A Wall Street Journal article in May about a Washington, DC, high school junior, brought favorable national attention to MIT when it described Cedric Jennings' joy as he opened an acceptance letter to the MITES (Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science) program.
But an article on September 22 describing Cedric's experiences with the program and his disappointment when told that his admission to MIT in 1995 was unlikely, resulted in many critical phone calls and letters. (Many callers thought MITES is an MIT pre-admission program. It is not; rather its purpose is to encourage minority students to become involved in science and engineering generally.
President Charles M. Vest has written the following letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal:
" It has been encouraging to learn of the powerful concern aroused by the life story of Cedric Jennings, whose participation in MIT's Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science Program (MITES) this summer was featured in the September 22 Wall Street Journal.
"This summer's experience has demonstrated the need for us to pay even greater attention to the support services we provide to the young men and women who take part in the program. We are seeking to keep in touch with Cedric and his teacher, whom I met during the summer, to encourage Cedric to pursue his interests in mathematics, science and engineering.
"MITES is one of several minority outreach programs at MIT. We established MITES in 1975 as a national program to encourage very talented high school juniors to study engineering and science in college-any college. The MITES program is academically rigorous, as it should be. While acceptance into the MITES program does not mean that a student will be admitted to MIT, about 60 percent of the MITES students have been admitted over the years, and about 30 percent enrolled at MIT.
"A major goal of the program is to counsel these high school students about their academic career plans and opportunities. It was in a one-on-one advisory meeting that Professor Leon Trilling, the faculty director of the program, told Cedric that it was unlikely he would be ready for MIT in one year, but suggested that he might be able to transfer to MIT after a year of college elsewhere. Professor Trilling has told me how sorry he is about the hurt and misunderstanding generated by his conversation with Cedric, whom he regards as a young man with great potential to pursue a career in science or engineering. I should note that Professor Trilling has spent much of his career helping minority youth, both at MIT and in the greater Boston community. As a suburban school board member three decades ago, he helped start Boston's METCO program to bring inner-city youth to suburban high schools, and at MIT he has served as a mentor to minority students and faculty alike.
"Whether Cedric will apply to MIT next January and whether he will be admitted are decisions for him and the MIT Admissions Office to make. I value his enthusiasm for MIT and his determination to succeed. MIT will continue to seek out the Cedric Jenningses of America in our efforts to bring talented minority students into the nation's colleges and universities ."
A version of this article appeared in the October 5, 1994 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 39, Number 7).