the application process. His ability to make personal connections with students is crucial to our students’ experience visiting Duke.

Duke’s campus is located just outside of Durham but shows little evidence of city life, outside of the university’s medical center. This is not to say the area lacks culture, but it certainly is not considered to be as metropolitan as cities like Boston, Washington, or Philadelphia. The campus has more of a rural feel. Much of the campus is wooded and features a number of stone and Gothic style buildings. The campus is divided into three main parts, the East and West campuses and an area that features a number of graduate schools. Students looking for an idyllic setting will enjoy Duke. Those desiring something more urban will want to look elsewhere.

Duke has an enrollment of 6500 undergraduates. 44% students identify themselves as students of color, and international students make up 11% of the student body. This further breaks down into 26% Asian/ Asian American, 11% African American, and 7% Latino. The average student to instructor ratio is 8:1 and 75% of the classes have 19 or fewer students.

For students interested in academic exploration, Duke University is the place to be. The school offers over 40 majors and 40 minors and allows students the freedom to create their own programs. Certificates in Latin American studies are also offered, a point relevant to our district’s student population. Students choose their major in the second semester of sophomore year. There is a massive emphasis placed on creating a collaborative environment amongst the students, especially during freshmen year. 50% of undergraduates participate in research, and the school offers various opportunities to work directly with faculty. This is not a school for those expecting a prescribed slate of courses or, as Samuel Carpenter put it, “an education in a can.”  While many schools likely claim this, I am convinced, through my conversations with students, that Duke is genuine in their claims of academic exploration, collaboration, and authentic community building amongst their students.

A majority of Duke students receive some form of financial assistance, and the school seems to make extraordinary efforts to provide this assistance. Duke works to ensure students do not graduate with excessive debt by capping loans at $20,000 ($5000 per year). There is no family contribution for students whose families make $60,000 or less per year. Duke University is a need blind institution; the financial circumstances of the applicants are not taken into consideration in the application process. In the event students are accepted and the family wants to see the campus before a potential acceptance, financial assistance can even be extended to qualified families to make such a trip. The school also offers 50 merit-based scholarships, an impressive number for the size of the institution.

Students can apply for early decision admission, and it is a binding agreement. There is a 30% acceptance rate with this option, as opposed to 16% otherwise. Applicants are assessed by the strength of curriculum of their own school, not that of other high schools.

Overall, the Duke experience was extremely positive. I not only recommend future ILC visits, I think it would be well worth the ILC’s time to pursue further connections with Duke.

Davidson College Report

Davidson College is located about thirty minutes north of Charlotte, NC. The town sits on Lake Norman, and the campus is adjacent to the town center. Davidson is somewhat rural and suburban and is in the middle of a prime summer vacation area. The school has many connections and regular access to Charlotte, but it should be noted that Davidson is secluded and somewhat isolated, something that will appeal to some and be of concern to others.

July Experience

 July Experience is Davidson’s three-week pre-college program for rising juniors and seniors. This year they are carrying about 90 students from throughout the United States and abroad, including ten KIPP students from Texas. I mention this because Davidson’s president seems to be making a concerted effort to recruit students of color and those from more disadvantaged backgrounds. There is an apparent eagerness to work with this population of students, both in the summer programs and regular admissions. This summer’s cohort includes 10 African Americans, 10 Asian and Asian Americans, and 13 Latinos. 2/3 of the students are female. 54% of the summer students are receiving some kind of financial aid.

It is clear that July Experience is a rich academic program well suited for students looking to challenge themselves and are seeking a broad life experience. Course offerings are numerous and wide in range. This summer offered twelve courses, several of them in the sciences, but the list also included music, math, English, and social sciences. Classes are taught by Davidson faculty (not grad students). The ratio of instructor to student is 7:1, while counselor to student is 9:1. The program is well structured with class, study time, extra-curriculars, college workshops, and a number of cultural events. Parents receive a letter from the professor at the end of the program outlining the student’s strengths, weaknesses, and progress. Parents can also request a conference.

Applications go online in November and are due April 1st. Admission decisions are made by April 20th. Applications include a student interest essay, a high school profile, and letters of recommendation from a counselor and administrator. Understanding the workloads of some counselors, they will also accept teacher letters. The program will look at PSAT and/or SAT scores and want GPAs around 3.5.

Evelyn Gerdes, the July Experience director, made it very clear that she would be interested in working with the ILC. She was a bit hesitant about the chaperone piece of the ILC, but I assured her that it was not something that would interfere with the day-to-day activities of her program. I was very impressed with the program (and its goals) and would recommend that the ILC follow up and possibly make Davidson another site for our students.

Davidson College 

I met with Irma Navarro from admissions at Davidson. She should be considered a true ally of the ILC, as she completely understands our mission and student population. She is a graduate of Davidson who worked at Emory admissions before returning to her alma mater. She is originally from inner city Chicago and has gone through the kinds of experiences our students have in the WCCUSD. Her Latina background and enthusiasm about the ILC make her an ideal connection for us, and I would recommend that our students visit this campus (and her!) in the future.

