In our Summer Search Boston office, we have a bell outside of one of the conference rooms. When a student makes a big decision, achieves a milestone, or completes their final check-in before their summer experience, the student announces their accomplishment in front of the entire office, and then rings the bell as a triumphant punctuation.
A few months ago, Boston Latin high school senior Ian Lee rang the bell to announce — in his own quiet, yet confident way — that he had earned a QuestBridge scholarship (a.k.a. a full ride) to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (a.k.a. MIT)!
QuestBridge is a national nonprofit that connects the nation’s most exceptional youth from low-income communities with leading colleges and opportunities. It’s an incredibly prestigious award, as only a handful of students across the nation are accepted each year. It provides a full scholarship, covering the entire cost of tuition plus fees and living expenses.
As Ian works hard on finishing up his final semester of high school, preparing for MIT in the fall, and even submitting a proposal to NASA with his Astronomy Club, he was kind enough to answer a few questions about his journey so far, and his hopes for the future.
Summer Search: How did the QuestBridge scholarship opportunity come about?
Ian Lee: I applied to QuestBridge because my friends encouraged me to apply — Elizabeth and Jahan. They both are very passionate people who did not come from the most ideal situations, but they managed to move up and really do well despite these circumstances. I really take them as my model, and when I applied to school, I asked them for advice. They offered me a lot of help to really express my true self instead of falling into the common pitfall of trying to decorate yourself in a college application.
SS: Why did you want to go to MIT?
Ian: There are a wide array of schools you can choose from, but MIT really caught my eye in the beginning because it’s right near my home in Boston. I’m very close to my family, so I can travel back and forth relatively easily. It’s also a really top-notch institution in terms of technology and science, which is something that I want to pursue in the future.
SS: What are you going to be studying there?
Ian: So that’s very interesting — when you apply to MIT, you’re applying to all the schools there, so you do not have a specific school you’re attached to. I’m thinking of doing something in aerospace engineering or bioengineering. My main track is definitely astrobiology, and genetics perhaps. I’m definitely trying to narrow it down to one path. College is a new door for me.
SS: Were there any lessons learned from your summer trips that you’re carrying over to your life back home/at school?
Ian: I love Summer Search! It started with my sophomore journey, when I went to North Carolina [with North Carolina Outward Bound School – NCOBS] on a backpacking trip. I learned so much from that trip, not just in terms of knotting the knots, building your own camp, backpacking dangers, but also personal growth, grit, and how to keep yourself strong in the face of nature.
Ian rock climbing in the Blue Ridge Mountains on a summer program with NCOBS.
I also met people from places I could never imagine. Being an immigrant is difficult because sometimes you don’t get the cultural references that teenagers today talk about, but the fact that we were all able to become such good friends, despite our differences, that really made it amazing. That really expanded my social circle, but also added to my confidence to begin my next chapter in life in terms of science.
My second trip was to Costa Rica [with Global Leadership Adventures – GLA]. At first, I didn’t really want to do a [second] Summer Search trip because I was involved with a research internship and I thought it would be overload. And I was thinking of doing summer school at Brown [University] because I thought I could be learning something new. But soon I realized: learning doesn’t really come from books. Knowledge from books is key, but really going to a place, volunteering, and helping people that you would [otherwise] never meet in your life and just giving them a hand is very important.
That trip was more influential in that [I learned]: no matter what type of work you do, no matter what you engage in, there is always room, always a chance to help people, and always a chance to extend your work to the public. Science can be applied day-to-day to help people, in remote villages in rural China, or maybe in the Caribbean islands to help them build solar panels or find more accessible water sources. I feel like [my trip] taught me that no matter what type of knowledge I acquire, whether theoretical or very abstract it can all be boiled down to something very practical that I can use to help influence the world.
I also had my first bowl of rice and beans! I never imagined having them in my household, which is a traditional Chinese household. It was bizarre at first, but you slowly start to appreciate what you thought was strange in others’ cultures, and then realize there’s a lot of commonplace between us, despite skin colors, despite backgrounds. I thought it was amazing that Summer Search is able to help students to explore those common points, which is so hard nowadays, because we are all debating about our differences. We’re basically the same tree but we branch out in different directions.
Ian in Costa Rica, taking a break from helping as an animal surgeon on his service experience with GLA.
SS: What are you looking forward to after college?
Ian: One of the first goals that I want to accomplish when I graduate is to get a first house for my family. We immigrated to the United States five years ago. It was not easy for my parents and they sacrificed a lot of things like many immigrants do. Buying a house would really assemble that American identity.
The second thing is securing a job and actually doing something that I love and feel passionate about, instead of just for money. I remember writing on my application, talking about how it’s so easy nowadays to just go for money. But I would like to become a man of principle, regardless of what obstacles are imposed or what monetary incentives there might be. So, really sticking with what I love. I’m just me, doing my part.