December, 2009


duylam-85This is post is going to be a McFlurry of things – just a heads up.

I was recently talking to a friend of mine at Babson, Alex, and he told me he wanted to transfer to Stanford or USC [both in his home state]. But he said “Man, but I may just give up on Stanford, my GPA isn’t high enough for it.” He has a 3.67 or a 3.7 – pretty good for a first year. Anyway.

Now I’m back home in good ol’ Virginia and I was talking to my good friend, David, who actually goes to Stanford. We talked about this, that, and the third – we had a lot of college stuff to catch up on. I finally asked him though about the whole GPA, test scores, etc thing and what it meant to Admissions @ Stanford [and I believe this is the same for all top tier schools]. He said that all of the good stats are super fantastic and it does help a lot, but he said that especially for Stanford, it is all about the passion. The passion you have for whatever it is that you do and it is about showing that passion through your essays. Now don’t quote me for every school, but I think it’s safe to say that it is the same for all schools. Maybe my fellow scholars can enlighten on it.

So convey passion. Make your essays exude the sweat, blood, and tears you’ve shed over the years. Easier said than done I know, but a key, as you probably already have heard, to conveying it is through an example of your life. It’s too easy to just say “I want to be the best”, instead show them it!

Anna Ivey even agrees upon this principle of conveying passion as a key to admission to law schools. But regardless of which school, undergrad or grad, passion is the key.

Here are some law school essay examples of how NOT to write. I figure if I give an example of what SHOULDN’T be done then there will be more space for your own style instead of following what is a good essay.

Bad Law School Essays

I would now leave off with a quote from Atlas Shrugged, but stupid me I forgot to mark the page with the quote – it was from Hank Rearden – but it went something like: “What he feared most was not those that oppose him, but losing the ability of motion, of not wanting to take action.”

Merry Christmas,

Tereza Ponce de Leon featured in Star Tribune



 The times alter the campus hue

With increasing numbers of students of color attending colleges, professors face new challenges to reach diverse students.


December 21, 2009 - The growing diversity of Minnesota’s colleges can be measured in numbers, figures and graphs. Abdul Suleyman hasn’t seen the pie charts, but he has seen the cafeteria. 

“When I was a freshman, there were only three or four black guys,” said the 22-year-old senior at Gustavus Adolphus College. “People would have us confused. It went from that to now, there’s maybe 15 of us.”

At Augsburg College in Minneapolis, Tereza Ponce de Leon is part of the most diverse freshman class in history. The color palette on college campuses is changing.

Thanks in part to a big jump this fall, the number of students of color going to college is way up. From suburban community college campuses to small-town schools like Gustavus, the growth goes beyond statistics. These students are changing how professors teach and campuses feel.

“It’s a fascinating moment,” said Paul Pribbenow, president of Augsburg College and chair of the Minnesota Private College Council. “We’re in constant conversation about what this means and what a gift this is.”

College was “always a big dream” of Ponce de Leon’s. A program for low-income students called Admission Possible helped her focus her ambitions. Pregnancy narrowed her college search, but it only heightened her 2newcomers[1]commitment to going. “I had to think not only about myself, but what would be better for the future of my son.”

This fall, students of color make up 43 percent of the first-year, daytime undergraduate class at Augsburg. In total, a full quarter of the college’s undergraduates are students of color — up from 8.6 percent in 2001.

Augsburg has lots of company. Enrollment of undergraduates of color is up nearly 90 percent in the last decade at the 17 member schools of the Minnesota Private College Council. Meanwhile, white enrollment grew less than 4 percent.

In the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, the enrollment of low-income, minority and first-generation college students — groups considered “underrepresented” — is up 22 percent this fall over last year.

“We had not seen anything like it before,” said Linda Baer, senior vice chancellor for academic and student affairs.

Experts say the economy is one reason, but Terria Middlebrook, a 22-year-old student at Minneapolis Community and Technical College, sees something bigger going on:

“We are getting smarter knowing there is potential for us out there,” she said. “Our President Obama is one example to us African-Americans showing that we do have potential to succeed, but it’s up to us to move forward.”

“Pretty much college answers it all,” she said.

We’re here. Now what?

The big jumps in minority enrollment are the buzz of admissions offices around the country. With the college-age population decreasing and becoming much more diverse, colleges will need to recruit a more diverse student body to keep classrooms full.

But Augsburg Prof. David Lapakko had heard the buzz one too many times. In early October, he wrote a post on the college’s internal forum: “I must confess that I’m tired of hearing that the world — and our classrooms — are more diverse than in years past. To that I say, ‘Well, duh.’”

Diversity is one of Augsburg’s great strengths and “a critical part of a liberal arts education,” Lapakko said. But with it come challenges that need to be discussed.