Davidson was the first college in the country to go loan free, meaning that Davidson’s trust will pick up the tuition that remains after the student’s expected contribution has been met. And even in cases that the expectation cannot be met, there is still room to work out an arrangement. They are a need blind institution and offer a number of merit based scholarships at the university and department level. The school has 21 NCAA division one sports, so there are athletic scholarships as well. 43% of students are receiving financial aid.
Davidson is ideal for students interested in the sciences or who wish to travel and study abroad. 80% of students go abroad during their time at Davidson. 91% of graduates go on to advanced degrees. Along with academic rigor, the idea of community is important to Davidson. This is clear in the fact that they have the highest rate (60%) of alumni contributions among their peer schools. The school is very small at 1900 or so students.

Davidson’s student body is 50/50 male and female. They are 20% students of color. Irma was adamant in saying that Davidson is currently at a crucial point in their direction, as they are expanding the ethnic and racial scope of their programs and professors (as demanded by the student body). The school boasts a 90% retention rate for their students of color, a number that is higher than their peer schools and most historically black colleges. The school has programs in place to ensure this kind of success, including one named STRIDE.

Irma also spoke personally about her belief that Davidson is the kind of school where students of color learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable. She believes that the Davidson experience is positive for students of color, as it builds resilience and fosters an environment of self-advocacy. This was separate from her admissions pitch, and I am convinced that for many qualified students from our district, Davidson is an excellent option.

Davidson applications are considered holistically. With that said, academic rigor is considered in the highest regard. Davidson wants to see that students have challenged themselves by taking advantage of the higher-level courses in each academic area at their school. Profiles of the high schools need to be clear and strong. She also stressed the importance of the short essay on the common application and pointed to their website as a source of advice on the application essays. She emphasized the importance of students including their own family responsibilities and work schedules under the umbrella of extra curricular activities. Admissions values this time outside of school and will consider it highly. They also ask for two teacher letters, as well as one counselor and one peer.

For one of our motivated and high achieving students in the district – ones that can appreciate the seclusion and tight community of Davidson- this school is ideal. They have the resources, enthusiasm, and support that will make our students successful.

Eyes Wide Open

From Cheryl Lilhanand—the Columbia Cohort Chaperone
With eyes wide open my cohort of six high school students experienced the unique opportunity to visit major colleges back east during one full week of traveling, followed by a three-week course at Columbia. To say the least, this unusual and unique opportunity truly opened their eyes to new horizons of which they never dreamed, let alone thought possible. As a result they have gained confidence in themselves and proved that students from West Contra Costa USD can compete with the best and are prepared to handle the course load from an Ivy League School, or any other top ranked school in this country.

From the beginning, our pace was extremely hectic. Our week started with an early morning flight to the Big Apple. For some this was their first trip out of the State, for one it was her first plane ride. As we crossed the Queensborough Bridge to enter Manhattan the students were so excited and became wide awake as they caught their first glimpse of the high rises of New York City, which seemed to reach for the sky.

During our first week we went on a whirlwind tour of four top schools. On our first morning we rose early to catch the subway to Penn Station where we boarded our first Amtrak to Pennsylvania. Upon arrival in Philadelphia we met up with the Cornell cohort and together toured Independence Hall. To walk the grounds where our country was founded and hear historical stories was truly amazing. Visiting this area of Philadelphia fit in nicely with my student’s classes, which they would soon attend at Columbia.

As with my previous trips, my cohort was very impressed with UPenn and all the support systems built into their programs. Not only is the campus gorgeous, every alumnus and student we spoke to raved about his experiences there. Also, as in the past, more than one of my six students plan to apply to UPenn. In fact, the ILC has students attending this university now.

Our next day took us upstate to a new college for the ILC campus tour: Sarah Lawrence. Here the students were greeted on a much smaller campus located about a half an hour train ride from NYC. What a difference in size. During the tour we sat in a typical lecture hall—with no more than 30 seats. Oh, the advantages of what small colleges can offer with small class sizes as well as constant individual academic support and counseling. Here again, two of my students felt very comfortable in this setting and plan to apply.

Thursday we headed up the Hudson on Amtrak again. Upon arrival we headed straight to Hyde Park, summer home and Presidential library of FDR. After watching an excellent video on his challenging life and touring his house and gardens, we learned to really appreciate his dedication to the American public knowing the constant battle he had with polio. Then we were on to Vassar. Trying to ignore the near 100ยบ heat, we attended an information session, which was followed by a campus tour. Since there is no graduate program, professors are able to focus their attention on their students. Later, after talking to some alumni over dinner, we were told that Vassar is one of the best liberal arts colleges in the U.S., such pride. On a side note, one of the ILC students I brought here last year will attend Vassar as a freshman in the fall!

Friday we were off to Connecticut to visit Yale. Their information session was the most dynamic of all the schools we visited. We were so fortunate to have lunch with Yohanna Pepa, a former ILCer who attends Yale. She brought some current students as well and afterwards they gave us a personalized private tour. Here again, a couple of my students added Yale to their application list.

