Category Archives: CDI Scholars

Scholar Check-in: Julie Kwong

Princeton University, Freshman

After the week long fall break, I came back to Princeton and the ball started rolling again. I continued to work on the essay I started before break and started some research in the university archive library for a paper about after-the-fact opposition to coeducation at Princeton in the early 1970s. It is so amazing that we have access to the university’s primary artifacts from its history!

This week has been relatively manageable in terms of school work; however, the spring course offerings are now released! While this is very exciting, it is difficult to choose courses that will create a reasonable schedule and the question always seems to be whether or not I am choosing the right classes and really taking advantage of the “exploration” process. Currently, though, I am considering taking an introductory Computer Science course, Psychology, and American Studies. Luckily, before anything becomes official, I have a meeting scheduled with my academic adviser next week to discuss my schedule and plans.

On another note, it snowed on campus last week! There was a good 3-4 inches, enough for people to have snowball fights, make snow angels, and even create life-size snowmen! The campus looked beautiful; it was definitely an exciting time for everyone as it was the first snow of the year!

I have gradually gotten closer to the members in my CSA family and have even begun to talk to my classmates outside of class. I agree this is a slow process, but I am happy my friend circle is expanding. Additionally, I applied to become a tutor at a community tutoring company. The manager verified that I was qualified to be a member of their team, so as of now, I am waiting for them to process my paperwork and match me with a client. I can’t wait! Again, I feel so grateful to be going to this school; yesterday, I went to see “The Lion King” on Broadway, which turned out to be a spectacular show as we got superb seats near the stage! There is such a great balance between academic and social life. We have a lot of work to do, but we have many opportunities to relax as well. This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for my family, friends, teachers, CDI counselors, and the Princeton community for allowing me the chance to learn at such a fantastic institution in all respects.

Scholar Check-in: Julie Kwong

Julie and her friends at Princeton.

Princeton University, freshman

Since my last weekly check-in, I have been preparing myself for the mid-terms which took place on October 26. I had mid-terms in both Spanish and Introduction to Architectural Thinking on that day. While I should have started studying for it earlier, I dedicated an adequate amount of time for each class 2-3 nights before to prepare study guides for myself leading up to the exam. Luckily, my Introduction to Architectural Thinking exam was open note, and on the day of the exam, I felt confident because I had prepared a comprehensive guide to all of the concepts we had learned in that class. After taking those exams, I realized that every assignment and every discussion in class is related to the ultimate exam. The practice we get in homework and classwork assignments as well as the topics and pictures displayed in the readings all will help with the exam. I will definitely keep this in mind over the next four years. After the exams, we had a fall break for a week from Oct 26 through Nov 4. Hurricane Sandy had a huge impact on the Princeton community. I heard that a lot of surrounding neighborhoods lost power for many days as well as experienced severe damage due to the storm. The Princeton campus lost several trees and closed its campus for a few days. I am glad I was home with my family during this big storm and have enjoyed a great week with friends. I will be coming back home for Thanksgiving Break! The school will be providing a bus at a low cost to take us back home for the short, but important break. I have really grown attached to my Princeton home, though, and can’t wait to return!

In general, I have made two really close friends on campus and am very grateful to have them. I met one of them on my camping trip and the other lives in the same building. Honestly, I can’t say if I would be enjoying campus life the same without them because we practically do everything together (eat meals, go to events, retrieve free food, explore the surrounding neighborhood, and even study!). While I haven’t made a lot of friends on campus, I am happy to have these close friends by my side. Also, I really like my roommates. We all get along and have had no problems with each other in terms of violation of our Roommate Agreement. I am really grateful to have these people with me while I am so far away from home.

Scholar Check-in: Mauricio Novoa

Mauricio Novoa

Mauricio Novoa

Gettysburg College, junior

The last two weeks haven’t been as eventful as the beginning, but of course a break from college craziness is always good. Classes are the same, with still more reading that I care for but no tests or anything (the benefits of being an English major). The real fun was when the hurricane arrived and we all prepared for the apocalypse. During lunchtime the Saturday it came, everyone went to the dining center and took as much food as they could to make sure no one had to come out mid-storm to eat. Although we weren’t hit as hard as other places (condolences out to those who were badly hit and their families), one of the transformers across the street caught fire and set the trees around it on fire as well, which consequently took out our power. We spent the night in the dark house, but the next day we were told that because there were no generators connected to life safety devices, our house (along with 2 other fraternity houses) had to be moved to the Gettysburg Hotel until the power came back. It was probably the greatest room I have ever slept in in my life. I did not mind having to spend multiple nights away from my own bed, as we were told we would be. But then, the power was fixed that night. The most heartbreaking moment in my life was looking at the super comfy bed, the clean bathroom and towels I didn’t have to clean myself, and luxury I could very well never see again, and leaving them all behind. Excuse me while I go cry in a corner now…

