Nicole (Niki) / JP Collaborative MIT- Rio Blog # 3

It was great to hear from a local student today who has made her way to MIT – The Massachusetts Institute of Technology – a world class university and seat of science on the planet. From Oxnard to Boston, this blog connects a superintendent of the Rio School District to a freshman (1st year woman student) at MIT who reached out to the District to help in these coronavirus times. Here is the second edition of the Q&A post;

Q7: What’s the best thing happening with the CovEd project from your point of view?

Personally, the best has been seeing meaningful support provided all around. CovEd has grown so fast and has been running from the start. As one put it, it’s like we’re driving a car while still building it. We have had many ups and downs as we grew at an exponential rate, but the difficulties we came across have been completely negligible. I love to hear about successful mentor and mentee matches. There was a student with a mother requesting for a role model who also shared the child’s need for hearing-aids. We one upped her request and found someone who coincidentally had the same hearing aids as her! There was another student working on debating skills with a mentor and had really strong arguments about why dogs are better than cats! I also love to see mentors form genuine bonds with the mentees and put in more than our required 1hr/wk request so that the student can get the most out of this even though themselves are full-time students. Furthermore, the students aren’t the only ones getting something out of this. We have been learning so much about how the world works especially from an organization’s point of view. Theory and practice definitely aren’t the same. We’ve also been learning about the logistical barriers involved in actually reducing inequities. It’s been really heartwarming to see a vast number of us come together to work towards a common goal, but it’s not as easy as we wish. Finally, the friendships I have made from being a part of this group has been so amazing. I have found another community, even virtually, with whom I share similar morals, values, and a passion to make this world a better place for everyone.

For more perspectives, I have asked this question to two new friends I have accumulated through CovEd whom I highly resonate with and also been closely working with in Management: Evelyn Wong, founder (Harvard ‘21), and Tam Nguyen, Coordinator Co-Head (MIT ‘21).

Evelyn told me that “we’re pairing mentees from extremely vulnerable situations who are affected by school closures with mentors that can serve as role models far beyond academic support; so it’s not just giving them help with homework, it’s forming connections with mentors that will last far beyond this pandemic and hopefully serve as a powerful driving force that empowers students from vulnerable communities to gain access to higher education in the future (since we are not only pairing based on subject needs, but also career interests-we ask students what they want to be when they grow up, then pair them with a mentor in that field of study).”

Tam mentioned a more technical success on our end. Tam and I have been coordinating matches which have been done manually, until hopefully the end of this week. However, our webapp team has been working endlessly to code an automated matching system as well as organize all the resources we have accumulated for easier access for a larger audience. Tam also shared with me how touched she is by the fact that so many people have joined our efforts and are so willing to help that as of now, we have been able to meet all the needs of the students including those with disabilities. She also echoes her love of friends accumulated from the start of this initiative.

Evelyn also wrote a beautiful anecdotal piece for one of our other interviews, and I wanted to share it here: “When we talk about equity and excellence in K-12 education, we often think about comparing standardized test scores, providing college preparation, etc.— all as a means to increase access to some indefinite future end goal.
It wasn’t until the MIT Tech suggested writing an anecdotal piece about how CovEd started that I started to purposefully reflect on what promoting educational access means to me—and to our team—on a deeply personal level.
As an educator/mentor/coach, it’s hard to reconcile this remote idea of promoting academic equity for some future payoff (be it access to elite education, degree, or profession) in the generation after us. If that were the case, why are some of the most beautiful moments of teaching (and learning) for me the times when it seemed education would unlikely play a role in determining my students’ futures?
I thought of moments when this rang true. Walking students to and from the School of Peace in the outskirts of Buenos Aires, the “adventures” in our one-classroom school kept students safe from a dangerous neighborhood. In another moment, playing guitar and teaching through music in a hospital where my students are told they only have a few years–if not months, to live. Education in these settings serve not to mold the next generation of elite academic competitors, but instead carries a deeper sense of normalcy and community that provides these students the opportunity to be kids while they can.
This is what we hope CovEd provides for our students and mentors alike.”

