Off on an Adventure

Half out of breath, I ran through the doors, threw my bag in the scanner and walked through the metal detector. As I grabbed my bag, the bell rang.

I was late for school.

I went to inner-city public school in Philadelphia. A place where drugs and gang violence took precedence over education. But it wasn't all bad. The teachers were there to teach and if you were willing to learn, you learned—so that’s what I did.

My school offered three Advanced Placement courses. That’s it. But I took them. And due to recent budget cuts, we had fewer and fewer extracurricular activities.

During my junior year of high school, I figured out what I wanted to do as career. Hours of watching “How it’s Made” on Science Channel, Eureka, and popular Sci-Fi movies had convinced me that I wanted to be an engineer. I wanted to change the world.

I didn’t have the slightest idea of how I was going to get there, but that year I was determined to change that.

In December of 2010, I emailed Mr. Koehler who runs the Robotics Club at the High School of Engineering and Science (E&S for short). I told him about my interest in engineering and inquired about joining the Robotics Club at E&S.

Mr. Koehler kindly welcomed me to stop by for their next meeting.

Even then I was apprehensive. With my high school being two buses and a train ride away from E&S, it would be long after dark by the time I arrived home. But I was off on an adventure. So with a Google Map in hand, I took the hour and a half trek to E&S.

When I arrived, it was snowing so I was even more excited to get inside. As I walked into the room, Mr. Koehler welcomed me in, and partnered me with a fellow student and the two of us began building a robot from a LEGO Mindstorms NXT robotics kit. At the end of our meeting we put the leftover pieces back into the kit and stored our robot (not before getting a picture). It didn't do anything yet but this was it—I was hooked!

My first robot

As I walked out into the snow, Mr. Koehler stopped me. He said, “If you were willing to come all this way, I want to loan you this kit.” I smiled and gladly accepted his offer.

My spontaneous adventure that day turned into an odyssey when the Principal at my school gave me permission to leave early on Tuesdays and Thursdays so I could attend the robotics club at E&S. Since then, I have developed an intense passion for robotics and I have in turn funneled that passion into my robotic projects. What has been even more rewarding is my enrollment at E&S, for my senior year, and election as President of the robotics club.

My College Search

When I began my college search, I looked for somewhere I could continue to explore, create, and develop the skills that are imperative for a 21st century engineer—MIT, Stanford, and CMU topped the list.

Despite all of this, when senior year came around, I felt I was at a disadvantage when applying to college. My parents hadn't attended college and neither had theirs. Because of that I didn't know much about the college application process.

Then I found out about QuestBridge, a non-profit organization that helps students from low-income backgrounds better understand the application process as well as informs them of the resources and opportunities available to them.

I applied to MIT and Stanford through the QuestBridge National College Match. Compared to the applications of most colleges, Stanford’s really stood out. They had questions like:


  1. Stanford students possess an intellectual vitality. Reflect on an idea or experience that has been important to your intellectual development.
  2. Virtually all of Stanford’s undergraduates live on campus. Write a note to your future roommate that reveals something about you or that will help your roommate—and us—know you better.
  3. What matters to you, and why?

I got the sense they wanted to see me for who I was—that I wasn't just another number.

Most of my application I spent explaining the hardships and challenges I faced. However, the combination of information from my QuestBridge application and Stanford supplements allowed me to paint a fuller picture of myself. I was able to show not just the child who suffered the loss of his mother, a boy who does not know his father, or the young man who endured homelessness with his sister, but the product of those experiences: the joking, little-big-kid still here smiling because he has overcome all those things.

Yes the one that talks in memes, learned how to breakdance on YouTube, can make a ‘mean’ Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwich, solve a Rubik’s cube in less than a minute, and the one who knows the value of hard work and perseverance and that he must make the most of every opportunity.

Ultimately, whatever it is, just be yourself.

Something Unexpected

When March came around, I was anxious to say the least. I had waited six months. SIX MONTHS. No likely letters—nothing.

WHAT DID I DO WRONG? Be yourself??? What the hell was I thinking?!

Then something unexpected happened.

Originally, Stanford Admission decisions were to be released on Sunday, April 1st. However, rumors started to spread that they would be released early.

On my bus ride home, I checked Facebook. On my Newsfeed, my friend posted that Admission decisions were being released soon. Wanting more certainty, I went to where any sane person would go: Google.

As the evidence piled in, my heart and head began to pulsate; my palms began to sweat and, as the bus made its last stop, my mind began to race.

When I got home, the admission decisions had been released. Shortly after I turned on my computer, my best friend called me wondering if I had been accepted or not. As I signed into my email, I saw it:

Your Stanford Admission Decision

For a moment, I stared blankly at the screen.

By then I learned that if I didn't see “Congratulations” within the first-two lines I didn't get in, so when I opened the email my eyes feverishly searched for that magical 15-letter word. And on the first line they found it.

I had been accepted.

As my left ear deafened from my friend’s scream, I smiled in bliss.

A week later, I received my package from Stanford. Along with my acceptance letter was a quote that I really took to heart:

“We applaud you… for all the times you stayed up late to get it right; practiced, rehearsed, and gave it your all; studied something because you loved it, not because it would be on the test; took a risk instead of following the easy path; volunteered your time, talent and energy.”

Tell Your Story

As the first in my family to go to college and as a QuestBridge Scholar I have learned a lot. Above all, I have learned that everything is relative, especially when it comes to the college application.

No I don’t have a 2400 SAT score, I’m not a world class athlete, and I don’t have my own business. But what I do have is an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, an unfettered will to learn and challenge myself and most importantly I have a story. My story.

Tell your story. Be you. That’s what matters. Show how you have grown and matured. Why you love doing what you do. And whether your school offers every AP or none, challenge yourself and pursue what you love because in the end it will be worth it.

Ultimately, nothing is worth sacrificing yourself and who are in the process, so stay true to yourself.