Mauricio Novoa: Check-in

Gettysburg College, junior


The last few weeks have been filled with many exciting things. I’m still working hard at my schoolwork and volunteer things, but at times I lose focus on my schoolwork from putting in so much time with the volunteering. I guess after 2+ years I still have trouble with my time management skills, but I’m working on it.

Recently, my fraternity held a big philanthropy event on campus for the LIU Migrant Education Program that I volunteer for. We titled the event Rocky SevSN. The event was a night of inflatables, which included inflatable boxing, sumo wrestling, 3D twister, and human foosball.  We ended up raising $400 in donations, and we are going to donate $500. It was a great success and possibly will become a new, annual philanthropy event for our fraternity. As philanthropy chair for our fraternity, I felt really good at the end of the event.

There was also a showcase of photos of migrant workers here in the Adams County community. The event was led by a prominent member of the LIU Migrant Ed program who was once a migrant worker himself. It was great to see how beautifully a usually ignored community is portrayed, and how many people came out to indulge in the art as well.

That’s all I have for this check-in, but I’ll keep everyone posted on any other exciting things that come up!

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Scholar Check-in: Julie Kwong

Julie Kwong (photo by Rob Crue)

Princeton University, freshman

These past two weeks have been filled with times of joy and fear. Fear, you may be asking. Well, I enrolled myself into four courses in the beginning of the semester, which included a writing seminar, Spanish, Math, and a class of 19th century poetry. I had switched myself out of the recommended calculus class into a much more proof-based math course that all math majors are required to take. Because I was already a day behind and the content of the course was time-consuming to understand, I suddenly felt overwhelmed. I sat in the lectures in confusion, desperately trying to compare the instructor’s writing with the textbook. I would find myself rushing to my dorm to study and attempt to at least comprehend the basics of the concept. This I did for a few days until I finally convinced myself that, one, I cannot major in Math, and two, that I should drop the course now before it is too late.

Unfortunately, I am slightly a step behind the others in my new classes, but I am so glad I made the move early! The first semester of freshman year should be a time of exploration, not a time to immerse yourself in classes that you don’t find interesting and that are, to be honest, well above your head and overwhelming. I do not mind being overwhelmed by the amount of work in a class; in fact, if it is a fascinating topic I don’t mind stressing over reading hundreds of pages. There’s a lot to do, but at least I enjoy it and can follow the class and the assignments. On the bright side, my new classes are fantastic! I dropped the math course and the 19th century course (I realized that I was not very fond of this subject as well) and switched into a Freshman Seminar on Coeducation and an Introduction to Architectural Thinking. The professors in both these classes are great, and while there is a lot of reading and writing in all, I am learning a lot of fascinating information. So far, I have completed my first college essay (currently a draft, but very close to a final), and have found that compared to high school, homework and readings are heavily referred to in class.

Since I enrolled in the Freshman Seminar a week into the course, I was expected to read 200 pages of a book as well as a couple of articles in one day. I pushed through and I’m glad I did, because the entire class was a student-led discussion on the book. College is definitely different than high school. I attended a session on time management and the instructor said something that will always stick with me: “Work early and play later. There is more free time than you think.” Saving Facebook, Internet surfing, and e-mail for the end of the day allows me to take advantage of the daylight hours for homework and studying. If I carefully plan my day and take advantage of my time, really, the work is not as stressful. And, there’s a lot of time to have fun too.

In terms of extracurricular activities, I auditioned for two acapella groups just for the experience. Surprisingly, I got called back to one of the groups! While I didn’t end up making the cut, I am very glad I took the opportunity to try something new. In addition, my hallmate and I have grown close and we have been eating meals together as well as playing badminton to work out! It is definitely important to have some physical activity at least three times a week and I am so happy that I am making exercise a part of my weekly routine. Lastly, I interviewed for a position on the freshman council of our university’s Chinese Student Association (CSA) and found out yesterday I made it! I am excited to be a part of this group and to feel a part of an organization on campus.