Q8: When you were in high school and middle school here in Ventura County, did you envision yourself going somewhere like MIT? How did this journey take place?

When I was in high school and middle school, I definitely did not think I’d attend a school like MIT. Until I was on campus and attended my first class did I finally believe I was actually an MIT student.

I’m not entirely sure how I got here, but I know it helped to have amazing friends, teachers, and family. Especially my sister Claire. She is currently in 7th grade at Mesa Union and she inspires me every day to be a better person. She always thinks of everyone around her, has a HUGE heart. She is so sweet and literally a ray of sunshine with terrible jokes XD. She is also a STAR at everything she strives for.

I’ve always had a passion for learning. I feel more capable of doing my part with more knowledge and skills. I find great satisfaction in bringing joy to others, so I wanted to just go into any field in which I could have the most positive impact. I thought I would go to a UC or try to go to SLO. MIT was definitely a reach school. I participated in activities that brought me joy. I took classes that were of great interest to me. I loved creating things and solving puzzles so the STEM field was definitely interesting as I approached high school but nothing was definite.

Q9: So for all the parents out there, how did your parents contribute to your journey from our community to learning at MIT?

My parents are both very resilient and hardworking. From them I learned to never give up even though times may get hard and the world might throw the worst at you. I understood from them that hard work never fails, and if I have enough passion and put in enough effort, I can achieve anything. I watched them start with nothing and make something out of it.

My parents own Anaba Sushi (1171 S Victoria Ave, Oxnard, CA 93035). My mom is an artist, so she designed the interior, the menu, the logo. She never got to formally finish her education at CSU Long Beach because I had come along, but she worked hard to study graphic designing through videos online. My dad used to work as a sushi-chef part time. He really loved it, so he decided to open up his own restaurant. He’s always working on creating new recipes that are both healthy while still delicious.

This is our family restaurant. Although, I personally didn’t help physically build it…(I was in 1st-2nd grade as it was being modeled, so I just rode around the empty not-yet restaurant on my scooter). Every couple of weeks we go to ChinaTown in LA to buy boxes of Jasmine Tea and the like that bloom in hot water as it’s a customer favorite. We go to restaurant suppliers in LA to buy in bulk restaurant supplies or boxes of radish or to the Korean supermarket to handpick shishito peppers. (To minimize spiciness and bitterness and maximize freshness, we need to handpick the right size). Orchid flowers don’t stay bloomed for too long, at most a few months, so we also seldom go to a flower shop in LA to lighten the restaurant’s decor. We opened in 2008, and since then, we have updated our menu every year and a half. We also make the menus ourselves. My dad dictates to me what he wants on the menu. I translate and type it out. (Happy to say that our menu gradually improved as I went from 2nd grade to College). My mom designs and prints it so that we can all cut it up nicely. My sister and I laminate and bind them. Sometimes, my sister and I help create fun names for new items, like Spongebob SquareCake, which is a crab cake appetizer, or Monster Legs, a calamari type dish! On days that the restaurant is closed, we would go in to make some improvements. Every year on Thanksgiving, we go to put up Christmas decorations. On New Years Eve, we go to take down Christmas decorations and put back up our mostly year round decorations. For smaller holidays, if the budget permitted, we would decorate the restaurant specially, like with heart balloons, cute cut-outs, and roses for Valentine’s day one year. Some days that we’re closed, we go in as a family to repaint the walls.

Anaba Sushi means a secret/special place. It’s my parent’s passion project. They really care for our customers and employees. Being a part of this taught me what it’s like to develop something entirely bottom up and have a hand in every sector. I learned from them what it’s like to make sacrifices, to accept consequences of our actions, to trust people but not too much, to appreciate everything and make the most of every moment of our lives.

In short, they’ve always been supportive of my interests. They never really pushed me hard academically, which was good because I am very stubborn and probably would have rebelled. They just showed me how I should approach life. They instilled in me a need to approach daily life with personal growth in mind so I can be a better person for society. Their only strict requirement of me was to be a good person, and that is what I strive for every day.

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