“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” -- Margaret Mead

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Interim Report

Hello, peeps! Consider this my "I haven't had a chance to update my blog and wanted to post something to keep it interesting" post.

Our group, 305 Rise, has met for the first time and we're scouting schools and administrators who will help us with our project. The "main idea" (which is subject to change) is this: enable a group of high school students, through leadership training and mentoring, with the goal of creating a "club" that will focus on going through a mock college application process (including a financial aid application, getting letters of recommendation, testing assessments, personal essays). This "club" will garner support from local organizations, e.g, Strive for Sucess, school administrators and parents. The ultimate goal is to help at least 60 students feel prepared to enter college because they would already know the process.

That being said, we have a lot of work to do. It is my hope that by focusing on one school, we can take this "big idea" and make it feasible while also making a difference. With the tools we learned at the LLI, and the continued support of our mentor, Natalie, along with faculty at Harvard's Center for Public Leadership and Miami Dade College, si se puede.

I was also recently interviewed by Walter Villa, a freelance writer for the College Forum and ESPN, on the post-LLI experience. The College Forum, por si te interesa, is a newsletter by MDC connecting the stories of students, faculty, staff and alumni. That article is due out in September and I'll post it once it's available.

In the "interim," I'll leave you with some of the media coverage of the Harvard LLI:

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Saturday, June 25th - Day 1

Weeks of anticipation, preparation, packing and even almost missing my flight -- I set my alarm on p.m. instead of a.m. -- finally felt real once I (along with my dream team) got picked up by our mentor Natalie and hopped on the Boston subway system. This was totally new to me, a chica from Miami, where we ride Metro Movers on an overhead railing system. We later found out that subways found a neat trick for advertising: movable pictures along the walls of the subway that resemble a flip cartoon -- ok fine, I'll just show you what I mean:

From art students at Eastmont High School "flip-off" contest
So, the million dollar question - what do we expect out of LLI? - asks Natalie. Being the first day, I had no clue! I waited my turn as I tried to think of something witty or charming to say. I figured I'd let my teammates go first and see what sort of cool things they'd come up with -- and they did: public speaking, being assertive while maintaning approachability, time management, balancing multiple obligations while learning to delegate responsibilities, goal setting skills. Then, in comes Jessica, blurting out whatever I've always heard I sucked at. I wanted learn how to listen. (My long term boyfriend would get a kick out of that -- "Jessica, listen? No way.") Oh, yeah, and "what she said" about setting specific, manageable goals sounds good too.

We awkwardly dealt with our luggage in and out of the bus, in and out of the subway and finally onto Cambridge Harvard Square cobblestone (FYI ladies - cobblestone sucks for heels).

Harvard Square
Well, at least we got a workout. By the time we walked to the Shaw Dormitory Hall, we were sweating bullets. My suitcase and carry-ons felt 100 lbs. heavier than before and worse still, I needed a serious shower (recall, I woke up late on "flight day" so after the "where are you?" phone call and the "oh *!@#, what time is it?" reaction, I splashed water on my face and bolted). At this point, we were all desperate to rest. Little did we know that we wouldn't rest for a week.

We got our dorm room keys, bed sheets and towels from our mentor and were introduced to what would be our homes for the week. I quickly threw my crap on the thing-I-was-supposed-to sleep-on a/k/a mattress. I don't even want to think where the "manchas" came from. We were getting the full dorm experience, shared showers, funky smells and all. Still, my "neighbors" were my teammates and I was happy to have a place to stay.

Not long after settling in half-assed, we were gearing up for a group dinner at Fire & Ice Restaurant - a hibachi buffet (translation: totally new concept to me) in Harvard Square. Of course, the visit wasn't complete without a glamour shot in front of the Fire & Ice sign:

LLI Miami Cohort from left: Luis, Laura, Vanessa, Madonna, er, I mean, me
The concept was simple: choose your ingredients (pasta, meat, veggies, whatever) then give your bowl of raw goodness to one of the hibachi "chefs" to cook your selected dish in the sauce you want. The hard part was knowing what the hell I wanted and where the line started. Whatever happened to menus and ingredient lists? I'm not that bad in the kitchen, but even I follow recipes! Add to that chaos on a Saturday evening about 50 other confused nonresident souls. Seriously, we just needed a disco ball and a DJ to make it a party. 

All right, all right, I'll get to the point. The surprise guest that evening was Farouk Shami, a Palestinian-American entrepreneur-past gubernatorial candidate-hairdresser-inventor, um, billionaire. Farouk invented the first ammonia free hair dye after finding out that he was allergic and would have to give up being a hairdresser. Farouk admitted that, to his family, a hairdresser career was not what they had in mind for their son. But he's done mighty well for himself: he's the man behind SunGlitz (the spray that lightens your hair in the sun, yeah, I would know, I used loads of the stuff when I was 16), BioSilk, and the excellent CHI hair styling products. Farouk was generous enough to give all the LLI students a gift of the CHI Shampoo/Conditioner/Leave-in. Yes, he even gave it to the guys. What's real interesting (yep, I knew that'd get your attention) is Farouk partnered with NASA for his CHI hair iron, using nanomaterial ceramic technology developed by NASA. And, let me tell you, the guy's a hoot to be around. More on the story behind the man in Sunday's post. 

Laura, Farouk Shami (making his "CHI" face) and yours truly at Fire & Ice
After dinner, we rendezvoused back to the dorms, ooh-ing and aah-ing at the Harvard Square "feel" at night. The evening felt lively, full of promise and excitement. But we were exhausted. Like, really, really exhausted. 

But, guess what? That wasn't all. You're enjoying my blog wayyy too much to stop reading, aren't you? The absolute coolest thing happened: Natalie gave Vanessa her first lesson in riding a bike. Don't ask me how the conversation between the two got started, all I know is that we picked up Nat's bike on the way to the dorms and a minute later Vanessa was attempting to get on it while Nat held the back seat and steered the handlebar. I'm serious! I've got proof:

Vanessa's first bike riding lesson
OK, so it was a little awkward for Vanessa, but don't you remember the first time you were learning to ride a bike? You felt you were absolutely going to just die if you fell. The "I'm never going to do this right" feeling. Oh, yeah, then you actually fall and sure as hell don't want to get back on the damn thing. At least, not right away. Well, we were witnessing all of this in the making (and, no, she didn't fall) and couldn't have been more impressed with Natalie's patience and Vanessa's commitment. It's the second most memorable thing to my mind that occurred in our group (the first one to be discussed in Sunday's post -- in detail).

So the very last thing before we called it a night into dream oblivion was the first "debrief" in Natalie's room. For you non-LLI folk (that's not a diss!), debriefing is basically where we discuss our "takeaways" (what we learned). We would do many more of these throughout the week. When you have tons of information shoved down your throat, the debriefing helped to process some of it. Especially in a group setting - let me tell you somesin' (wanna Cuban accent): I used to hate group work, but we learned that we all have different talents and thus different resources to bring to the table. The first debrief was a sign of all that. 

Upon reflection, the first night at LLI was by far the easiest to get through (i.e., no class).