A Little Unfinished Business

High-achieving students from 24 HISD high schools toured some of the nation’s top colleges and universities as part of the EMERGE summer tours.  One of the trip’s chaperones, Reagan High School math teacher Khoon Yu Tan, shares experiences from the trip:

Flying for the first time can be an unnerving experience, but for almost all of the 70-odd EMERGE Fellows who are rising high school seniors, the initial discomfort of flying soon dissipated.  As these students, henceforth called fellows, started exchanging pleasantries, they soon discovered each other’s passion, interests, and talent, gaping in astonishment. I wasn’t spared the same astonishment — beneath these fellows’ affable nature lies a great store of energy, drive, and ambition!

Today marks the fourth day of the fellows’ visit to Yale and Wesleyan universities. I couldn’t be more pleased with the well-planned activities, feeling as fortunate as these fellows do to get to attend the trip.  Professor Stephen Pitti, also the master of Yale’s Ezra Stiles College, where the chaperones and fellows reside, has been a gracious and hospitable host. Apart from being an accomplished professor of history and American studies, Master Pitti lives with his family in Ezra Stiles College, eats in Stiles’ dining hall, and presides as a faculty presence in Stiles.

“I imagined a kindling of fire in these bright scholars eager to commence their undergraduate studies at an Ivy League school like Yale.”

The trip has been a boon to the fellows for the following reasons. On the third night, the fellows got to meet a panel of Yale undergraduates who are the first in their families to attend college. The majority of the EMERGE fellows are from minority or economically disadvantaged background. Such socioeconomic backgrounds correlate with being first-generation college attendees. Eyes widened, jaws dropped, and a flood of questions were tossed at the panel. I imagined a kindling of fire in these bright scholars eager to commence their undergraduate studies at an Ivy League school like Yale.

As if having their intellectual curiosity piqued by an assistant professor’s lecture on “Making Atoms Dance” wasn’t enough, the fellows were further delighted by cutting-edge research and design projects pursued by Yalies at the Center for Engineering, Innovation, and Design during the fellows’ tour there, and by the highly spirited talk by the Yale president’s wife, Marta Moret. Marta, a Puerto Rican whose parents did not attend college, used to live on the same street as Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Hispanic and third female justice of the Supreme Court.

Overall, talking to Yalies face-to-face, from the president’s wife to the current freshmen who are passionate about building high-rises that can self-disinfect, has not only informed the EMERGE fellows on the college-admissions process, college life, and the shifting global challenges that lie ahead; it has made their big dreams plausible. This trip is just the beginning of their quest. With two more days of inspiration, useful tips, and camaraderie, it is a journey well beyond the world of high school for these fellows.


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