Teachers can make some changes easily, he said, such as avoiding slang that confuses students whose first language is not English.

Not so easy is the “big question colleges have been forced to take a hard look at,” he said. That is: How much are professors willing and able to change how they teach or what they teach to reach the class that now sits before them?

“It’s kind of like the elephant in the living room,” he said. “People don’t want to talk about the bad parts of it, the difficult parts.”

Reaching commencement

Getting students in the door is only one part of a college’s job. Graduating them is another. Colleges and universities aren’t as good at graduating students of color as they are white students.

Black, American Indian and Hispanic students are more likely to attend part time and less likely to graduate than white or Asian students, according to the Minnesota Office of Higher Education.

The office’s 2009 report shows that at two-year schools such as community colleges — where much of the growth is occurring — fewer than half of the students of color either completed a credential or transferred to another institution within three years.

“It’s about not only bringing more people through the doors, but making sure that they are achieving and succeeding at the same rate,” said MnSCU’s Baer.

MnSCU is one of 24 public college and university systems that just pledged to shrink the gap in college-going and degree completion between their traditional population and low-income students and students of color by 2015.

White kids care, too

Cheng Lee first saw Gustavus as a high school senior in Upward Bound, a program designed to increase the number of low-income and first-generation students in college. He thought the hilltop campus was beautiful and liked the idea of getting away from the distractions of St. Paul, where his Hmong family lives.

He began giving campus tours his freshman year and has watched the campus change through the eyes of the visiting high school students. A decade ago, fewer than 5 percent of students at Gustavus Adolphus College were a color other than white. This year, about 12 percent are.

“They always ask about the diversity — the numbers, the facts and figures,” Lee said. “But the main selling point is actually seeing students of color. If they see them walking by and saying hi to me, they really respond to that.”

White kids are asking about diversity, too.

“These kids at Eden Prairie, they’re used to a diverse population in their school,” said Mark Anderson, dean of admission and vice president for admission and financial aid.

Gustavus recruits white students whose applications show that they value diversity.

“We consider them equally important in order to be allies in what we want our campus to ultimately become,” said Virgil Jones, director of multicultural programs. “It does me no good to recruit you to come to school here if the majority of the white students don’t want you here.”

The college offers peer and faculty mentors to all first-year, underrepresented students. Advisers meet with each student every semester. Tutors set up shop in the college’s diversity center, as well as the individual colleges.

But there’s still room to improve, Jones said.

The college still deals with the occasional racist incident. The diversity of faculty and staff still lags. St. Peter could use a barbershop that knows black hair.

About 20 years ago, Anderson was mentoring a student who asked him: “You know why I sit in the front row?” He guessed wrong. “‘No, Mark,’ she told me. ‘It’s because I don’t want to see that I’m the only one in the classroom who looks like me.’

“Now, that doesn’t happen anymore,” he said. “And that’s pretty exciting.”

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Read Tereza Ponce de Leon’s blog about her first-year experience: csopportunityscholars.org/tereza-ponce-de-leon.

Check out the published article here.

TTBFS-The Truth Behind First Semester

seanna-85I wanted this piece to be especially powerful, since I can now say that my first semester of college is over.  I’m half-a-semester closer to sophomore year, and 12.5% of my college undergraduate experience is over.  But I couldn’t determine what message would perfectly coalesce into what I want to express.  So in order to move past my creative writer’s block, I decided to do a three point “In-Retrospect-Guide” on outstanding factors of my freshman first semester.

1. College is about learning.

First week on campus = placement exams.  Second week on campus = class registration.  Throughout high school, I took many advanced placement courses, similar to the majority of the other students at Pomona.  And for some reason, a reoccurring statement that I heard after placement exams was, “I forgot all of that stuff during the exam, but I know that I can handle the honors level class.”  Personally, not only had I forgotten all of the stuff during the exam, but I was suddenly unsure of the fact that I’d ever known it.  In fact, I started thinking that admissions had made a mistake with letting me in.  OBVIOUSLY, I was not prepared for college. 

IN-RETROSPECT-#1-Breathe.  Not only was I ready for college, I settled into a groove of working and study habits that have allowed me to smile now that it is Christmas break.  Advanced courses in high school are wonderful classes to take in PREPARATION for college, but college classes are more difficult and may require different study techniques and habits.  That’s okay.  Learn what works for you, and be flexible until something clicks…I study for math in an entirely different way than I study for Latin…and that’s okay.

2. Getting involved provides community.  

Although this was not the best mindset to have at the beginning of school, sometimes I felt that undergraduate was a burden that I had to shoulder before I could return closer to home for medical or graduate school.  I was leaving behind friends and family for a great education, but I found myself breaking the year into four-month segments that I’d just “have to bear”. 

