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Summer in the city

Grads look back at 30 years of MIT program

This summer marks the 30th anniversary of MIT's rigorous enrichment program for high school juniors, the Minority Introduction to Engineering, Entrepreneurship and Science Program, or MITE2S. Since 1975, more than 1,500 high school students have completed the summer program, which has also been known as MITE and MITES.

Karl W. Reid (S.B. 1984), executive director of MITE2S since 1998, said the program is "designed to ignite confidence in students' academic abilities and self-efficacy, so they can set higher academic and professional trajectories than they thought possible."

Pediatrician Kimberly Avila Edwards, MITE2S Class of 1990, put it this way: "Succeeding in MITE2S gave me the added encouragement I needed to aim high and apply to Ivy League colleges. It has been a lifetime of positive influence."

The program's three decades of growth and success will be celebrated on Friday, July 29, with student presentations in Room 34-101, beginning at 10 a.m., and an evening event in the MIT Student Center. Titled "30 Years of Expanding the Realm of Possibility," the event is co-hosted by the MITE2S program and the MITE2S Class of 2005. MIT President Susan Hockfield will be the keynote speaker.

To honor the anniversary, MITE2S graduates from the past 30 years looked back on their experiences at MIT, crediting the program with nurturing and challenging their interest in science and their personal ambitions.

Edwards, a native of El Paso, Texas, recalled that she felt "awestruck" when she arrived on campus. "Even though El Paso was a largely Hispanic community, there were very few minority students at the top of my high school class. It was quite striking to meet so many minority students who were excelling academically and who were invested in continuing with higher education."

Edwards received her B.A. and M.D. degrees from Harvard University. She and her siblings were the first in their family to attend college, she said.

Willie Billingslea came from Atlanta, Ga., to participate in MITES in 1984. Billingslea, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, summed up his experience: "MIT MITES allowed me to see the best of the best and gave me confidence that I could succeed in any endeavor. I would not trade that experience for the world-it made me a better person."

Donnell Walton, MITES Class of 1988, declared, "The program had a transformational effect on me. It was truly my introduction to engineering. As a result of surviving the program, I felt extremely confident a year later when I entered college." Walton graduated from North Carolina State and is a research scientist in fiber optics with Corning, a sponsor of the 2005 MITE2S program.

Laura Robinson was a member of the MITE Class of 1975 who later graduated from MIT with a major in materials science and engineering, then returned to the Institute to serve as director of the MITE2S program from 1995 to 1998. The Cambridge native said she "never knew that African-American students went to MIT" until she attended the summer program. She said she was "surprised to see that the MITE2S tutors were young men and women of color. I felt strongly, if they could make it at MIT, so could I."

Albuquerque, N.M., native Jenise Aminoff had never heard of MIT before MITE2S and had never been east of the Mississippi River when she arrived in Cambridge for the program.

"What struck me first and foremost was the difference in architecture in the Boston area. Everything was so vertical." Aminoff, currently a writer and web consultant, graduated from MIT in 1994.

Arlene Collazo, MITES Class of 1988, came from Ponce, Puerto Rico, at age 16. "I loved it. I loved the buildings, the area, the people, the reputation, everything." Collazo, now a U.S. Air Force captain, holds a master's degree in space operations.

Engineer Jose Cambrils felt "awestruck at actually being at MIT, the world-renowned engineering university. The engineering contests were my first exposure to the challenges that engineers face on a daily basis. The lessons learned have stuck with me even to this day." A native of Cuba and resident of Boston, Cambrils completed MITE in 1977 and went on to graduate from Northeastern University.

The MITE2S program is supported by corporations, foundations, individuals and a grant from the federal government. With additional support from MIT, the program provides each admitted student with full living and educational expenses, allowing them to experience life in an MIT classroom and the cutting-edge technologies that go along with it.

"In 1986, the PC was in its infancy, and my parents could barely afford a VCR, let alone a computer," recalled Aminoff. "So having access to computers was a huge change for me." The new technologies of Billingslea's MITES summer were the TRS-80 computer, Apple II, and the TI-55 and HP-15C calculators, he said. Walton recalled that the PC was nominated TIME magazine's "Man of the Year" the year he attended MITE2S.

"MITES changed my life in three very important ways," declared Aminoff. "It was the first time I was treated as an adult, the first time I began to seriously think about a career in science, and the first time I thought about going away for school. MITES broadened my possibilities tremendously."

She cautions parents and teachers to keep an open mind and remember that there are options in science and engineering other than becoming a scientist or engineer.

"When I graduated from MIT, it was with a degree in writing, and I'm now a technical and science writer," Aminoff said. She taught the humanities course at MITE2S in 2000.

"MITES was a great confidence booster in my life," said Cambrils. "I left that summer feeling that if I could compete with some of the best talent that MIT had selected, then I would be able to be successful in any other setting or university."

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