In between our site visits we met with current students and/or alumni from UPenn, Vassar, Yale, and Columbia over lunch or dinner. In each case the conversations at the table were priceless. My cohort felt so comfortable asking endless questions about the curriculum, class size, support offered, housing, clubs, overseas programs, etc. I strongly feel the dinners and luncheons were probably just as powerful and informative as were all of the site visits.

After a week of traveling my students finally moved into the dorms at Columbia. Over the next three weeks they experienced student life; such as the stresses of completing assignments on time, massive reading assignments, doing laundry and eating in the cafeteria.

Four students took Constitutional Law and two took Presidential Powers, from Washington to Obama. The Con Law students read many court cases and debated a number of issues. They even had to write a six-page court briefing. Whereas the two in Powers had to complete a major research paper, 20 pages long. Students in both classes had an extensive amount of reading and class participation was an important part of both courses. All six students said they absolutely loved their class. They all repeated that the ILC should continue to offer these two classes to students in the future.

Our district can be proud of all six. They worked hard and took their classes very seriously. Each one loved their class and thoroughly enjoyed the challenge each one presented.   In our daily briefings I could see them gain confidence in a variety of areas from their debating skills to doing extensive research. In short, they blossomed and took their challenges head on ...and succeeded!

The best part about being a chaperone to six high school students for four weeks is seeing them open up; academically, socially, and culturally. My students gained confidence by reaching outward and upward, they met their challenges and took pride in their accomplishments whether it be in a class debate or quiz or paper, their smiles grew bigger. Their conversations changed. Their thinking jumped to a different and higher level.

None of this would be possible without the incredible vision and dedication of the ILC founders: Charles Ramsey and Madeline Kronenberg. Another very important person to the success of the program is Don Gosney. And of course none of this would be possible without the generosity of the sponsors. On behalf of my cohort I want to thank the sponsors for giving my students the opportunity of a lifetime. I know how much this trip meant to each one. In our daily debriefs they often expressed their amazement and gratitude to the ILC program and the sponsors. After meeting and talking to other students in their classes they soon realized our group was the ONLY one supported by someone other than the individual family. My hat goes off to each of you...you are truly making changes in our student’s lives, in more ways than you can imagine.

What more can we ask for? Well, we now hope this cohort, as well as the other cohorts, will share their incredible experiences with other students in our district so they too can reach for the stars with eyes wide open.

From the Mother of Lucas Lochner Bravo

It was late December 2011, summer in the Southern Hemisphere. We were on vacation in Chile. As soon as we got there, my son Lucas informed me that he was applying for ILC and that he needed to talk with someone in the USA to get the details. After a long and expensive phone conversation, Lucas told me, “I have to write some essays as part of the selection process,” and “I have a deadline.”

From that day on, I started my own journey as a mom, being with Lucas every step of the process.

During that vacation in Chile, while the rest of us spent time on the beach, or in the pool, or going places, Lucas stayed home, sometimes going to bed as the sun was rising, working on his essays for ILC.

I saw how just writing about a specific topic enhanced his knowledge about life, about the world, and about himself.

It was the time of the Occupy movement in the USA, a time of economic hardship for many families—foreclosures, unemployment, global warming and so on. I saw how Lucas was becoming more and more interested in what was happening in the world; at the same time I saw how he started an internal dialog, searching for possible solutions.

I saw my son more involved and engaged, with more clear political philosophies that reflect his own values in everyday life.

Finally, after a stressful but extremely enriching interview process before the ILC panel, Lucas was nominated as one of the kids who would participate in ILC at Columbia University, attending a Constitutional Law class.

What followed that day was a preparation for the big day that he and five other students would leave for the East Coast, to be active participants in the Constitutional Law class.

Before the trip, Lucas prepared everything by himself; I was silently close to him.

When he left for Columbia, I felt a mix of feelings: emptiness, joy, and excitement. I knew that this would be an extraordinary experience for him.

During the four weeks that he was there, I had my own routine; at 10:00 am I would have my coffee break and I would enjoy reading Lucas’ blog as well as the other students’ blogs.

I saw how Lucas was transforming in front of my eyes; he became this young man, who started using terms like “social justice,” “human rights,” “freedom,” “equality.” It brought memories of my own adolescence, growing up in a country under dictatorship.

What ILC has given to Lucas is a treasure, an experience during which the kids needed to integrate intellectual work, social skills, life skills and ideals that make you grow as a person.

We are so grateful to ILC for this opportunity that otherwise we would not have been able to offer to Lucas.

Lucas’ younger sister has seen his progress through this experience, and now she is thinking of applying to ILC too, because she knows it would be an experience that would change her life too.

For now I need to prepare myself. My son will leave soon for college, a new chapter in his life as well as mine. In my culture, kids stay with their families when they go to college. Here it is different. I need to let him go.

As a friend of mine says …..”We give our children roots…and we give them wings.”

Thanks, ILC
Victoria Bravo (Lucas’s mom)