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Life at MIT – Dublin High’s Kimberli Zhong Rides Robotics to Boston’s Tech Paradise

January 12, 2015

by Kimberli Khong (Dublin High School Class of 2014 and MIT Class of 2018)

Kimberli Zhong

Kimberli Zhong

Though the Massachusetts Institute of Technology had always seemed like a perfect fit for me, I almost didn’t go there. A few days before the deadline, I filled out the enrollment confirmation form for a sunnier California school. But on the verge of clicking “Submit,” I couldn’t shake the feeling that I would be missing out.

I had first experienced MIT’s unique culture back in April, when I’d visited for Campus Preview Weekend. The four-day event consisted of 600+ student-run activities, including things like “Midnight Ultimate Frisbee,” “Blanket Fort Engineering,” and countless liquid nitrogen ice cream offerings and fraternity steak dinners—being there was truly like drinking from a firehose. Despite the intensity, MIT wasn’t arrogant or antisocial. I made close friends before I had even decided to “comMIT”, wandering around campus and playing Tetris on the Green Building at ungodly hours of the night. CPW showed me that though I could have received an excellent education from many other schools, it was only at MIT that I felt both comfortable and challenged.

So I hit the back button and flew back to Cambridge in the fall. I haven’t regretted the decision so far (but that may change now that my semester on Pass/No Record is over).

Life at MIT has been exhilarating. Students here love numbers, so I’ll list some: in my first few months here, I’ve stayed awake to see five sunrises, been to four other states, watched 22 Jump Street three times, experienced two days of Boston snow, and witnessed the construction of one roller coaster. I’ve met hundreds of new people, helped organize a thousand-student hackathon, and gained over ten thousand Snapchat points. MIT is full of people who love doing things and making stuff, and I’ve quickly become infected with their excitement.

Kimberli Zhong and Friends at an MIT formalOne of my favorite things about campus life is the housing system: unlike other colleges which randomly assign students to rooms, MIT allows students greater choice in where they live. As a result, dorms here have distinct cultures and stereotypes: they run the gamut from Greek-overrun Baker House to cat-optional East Campus to my oddly shaped dorm, Simmons Hall.

Like the dorms, the campus itself has character. MIT’s mixture of elegant neoclassical architecture and bizarre postmodern buildings embodies its personality well—here, we embrace the unconventional. Students explore the roofs and tunnels of these buildings in a secretive campus tradition known as hacking, sometimes exercising their creativity by engineering harmless pranks for everyone to see.

Outside of campus, Boston is right across the river, and it’s a fifteen-minute walk to cross the bridge to shop or eat. Certainly, there’s a lot more freedom in living away from home. I love being able to decide how to spend my own time, even if that means I sometimes make mistakes like forgetting to go to class or staying up until 4 am “studying” with my friends.

Kimberli and the Dublin High Robotics Club

Kimberli and the Dublin High Robotics Club

College is quite different academically from high school, with a much greater emphasis on problem solving and independent learning. I was pretty dedicated to Dublin High School’s Robotics Club, so it’s not surprising that I’ve declared Course 6-3, or Computer Science and Engineering. (Yep, we even use numbers to talk about our majors.) My classes this semester varied between lectures, discussions, and labs, and my physics class was taught in an interactive format that ensured I didn’t doze off. Besides actual parties, we also have pset parties—students are encouraged to work together on homework, and agonizing over problems is less painful in groups. With the strong emphasis on hands-on learning, many students here “UROP,” conducting their own research projects for pay or credit with faculty mentors in MIT’s many laboratories.

Notoriously, classes at MIT can get very difficult, but Student Support Services (S^3) is always available to help. I’ve had friends get deadlines extended when they felt overwhelmed, and from what I’ve experienced so far, MIT’s students and staff seem to care a lot about the community’s mental health. Humanities and PE classes also go a long way towards ensuring that we don’t drown in convoluted equations and esoteric terminology; this past quarter, I shot a gun for the first time in my pistol class.

Kimberli and friends at HackMIT

Kimberli and friends at HackMIT

Outside of class, I’m involved in TechX, a student group responsible for organizing technology-related activities like hackathons, career fairs, and industry talks. Within TechX, I’m part of the committee for HackMIT, an event where college students from around the country compete for over twenty-four hours to build innovative software and hardware projects. For this year’s October event, I set up workshops with industry mentors from Facebook, Oculus VR, and Google and even ordered 500 air mattresses for hackers who wanted to catch some sleep. Our team is currently working on Blueprint, a high-school “learnathon” and hackathon designed to motivate younger students to pursue computer science. I was lucky to have inspirational teachers in high school, and I’m striving to offer the same encouragement to other young students.

Though MIT provides a rigorous technical education, our most valuable lessons take place outside the classroom, in labs, clubs, and living groups. My friends here are diverse, brilliant, and curious, and I love learning from them. As the more optimistic version of our unofficial slogan goes, I Have Truly Found Paradise. The years ahead certainly are daunting—but I’m looking forward to them.

At the Dublin High School 2014 Senior Awards Night Kimberli Zhong was recognized as a Dublin Rotary Club Student of the Month (December), was awarded a Comcast Leaders and Achievers Scholarship, Society of Women Engineers – Mount Diablo Section Scholarship and Dublin High School Engineering and Design Academy Scholarship, was named a California Scholarship Federation Life Member, earned a Gael Scholar and President’s Gold Award for Education Excellence and earned Dublin High School’s Advanced Scholar Diploma. Ms. Zhong was also awarded a National Merit Scholarship.

Other articles in the Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Series:

Kimberli with her brother at the Dublin High Class of 2014 graduation

Kimberli with her brother at the Dublin High Class of 2014 graduation

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