Cornell Engineering Experience
Summer College 2013
Hello! My name is Daniel and I am a rising senior at the International School of Panama in Panama City, Panama. I am a Colombian, but have lived in tropical Panama for the last decade. I am very much looking forward to a summer full of learning about the field of engineering and about approaching real-world problems. The son of an industrial engineer, I am presently exploring the possibility of choosing a field in engineering to focus my future studies.
I am sure that the Cornell Engineering Experience, coupled with my avid love for physics and mathematics, will steer me in the right direction as I begin to make decisions about the person I want to become in the future. In school, I participate in MUN, the Knowledge Bowl team, the Basketball team, and a literary arts magazine. At home, I enjoy playing the acoustic guitar and writing bad poetry.
To say that my first week at Cornell was chaotic would be an understatement. My experiences until now have been as unpredictable as the Ithaca weather. The first day, after myriad airport hopping, I arrived at my home for the summer: High Rise 5. With 30 hours of no sleep, I had to drag myself to the Robert Purcell Community Center's dining hall. The place was bustling with so much contagious life that I couldn't help but crack a jet-lagged smile. This place is definitely not like Panama.
Though it is true that I lost my wallet during the second day of Summer College, I feel I have adapted to Ithaca rather well. The people are warmer than the summer sun, and the classes are all you'd expect from Cornell. I have found the programmer in me after my first five computer science lectures, and encountered the challenges of changing the way I think about the world in my engineering classes. I feel that these courses go hand in hand, and I'm relieved to have made the right decision to take them. I definitely see these two disciplines as being part of my future. However, after a failed attempt to build a tower out of popsicle sticks and glue that ended up looking more like an awkward bamboo shoot, I have concluded that civil engineering is not for me.
I've made many friends from a palette of different nations, creeds and backgrounds. I've even bonded with my roommate over our mutual love for Star Wars and great video games. I've walked up to other people, strangers to me, and asked them their stories. I have broadened my horizons in these seven days, and feel that coming here was the best decision I could've made. Oh, I also miss my Mom, Dad and my sisters a whole lot. (I know they'll be amongst the first reading this.)
There's just something about Cornell that makes it special. But what is it exactly? A week in, I still don't know. Whether it is the collection of able-minded individuals trying to learn about themselves and the world, the aura of peace that comes with Ithaca's gorges, or the sheer brilliance of my professors, something about this place is unique. I will make it my goal to find out what it is in the next five weeks.
And in the blink of an eye we are halfway done. I see teary-eyed teenagers tugging on their overweight luggage loaded with memories of their three-week adventure. I wonder, "how can these three-weekers be crying, it's only been a few days since they got here?" Then I realize how much you can learn about someone in a few weeks. How strong of a bond you can form with like-minded individuals in a setting like Cornell. And it definitely saddens me that I will probably not see some of the people I have bonded with ever again.
But I digress. These past weeks have been incredibly taxing on my mental and physical balance. Meeting deadlines for my engineering and computer science classes, playing soccer until my legs refuse to cooperate, and playing guitar under a shady tree have all impeded me from getting my usual beauty sleep. I have to give a special shout out to Starbucks Coffee for keeping me awake when I needed it the most. Though it is true that I haven't been able to fill my sleep quota, most moments have felt dream-like to me in an inexplicable way. Wondrous fireworks, beautiful summer sunsets, towering castles and natural landscapes all make Cornell look like it's straight out of a medieval fairy tale.
Classes are going extremely well. The rigor of the courses certainly creates a cooperative environment between my classmates and me, as we all strive to become better engineers and computer scientists. The professors treat us like able-minded individuals, and what may seem a simple question in class can end up being the starting point of an incredibly interesting dialogue. Also, having the opportunity to program a robot to navigate an obstacle course is an added bonus. My lab partner, Grace, after whom we named our robot, would agree that we shared countless laughs as our masochistic robot kept happily running into one of the course's sidewalls. It is safe to say that my way of looking at any problem has drastically changed thanks to my classes. And I think that this is where an education like the one I'm receiving at Summer College excels: when the focus is not on necessarily learning about an arbitrary concept, but instead, learning how to think.
I am lucky to have met so many wonderful people, most of whom have become my friends. Though some, like Adam, have already gone home, the memories of playing guitar together in the Balch courtyard still linger. Others like Max and Nick (whose mothers are probably also reading this) remain and have begged me to include them in my post. I have bonded with the architecture kids, the biology kids, and the psychology kids. With my closest friends, I feel like I can be myself in a way I've never been before. We can go from laughing uncontrollably about some silly joke to having a conversation about the implications of human genetic modification and back in no time. I don't think many teenagers can say the same about their summer school friends.
Though it's been magical, Summer College has definitely proven how much I can miss home. Though the frequency of my calls to my mother has decreased, she knows that I miss her and the rest of my family passionately. I sometimes wonder how I'll make it without them in college. Their support and encouraging words keep me strong, and I'm beginning feel like a bird about to take a leap of faith into the real world as my departure for college approaches. For now, though, I am proud to say that some days all I really need is a hug from Mom.
