How would you spend a year between high school graduation and your first year at MIT? Several members of the Class of 2018 took that gap year opportunity and their adventures ranged from teaching in a Tanzanian village to working in a San Francisco startup on the verge of acquisition.
These gap students will join the students admitted on Pi Day, March 14. Only 7.7 of these applicants were invited to join a talented and diverse class hailing from 50 states, with a quarter identifying as members of underrepresented minority groups and 17 percent as the first generation in their family to attend college.
For her gap year, Clementine “Clemmie” Mitchell from Scotland opted for travel.
“Deciding to take a gap year, after having been accepted to MIT, seemed like the perfect scenario for me,” she says. “While intellectual development is undoubtedly essential for a fulfilled existence, the idea of freedom and exploration has always thrilled me.”
Her first stop was living with a Tanzanian family, teaching English to school children and teachers in an impoverished district, and taking part in village life from communions to cooking. “The family, the school children, and the other characters in the village, with whom I became friends, showed me the essence of happiness,” she says. “It does not stem from things but rather from relationships.”
Her next stop was Australia where she backpacked through rugged terrain and worked at a cattle station, tending animals, mending fences, and caring for an elderly woman. “By living entirely within my means, with no more than my back-pack and an open mind, I was able to understand how little was ‘enough.’”
Then she traveled to the French Alps where she focused on improving her skiing and conversational French, doing odd jobs from nannying to selling lift passes. Next, she is working as part of the crew on a sail boat, crossing the Atlantic from the British Virgin Islands to Gibraltar.
Herng Yi Cheng, during his gap time, completed the two years of mandatory national service required of male Singaporeans. And, while his days were mostly occupied with clerical work, his nights and weekend have been devoted to his passions—origami and mathematics.
“I’ve been folding origami for about a decade,” Cheng says. “As a math enthusiast I’ve been researching the mathematics behind origami techniques for five years and counting.” Besides his own research, he has conducted workshops on origami and math for elementary school students and helped organize a public exhibition with the origami Singapore group. Since his national service concluded in January, he has more time. “I recently returned from a design workshop in Malmö, Sweden, hosted by Tetra Pak®, where nine other artists and designers from various backgrounds and I brainstormed new designs for paper packaging.”
Cheng knows what he wants to study when he arrives on campus. “MIT has a team at the forefront of research in computational origami, including Professor Erik Demaine, one of the leading origami theorists. Besides learning a solid foundation in math and computer science, I hope I can learn more about origami research from the experts at MIT!”
Peter Downs from Philadelphia says he embarked on his gap experience spontaneously. “The May of my senior year of high school I started interviewing for programming jobs based in San Francisco because I was curious to see if I was good enough to be hired into a full-time software engineering role. It was mostly just for kicks but I received a decent offer and ended up flying out there to start work in June.”
Although this first company quickly failed, he soon joined the San Francisco office of Locu, a company founded by MIT alumni and graduate students. When they were acquired in August 2013, he put off MIT one more time to “ride out the acquisition.”
Downs feels he picked up some important skills that will help his planned computer science studies. “I think that I’ve also gotten much better at working with people and even managing projects: last summer I had an intern of my own, who is currently doing her MEng in CS at MIT. I feel like I’ve been well prepared to apply what I will learn at school to a real-world context.”