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Students sample MIT's academic riches

Luis Cabezas finished his work in Redmond, Wash., on a Friday and flew to Cambridge the next day to begin an intensive summer of 12-hour work days. When that project ends on Aug. 3, he'll head back to Redmond for a few days, pack his things and fly on to San Jose, Costa Rica, where he'll begin his next project on Aug. 12.

Is he a highly prized management consultant? A national security expert? An FBI agent tracking high-profile criminals?

No, he's an 18-year-old high school student participating in the MIT Minority Introduction to Engineering, Entrepreneurship and Science program (MITE2S) along with 79 other young men and women from around the nation who spend their last summer of high school at MIT to boost their academic achievements. Cabezas spent his junior year living with a childhood friend and going to school in Redmond; he'll return to Costa Rica just in time to begin his senior year back home.

But he sounds for all the world like an MIT undergrad already.

"Teachers complain because we doze off in class. But we try to keep each other awake," said Cabezas.

Why don't they sleep at night? "Well, we have five to six hours of homework each day. And we're teenagers, so we always find ways to put things off. We work in groups and so we have to socialize. Then of course, we have to get something to eat every hour."

The young students live in Next House dorm rooms and use meal cards to buy food and meals on campus. Classes begin at 9 a.m.

"I don't mind walking [from the dorm], but it means we have to wake up 10 minutes before class and not two minutes," he said. "If this was just another school, I think I'd be so tired I'd be in my bed all day. But here, I'm still excited. It's such an enormous change from living at home to living in a dorm. And the people here are so talented. I just feel amazed to have all these people around me. I keep thinking, 'How did I get here?'"


Many of the students have sidelines: they play musical instruments, teach dance or martial arts, play sports or paint, or they're involved in charitable work. Cabezas plays the piano, draws, paints and wants to make interactive public art to place in parks and other public places. "I don't want it to be separated in a museum, but influencing its environment," said Cabezas, who expressed surprise at the breadth of art on campus. "When you think of MIT, you don't think of art."

You don't think of cans, either. But Cabezas has collected 600 empty soda cans since he arrived on campus, most of them from the trash cans at Kresge during the conference of Chinese and American physicians a few weeks ago.

"In Washington, people will carry their empty cans a long way to recycle them. Here, people just throw them in the trash," said Cabezas, who was so troubled by the waste that he gathered up the used cans and went back each evening to get more. After rinsing each can, he stacks it with the others, which now provide decoration for his room.

"People take tours of my room," he said. "They say I'm compulsive; I've become sort of the dorm jester." He intended to recycle the cans, but is now considering taking them somewhere to collect the five-cent deposits. Whichever he decides, he said, "we'll probably have a dropping-off-the-cans ceremony."

This is the MITE2S program's 27th year and its largest class yet. The 40 women and 40 men were selected from a pool of 651 applicants. There are 41 African-Americans, 17 Mexican-Americans, four Native Americans, six Puerto Ricans and 12 from other Hispanic groups. Students study calculus, physics, chemistry, biochemistry, humanities, entrepreneurship, Internet programming and engineering design from June 25 to Aug. 3. The program is dedicated to increasing the representation of Native Americans, Hispanic-Americans and African-Americans in the fields of engineering, entrepreneurship and science.

MITE2S is headed by Karl Reid (S.B. 1984), executive director of Engineering Special Programs. For more information, contact the Engineering Special Programs office at x3-3298, or see the MITE2S web site.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on July 18, 2001.

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