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Life as an MIT Engineering Student – from Dublin High School to East Coast Boston

October 24, 2021

DUBLIN, CA–All I can remember from MIT’s visit weekend was the following brief phone call with my mom.

“There is absolutely no way that I can go here.”

It seemed so blatantly obvious. I had spent my entire childhood fantasizing about college tailgates and beach volleyball. MIT seemed to offer neither. It’s a small, intense school with DIII athletics and a relatively specialized student body. Engineering students with a goal of changing the world for the better. Impressive, to say the least, but as someone who never took AP Chemistry or AP Physics (purely out of fear), the prospect of surrounding myself with a community of technical geniuses was terrifying.

Malika (middle) with friends

In high school, I wanted to dip my toes in everything. I played volleyball, was in the Irish Guard, and volunteered with the Mayor’s Council. I participated in science fairs and took online classes on East Asia. I wasn’t particularly excited about siloing myself into the world of engineering. And, with no Dublin High School alumni at the school, I didn’t know who to vent to. Would MIT be a good fit for a generalist? I remember sobbing a week after I committed, wallowing in self doubt, asking my dad if there was any way that I could back out.

It’s been a crazy past few years. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Friends from high school visit me from time to time, and they can’t believe how out-of-the-box the school is. From the Banana Lounge, a student-led social space filled with complimentary fruit, to “hacking,” the MIT version of throwing pranks, everything at MIT seems out of the ordinary. And that also applies to the student body and the student experience.

It always strikes me how humble the students are. I have a friend who loves to longboard and has a distinct way of dancing. Oh, and he’s widely credited with starting the movement to ban plastic straws when he was 9. It was by chance that I learned this about him, two years after we first met. A past floormate plays defense on our men’s football team, but was also a published chemist at the age of 16. An acquaintance has a statue of her likeness in Texas because of her past science fair achievements. And they choose not to wear these achievements on their sleeves. The list goes on and on.

Collaboration-based learning is the foundation for most courses, forcing students to unravel judgements and leverage differences to work together. For example, I am currently in a computational fabrics course with 9 other MIT students and 10 Rhode Island School of Design students, and we partner up to complete homework assignments. It makes for a generally approachable student body committed to learning about people and their passions. Because of it, I have been exposed to a variety of research projects, startup ideas, and dorm room undertakings; it’s through these interactions with people that I’ve challenged my own personal interests and stretched what I thought was possible for myself. I entered MIT as a pre-medical student majoring in chemical-biological engineering with little to no understanding of what I wanted to do; now, I’m a materials sciences and engineering major interested in functional fabrics/biomaterials, committed to delivering innovation to people.

It’s equally impressive to see what MIT students do outside of the classroom. I have friends who design clothes for our fashion magazine, invent male birth control pills through MIT funding, and advocate for ethical AI policy. Personally, I’ve used my free time to do everything but pure STEM. I served as our Freshman Class President, performed on an improv comedy troupe, started a youth-focused depolarization organization, helped develop a biotech accelerator for early founders, and learned how to do Afro-Caribbean dance. The opportunities are endless. Many clubs and extracurriculars have low barriers to entry, and students take the opportunity to try out activities they never got to experience previously.

The one word I would use to describe MIT students and the experience is multidimensional. There is always something new to do, to learn, or to see at every corner you turn. At times, it is immensely stressful, but I am humbled by how simply amazing it is to go to school here. As I move through the second half of my MIT experience, I can’t help but remember the difficult decision I made in 2019. All I can say is, I have yet to fall in love with physics, but I am so happy that I comMITed.

One Comment
  1. Joe Washington permalink
    October 24, 2021 1:07 pm

    Thanks for taking the time to write this and sharing your fears and revelations. It was a gutsy move to go there and kudos to you for making the most of it! Continued curiosity and success to you!

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