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Class of 2001 includes stars on and off the field

The class of 2001 will include a junior Olympic fencer who plays electric guitar and bass, an accomplished classical cellist and a woman who announced her interest in MIT on the game show Jeopardy, as well as basketball and soccer all-stars, a feminist gymnast and a swimming champion.

Thirty-eight percent of the 1,067 students who accepted admission to MIT as of May 16 were women, compared to 42 percent in the class of 2000. The incoming freshman class will be 28.5 percent Asian-American and 16 percent African-American, Mexican-American, Puerto Rican and Native American. A year ago, 27.5 percent of the new class of 1,088 students were Asian-American and 18 percent were members of the latter four groups.

Kelly Harper of Seaview, TX, the fencer, was recruited in his junior year of high school by the committee chairman of his Boy Scout troop, MIT alumnus James L. Knoedler (SB '61, SM). "The more I heard about MIT, the more I liked it," said Mr. Harper, an Eagle Scout, who visited the campus three times and was admitted as an early-action candidate.

Mr. Harper, who attended Clear Lake High School in Houston, competed in the epee event in the 1995 Junior Olympic Games and plans to continue fencing at MIT. Now playing with two bands in Houston, he hopes to hook up with musical groups in Cambridge. "I talked to a bunch of guys who play music when I was there," said Mr. Harper, who is interested in studying mechanical engineering. "I'm sure we'll get something together."

Rebecca Tsai of Lexington, MA, has played cello in the Greater Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra for seven years and attended the Boston Symphony Orchestra summer program at Tanglewood in 1995. She is interested in choral singing at MIT. "I like to explore different types of music," she said.

Ms. Tsai, a Lexington High School graduate who plans to study mathematics and science, chose MIT "because it's 20 minutes from home--and that's important." Nevertheless, she plans to live on campus.

Tanis O'Connor of Clearwater, FL, who attended a magnet program for gifted students at St. Petersburg High School, says she has wanted to attend MIT "since I was six years old." A native of Massachusetts, she has relatives here, and her interest in biology and chemistry made MIT a natural. She plans to be a genetic researcher.

Last year, she told the world she hoped to attend MIT while a contestant on Jeopardy. Then she sent a tape to the admissions office. "I figured it might help," said Ms. O'Connor, who won $5,000 on the program.

Shane Cruz of Cincinnati averaged 16.3 points and 9.5 rebounds a game for the Summit Country Day School basketball team in the Miami Valley Conference. He was chosen for the All-Conference first team as a forward, despite Summit's 5-16 record. He also played in several all-star games.

Mr. Cruz, 6'6" and 190 pounds, was wooed by many schools and spurned a scholarship from Carnegie-Mellon and an offer from Division 1 Lehigh--with the possibility of playing in the NCAA tournament--to come to MIT.

"It would have been nice to play in Division 1," said Mr. Cruz, who plans to study computer science, "but I was looking to get the best education I could."

Todd Atkins of Hampden, ME, an all-scholastic sweeper, led Hampden Academy to the Eastern Maine championship game last season and a second-place finish in the state in 1995. He plans to continue his soccer career while studying electrical engineering.

Mr. Atkins, whose real name is Henry but has used the nickname Todd since childhood, chose MIT because "many people believe it's the best in the world at what it does." Besides, he said, "the location is good"--close to home.

Sara Elice of Scarsdale, NY, captain of her high school gymnastics team, plans a dual major in engineering and political science, and "most schools make it difficult if not impossible to do both." She hopes to continue competing in gymnastics at MIT as well as participate in other extracurricular activities, including the Shakespeare Ensemble.

Ms. Elice was president of the Women's Issues Club at Scarsdale High School and worked for political candidates who are sensitive to feminist issues. "My parents taught me to fight for what I think is right," said Ms. Elice, who also works at My Sister's Place, a shelter.

Stefan Bewley of Atas-cadero, CA, had never been east of Colorado before he visited MIT. "I wasn't sure what to expect," said Mr. Bewley, who starred on the water polo and swimming teams at Atascadero High School, winning the Los Padres League 500-yard freestyle title as a senior.

Mr. Bewley, who plans to study chemical engineering, was impressed with the students (particularly some water polo players), faculty and general atmosphere at MIT. "The surrounding area was also beautiful," said Mr. Bewley, who was also interested in the University of California's Berkeley and Santa Barbara campuses.

The class also includes several who attended last summer's Research Science Institute, among them twins Yamini and Amitha Jagannath of Little Rock, AR, and Jeffrey Vieregg of Wheaton, IL. MIT research scientist Kosta Tsipis's son, Yanni Tsipis of Chestnut Hill, MA, is also in the class.

The Jagannath twins, co-valedictorians at Parkview Arts/Science Magnet High School in Little Rock, liked the intellectual atmosphere and diversity at MIT during their six-week stay last summer. "There was a greater variety of people than we normally see," said Yamini, who plans to study biology and literature, while Amitha is considering biochemistry. Once they both were accepted, the decision was easy; going to different colleges was not an option they considered. "We're good friends," said Yamini.

The class's mean SAT score is exactly the same as last year at 1448 (701 verbal and 747 math in '96; 699 verbal and 749 math in '97). Eighty-five percent of the incoming freshmen were in the top 5 percent of their graduating class, compared to 83 percent a year ago. Last year, 37 percent of the incoming freshmen were valedictorians, compared to 35 percent this year.

Twenty-three percent of those who have enrolled said they intended to concentrate on electrical engineering and computer science, while 10 percent said they planned to study biology. A year ago, 21 percent leaned toward EECS and 13 percent toward biology.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on June 4, 1997.

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