A CDI Scholar in Tibet

by Hayoung Kim (CDI Scholar ’09; McDaniel College ’13)

In the West, it’s commonly believed that Tibet is oppressed by China. While studying abroad in China, I had a chance to visit the Tibetan Autonomous Region (Tibet) to research human rights issues as part of a class I was taking. This opportunity allowed me to see for myself if the stories were true. Before I landed in the world’s highest altitude airport, in the capital city of Lhasa, Tibet was a mystery to me, but I couldn’t hide my excitement. Standing in the thin air, I had a hard time breathing for the first couple of days. Some of my colleagues suffered from altitude sickness.

Standing atop the highest point in Tibet.

In Tibet, I was fascinated by the country’s religious culture and beautiful scenery, which remain unspoiled by humans. The streets of Lhasa were full of ascetic monks and Tibetans walking around with prayer wheels and mala, which are unique Tibetan religious tools used when reciting Buddhist scriptures from the Mahayana Sutras. The way of life was quite different than what I had observed in Beijing. Tibetans dressed differently, wearing their traditional clothing—thick and conservative dress—and ate Yak momo (the Tibetan version of dumpling) and Yak butter tea. They also spoke a different language than the commonly used Mandarin Chinese, Tibetan, and lived in huge houses known as  “common.”  Typically, 25 to 30 households live together in one common, forming an enormous community.

Hayoung in front of a “common.”

During my research, my professor, Dr. Kabir, took us to different villages to engage with local Tibetans. Interestingly, the Tibetans I spoke with seemed satisfied with the Chinese government, which they say was doing as much as it could to ameliorate the living conditions in Tibet, one of the poorest regions in China. At one of the villages that I visited, Drigung Village, people were very nice; they invited us into their homes so that we could charge our cell-phones and cameras, and offered us their traditional yak-butter tea. I didn’t like the bitter taste, which reminded me of salt water that I tasted during science class, but since it was their way of showing respect and hospitality, I had to drink every last drop.  One of the children I met was a very timid but energetic and ambitious boy named Tsering Chodun. His mother informed us that his dream would come true one day because the Chinese government was increasing the education budget for minorities in order to close the gap between Han Chinese and Tibetans.

I was in Tibet for two weeks. What I witnessed during that time may not represent Tibet as a whole—there is of course the possibility that the villagers and Tibetans with whom I spoke were scared of foreign contacts and did not speak openly during the interview—but they were confident and relaxed, and happy. They showed me their Chinese flag and Mao’s portrait, which hung in their house. One of my new Tibetan friends told me: “I feel free as a bird, as long as I do not care about politics.”

View more images from Hayoung’s trip:

At Potala Palace (where the Dali Lama used to live)

Roughing it.

Tibetans praying outside of a temple.

Young girl in traditional dress.

CDI Honors 2012 Graduates at Bon Voyage Party

On August 4th, CDI honored its graduating Scholars at the Bauer Community Center in Rockville, MD. In past years, this event–known as the Bon Voyage party–celebrated our high school Scholars. This year, with our second class of Scholars graduating from college, we revised the format to include all of our graduates. Watch the slideshow!

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The CDI Benefit in Pictures

CDI Scholar Victoria Charles with Benefit co-Chairs Nancy Malkin Carr (Board Chair) and Andrea Weiswasser

On Wednesday, May 2nd CDI hosted its Annual Spring Benefit at the Willard Hotel in Washington, DC (photos below). Donald E. Graham of The Washington Post Company was the featured speaker. At the neighboring W Hotel, an appearance by President Obama (we think) brought traffic to a standstill prior to the Benefit, making it difficult for our guests to get to our event. But we were delighted at the number of people who braved traffic to attend. What they were treated to was a wonderful evening that included speeches by two of our Scholars (Binh Pham, Lafayette College ’13) and Cristina Devia (Tufts University ’12) and  CDI President Nina Marks.

As in every year since our first class, 100% of the Scholars in CDI’s Class of 2012 were accepted into multiple selective colleges and universities. As Nina highlighted in her speech, “Of the 239 applications filed by 25 Scholars, only 32 were denials and 37 were wait lists.” What makes those figures so remarkable is that colleges fielded record numbers of national and international applications at the same time they also slashed admit rates. Put simply, this year was a very difficult  year to get into college. Nevertheless, CDI Scholars fared extremely well.