IN-RETROSPECT-#2-I was wrong.  Life at school developed into something incredible.  I made friends unlike any that I’d made before.  As an active member on Student Diversity Committee, I helped make decisions concerning campus climate. My intramural volleyball team placed 3rd, and the gym was not a legendary place for the “in-shape”. Although my friends and family remained at home, I was okay. I was happy. All in all, I was living life.

3. Life is still not perfect.

This was most likely the hardest lesson for me to learn and accept.  Despite the glamorous campus, amazing dining halls, nice-sized rooms, wonderful people, and remarkable classes…I still had down days.  I did occasionally get homesick.  Sometimes, I didn’t want to do homework.  Even worse…sometimes I was not enthralled with my seemingly endless to-do lists.  I just wanted a break. 

IN-RETROSPECT-#3-College life is still life.  With demands, stresses, and problems.  Although you may want to participate in a million interesting and extraordinary opportunities, an occasional nap may be more beneficial.  Allowing your initial experience of college to overburden your work load and cause excessive strain hurts one person-you.  Finding a balance is very important…perhaps one of the most important for this first semester.  And admitting that you are unhappy with something is also okay…that’s one reason many colleges provide sponsors and mentors.  Everyone wants your adjustment to college to be as smooth and enjoyable as possible.  There will be road bumps and obstacles, but understanding how to meet those head-on will eliminate their severity and possible future harm.

So on top of learning basic Latin, how to find angular diameter, and the reasoning behind Christian attacks on Jews in 1096…I also discovered the truth in these three small tidbits…and perhaps this post will help you keep them in mind, as well.  Happy Holidays!!

Happy Holidays!

jesse-85Finally finished my first semester at Harvard!!! I can’t even describe how I feel. The first thing I did when I got out of my last final (Philosophy), was call my mom. She was at work so she couldn’t answer but I left her a voicemail thanking her for helping me overcome all the obstacles we have faced together. It was tough, but we made it!!

This semester was most definitely a challenge but it just takes adjusting. It’s nothing you can’t handle!

If I could give a piece of advice: learn to manage your time while still in high school; set your goals and in everything you do, ask yourself if it is helping you get to where you ultimately want to go. Also, always make time for family and friends; they are the ones that will help you get through the rough times.

The Holidays are here!! I can’t wait to come back home!! I just hope that I will be able to reconnect with all my old friends after four months. I have so many stories to share. College is definitely one of those life-changing experiences that help you gain perspective on the world. I never thought I would make it, but through hard work and faith, you can too!!

Keep working hard guys and enjoy the holidays! I’ll definitely blog again soon!

Winter…and the heat is on!

joseph-85Swish…loop…crank…crank…nervousness…click click click (gear grinds)… click clack…This is the last hump on the roller coaster of my first semester.  There is a lot to do between today and the end of this semester, but somehow these last few months have sped by.

For you high-schoolers out there my guess is that you are experiencing a similar sense of unease and nervousness.  The time to finish college applications is nigh, just as the promise of a break from school for the holiday season.  I remember that when my C.U. application was somehow erased every time I attempted to save it, a certain heat went up and down my back. So much frustration resulted from this that I felt I alone possessed a terrible burden.  In short, the college application process was a very intense experience for me, and I’m sure it is proving to be, at some points, for you as well.

What I have noticed though is that stress is inevitable.  I find that the heat is on now as the first semester comes to a close. With due diligence and a lot of patience I have faith that it will all work out in the end, and if you have that same faith it will help you to make more rational and cautious decisions than if you don’t.  Let me tell you that your applications and essays will look much better if you type them with a clear head rather than with “just finishing” in mind.  These applications and such can be finished, and if I can impart those seniors out there with one more bit in the endless stream of advice: don’t stress out and make more problems for yourself. At the same time though I want to be clear that what you are doing is important, and that is why it is so important to approach these issues with a level head.

Yeah it’s a bit past T-Day..

duylam-85…but I don’t think any of us needs a day to give thanks. I must say I am thankful for all things here – from my freedom of speech to the fact that my mom calls me every day [yes every day haha].

I would shed some light on my past and tell you why I’m thankful for this that and the third, but today I ran across a Wall Street Journal article about an Iranian-American, dissenting against Iran, who got an anonymous email saying that his family would be harmed if he did not stop producing slanderous material against Iran. 2 days later his mother called and security had arrested his father and told her that the young Iranian-American, Koosh, would not be able to safely return to Iran.

Iranian Protest

Iranian Protest

Iranian Crackdown Goes Global – WSJ article

Everything in my life, regardless of whether it is “bad” or “good”, I am thankful for. This article just proves to me once more that the grass I stand on is as green as it can get. Happy Holidays everyone.

Viva la vida,