Just a few months ago, Miguel Paredes from the University of Lima in Peru thought MIT was an impossible dream.
After spending time on campus during the all-expenses-paid graduate preview weekend called Converge, Paredes feels his dream is within reach.
"Converge was amazing. Many of the preconceptions I had about MIT were shattered, and my expectations of MIT were greatly surpassed," Paredes said. "After Converge, I am even more convinced that MIT is the place where I want to go for grad school because of the professors, labs, research opportunities -- and Cambridge itself."
This is exactly the reaction Converge aims to get from its student participants.
Converge began as a grass-roots effort in 2004, with participation from the Graduate Student Council's Diversity Initiative, administrators in the schools of engineering and science, the Graduate Students Office and the Office of the Provost. A similarly composed planning team organized the event in 2005, and the goal is still to increase the diversity of MIT's graduate student population.
The 24 participants were selected from a pool of 65 applicants. All but Paredes were from various parts of the United States, including Puerto Rico. Flown to Boston through the program, they spent the weekend exploring MIT and Cambridge in a series of tours and workshops.
"We want to bring potential students here and show them what MIT is about," said instructor Mandana Sassanfar of the biology department.
Close to 75 current MIT students participated in this year's event, showing prospective students around and answering questions. The students came from a variety of schools, but the planning committee tried to steer away from the East Coast Ivy League schools. "The targeting is different," said Sassanfar. The ideal Converge candidate is an exceptional student who could find MIT intimidating.
"I had already planned on applying to MIT, but was skeptical because of the name and the famous people that do research there," said Christle Guevarra of San Francisco State University. "I have visited other schools with big names and have gotten a rather cold and unforgiving vibe from the students."
MIT was warm and welcoming, she said. "The graduate students seemed happy and excited to be there. The professors were not only doing awesome chemistry, but they seemed approachable and friendly," Guevarra said.
For many of the students from the West Coast, coming to MIT, with its cold winters and distance from home, can seem daunting. "We need to show them the energy of MIT and the support that is here," said Janet Fischer, special assistant in the Office of the Provost.
It was that support that finally convinced Guevarra that MIT is the place for her. "There was a camaraderie that was apparent throughout the whole weekend," she said. "After attending Converge I am more excited than ever to send in my application."
Kenneth Bota of Clark Atlanta University had the same experience. "The Converge program definitely helped me to solidify my choice to apply to MIT for the upcoming school year," he said. Bota was able to meet with professors in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, where he hopes to study.
"Most institutions could not provide the type of access to professors that the Converge program did, and I am grateful for having been given this privilege by the MIT community," he said. "I really felt a part of the MIT family."