Following Nina’s speech, featured speaker Donald E. Graham delivered a powerful keynote address highlighting the importance of supporting low-income, first-generation-to-college students. And at the conclusion of the event, auctioneer Steve Weiswasser led a raucous auction in which we raised additional funds to help support CDI.

A special thank you to all of the gracious individuals and organizations who agreed to donate time and services to our auction: Cal Ripken, Jr., Howard Fineman, and Susan Gage Catering. Look for video from the event on our website soon!

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Many, many thanks to all of our Benefit guests and Patrons!

Clark Charitable Foundation, Inc.
Elizabeth & Michael Galvin
Accolade Partners
Sarah and Winthrop Brown
CityBridge Foundation
Nancy and Robert Carr
Mary and Armeane Choksi
Mary Graham
Carol and Eugene Ludwig
Nina and Jonathan Marks
Quadrangle Development Corp.
Tori Winkler Thomas
The Washington Post Company
Toni and Lee Verstandig
Andrea and Stephen Weiswasser
Bank of Georgetown
Carr Properties
Carla Elliott-Neely
Wendy and Fred Goldberg
Mary and Robert Haft
Melanie and Lawrence Nussdorf
Qatar Foundation International
Jean and Thomas Rutherfoord
Sanford and Doris Slavin Foundation

CDI at the Cherry Blossom Festival

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Scholar Portrait: Francisco Barrera

Francisco in front of the classroom.

When he moved to the United States from El Salvador in 2002, CDI Scholar Francisco Barrera (CDI class of 2007) faced a difficult transition. As a native Spanish speaker, he often found himself struggling to understand his teachers at Wheaton High School. In his own words, he felt “intimidated and uncomfortable” whenever he was asked to solve problems on the board. His ESOL classes helped, but outside of the classroom, adjusting to life in his new, faster-paced country tested him. As a result, his grades suffered and he ended his freshman year in disappointing fashion.

At home, however, Francisco had a powerful ally in his mother, Rosa. She had been unable to complete her own schooling back home in El Salvador, but she knew the value of a solid education, and she worked long hours to give Francisco and his siblings every opportunity to study. She told them, “There are many paths you can take in life, but only educating yourself guarantees success.” Though his freshman year results had been discouraging, he took his mother’s words to heart.

With her encouragement, Francisco enrolled in Honors and AP courses during his sophomore year. He expected his grades to drop, but instead found that the more difficult classes actually stimulated him. Determined to succeed, he worked hard and his grades soon began to improve, and he became an Honor Roll student his final three years. At the same time, he participated in clubs like Wheaton Works and the Vietnamese Club, ran cross country and track, and joined the tennis team, where he worked his way to 2nd singles his senior year. Outside of school he volunteered at the Gilchrist Center for Cultural Diversity, serving 360 hours of community service as a mentor and translator for immigrant families.

But what Francisco wanted more than anything was to go to college. Through their excited interest, his science teachers had shown him how to love the subject, and now he wanted to do the same for others. Unfortunately, even with his excellent transcript, he didn’t know how to make that goal a reality. At CDI, Francisco learned how to prepare for the SAT, how to create a college list and apply to colleges, and how to get the most scholarships and financial aid. Thanks to the one-on-one mentoring he received from CDI counselors, Francisco was accepted at six colleges—Randolph Macon, St. Mary’s, University of Vermont, Dickinson, Hood, and Goucher—and was offered $162,000 in financial aid.

“CDI taught me that I had options,” he says. “I got a full ride at Goucher through its Educational Opportunity Program for minority students. Without CDI I would not have known about that program.”

Francisco and his students.

Today, Francisco is one of CDI’s first seven college graduates. With a B.A. in Biology from Goucher College, he is fulfilling his dream, teaching 7th and 8th grade Science at Southwest Academy Magnet School in Baltimore County. Because of the support he received from his mother, he knows how important it is for adults to stress education, and he’s taking that message to the next generation. In the classroom, he challenges his students through hands-on activities that generate interest in the topic, as his teachers had once lit a spark in him. Taking a page out of the CDI playbook, he wants his students to make discoveries by themselves, knowing that in order for them to succeed they need to be fully invested in their own education—building a strong foundation, one brick at a time.

Just like Francisco.

A version of this post originally appeared in CDI’s Winter Newsletter.