I have made it a goal of this blog to identify the Cornell factor that makes this place so unique. Three weeks in, I believe that it is Cornell's phenomenon of uncertain-wander-ability. It is the fact that you can go on a walk with a set destination in mind and end up bowling with a group of strangers in a completely different place instead. Likewise, it is the fact that you may decide to go to the movies with a friend, only to end up sitting under a tree talking about the feelings that accompany teen angst. This rare quality, only found at Cornell, is what I think makes the campus stay interesting day in and day out. It is what has made these first three weeks exceptional, and what ensures that the rest will be even more amazing.
8/1/13The awkward introductions of the first week will soon be replaced with teary-eyed goodbyes. I look around and only now begin to see how much Cornell has changed me. It is not only the fact that my eating schedule now matches the dining hall's operating hours, but now I can't truly enjoy a meal without my best friends making silly jokes around me. It is not only the fact that I have gained the knowledge to solve problems in engineering and computer science, but that I now thirst to see the world in a different way, that prove how much Summer College has affected me.
I reflect under my "thinking" tree in the Balch courtyard. I ponder about the risks I have taken and those I have let pass during these past weeks. I also consider the seemingly minute details that have led to the strongest of friendships. I trace back my steps and wonder: what if I hadn't been in this class at this time, bumped into that girl during lunch, or not opened myself to this person? The possible outcomes seem infinite, and I wonder if everything turned out the way it did for some unknown but very real reason. I then think about the future and wonder how the people I've met here will affect me once I'm gone? Will I ever see these friends again?
During this past week, I've gotten lost in Ithaca, experienced the natural power of Niagara Falls and fallen asleep in a quad bathed by warm sunshine. It has been these small moments that have made my summer experience memorable. But these moments will also make getting into my routine back home much harder. To my summer family (they know who they are) thank you for changing my life.
It is an understatement to say that these past six weeks have been amazing. You don't get to meet people like these, engage in learning opportunities, or embrace the beauty of a place like Cornell every day. I feel like I've betrayed my friends and family back home, as I'm starting to call my dorm home. But as with most great things, Summer College must come to an end. And as with most endings, my feelings toward this ending are bittersweet. I feel that I have made the most of my time here, have made clear decisions about the person I want to be in college and beyond, and I have learned more about myself than during any other period of my life. I have realized how I want to become a computer scientist, one who can bridge the gap between a user and technology in order to improve the lives of many. I thank Cornell University for this unique opportunity to grow as a human being. It is safe to say that I will look back on this time in my life with a nostalgic smile.
I write my final blog post from the comfort of my bed in sunny Panama City, Panama. In contrast to the bed in my dorm in High Rise 5, I actually fit in this one. Then again, there were many things about this summer that weren't perfect. I did lose my wallet on the second day, got lost on and off campus a few times, and didn't say goodbye to all of my friends. These memories have now become reveries I daydream about during my school. This is my first week as a senior, and it feels weird to come back to the high school setting after those six-weeks of college experience. I came back from Cornell a changed man, open to new experiences and to the challenges that this year will bring. Though I have started planning for a Model United Nations conference in the fall, a TEDx conference at my school, a Central American scholastic bowl championship, and the college application process, I reminisce about my afternoons in the Balch courtyard under my favorite tree, feeling the summer breeze take me somewhere magical.
I'd like to end my final blog post with a few acknowledgements. I would first like to thank Cornell University for providing me with the opportunity to explore the intricacies of college life and engineering through their six-week program. I would also like to thank my wonderful professors, for helping me pave the way to my future. Finally I'd like to thank a small group of people. The people who for six weeks became my family. To Fatema and Ethan: thank you for learning to work with my quirks, and I can't be prouder of our final Computer Science project. To Grace: you are sincerely the best and smartest lab partner in the world. To my architecture friends: the sky's the limit for all the crazy, cubic buildings you'll ever dream of making. To Luis: you were there when I needed you the most, multiple times. I know this is not the last time we'll see each other again. To Conor: for letting me print my homework in your room and talking about our futures like we even have a clue, I thank you. To Nick: don't ever lose your passion for everything, you'll do great things with your good heart. To Darius: I expect to hear from you when you're a successful businessman so we can laugh about all the stupid things we used to talk about. Thank you for always being there to listen to my troubles. To Stefanie: I dare you to try two things this year: don't stress out over getting into college, you'll find the place where you belong, and don't lose your amazing taste in music, or your taste in friends. I'm sure we'll catch up over coffee a year from now. To Guya: my Mom should be jealous of how well you took care of me. Wherever you go, I know you'll make that place a brighter and more Italian one. Thank you for picking me up when I felt down. To the rest: thank you for making this experience so enjoyable. I will never forget the piece of myself that I left in Ithaca.