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 Scholar Check-In: Julie Kwong Goes to Princeton

Julie Kwong (photo by Rob Crue)

Over the course of the next year, two of our Scholars–Julie Kwong and Mauricio Novoa–have agreed to deliver bi-weekly check-ins for posting here on the blog. Today we publish the first of these, by Princeton freshman Julie Kwong. In this post she discusses her transition to college life.

Within the past three weeks, I completed all of the necessary assignments for Princeton, including the Freshmen seminar application essay and language placement test. I am satisfied with the results of the placement test, as I am placed in Spanish 105; by the end of this year, I will have completed the language requirement and have the ability to sign up for different classes for the next school year. In addition, I applied for a Federal Work Study job on campus and even spoke to the coordinator of the job I applied for.
           Since I need to complete about 290 hours (assuming a pay rate of $10 per hour) to satisfy the allotted $2900 for federal work study, I may have to work around 9 hours a week. I am a little bit worried, though, because I am sure I will have a lot of time-consuming work for my classes as well and would like to participate in a couple extracurricular activities. I am excited nonetheless for the job opportunity!
            I have been spending a lot of my time navigating the university website and learning more about college life and academics, and I’ve been an active questioner in the class Facebook group. Also, I have been packing for both a camping trip and for college living and, quite honestly, I had no idea I would need to bring so many things! This week has definitely been bittersweet; I gathered with family and friends to celebrate my departure on Saturday. I am really looking forward to starting this journey, but I will also miss seeing the people I love everyday.

Isel Otero-Vera: The Profugo Blog

Isabel in India

CDI is excited to report that class of 2008 Scholar Isel Otero Vera, a 2012 graduate of Bryn Mawr, is spending the next year in Kerala, India as part of an exchange program with Profugo, an international nonprofit focused on helping developing nations. As part of her duties, she’s managing three projects: a women’s tailoring cooperative, an agricultural project, and an aquaponics project. Sound exciting? It sure does. But don’t take my word for it. Here’s Isabel herself describing her work on the tailoring project:

“I’m collaborating with a group of women to develop a business cooperative for local and international markets.  The project also includes business and English classes. The women are teaching me how to speak Malayalam (the local language). After much giggling (my accent in Malayalam is very funny), I’ve already mastered the colors, articles of clothing, and some other tailoring-related words. I have also learned the Malayalam names of some fruits and vegetables for the agricultural project. We are building a community kitchen garden with area children. We have also visited a couple of local agencies involved in organic farming and they seem very happy to collaborate with us as we try to incorporate some of their techniques in our community.”

You can find out more about Isabel’s adventures in India on her blog,  Isel Otero Vera–The Profugo Blog. But we’ll also post excerpts from her blog periodically right here.

Available Scholarships

With a special nod to Scholar Ha Young Kim (who assembled this list) and counselor Rachel Jones, here is a list of upcoming scholarships that are available to students. Please review and check the website links to see if you are eligible.

United Negro College Fund– For college students: Freshman, sophomores, juniors & seniors


(Online application open August 2012, various deadlines)

Microsoft Scholarship Opportunity for Computer Engineering Students– For college students


(2013-2014 information will be available Fall 2012)

Society for Science & the Public– Science research competition for high school seniors


(Online application open late 2012)

Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund– For high school seniors


(Deadline: Jan 2013, but the online application opens in 2012)

National Association of Negro Business and Professional Scholarship– For high school seniors and college students


(Deadline: Every March 1st)

Kohl’s Cares Scholarship Program– For high school seniors


(Deadline: March 15, 2013)

US Pan Asian American Chamber of Commerce Education Foundation– For high school seniors


(Deadline: March 2013)

The Jackie Robinson Foundation– For high school seniors


(Deadline: March 2013)

*Applicants must be minority high school seniors with demonstrated financial need and academic achievement and who have already been accepted to a four-year college or university.

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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Founding Executive Director Moving on to New Opportunity

Theresa O. Atta

Theresa O. Atta

After seven years at Collegiate Directions, Inc. (CDI), Vice President Theresa O. Atta is leaving her post, effective August 17, to pursue a doctorate in Clinical Psychology at The George Washington University. Following an exhaustive search to find her successor, CDI has hired Dr. Rachel Mazyck of Baltimore City Public Schools as Executive Vice President, fully effective September 17. A former Rhodes Scholar with a strong track record working with low-income students, Rachel will build upon the tremendous results Theresa achieved during her tenure at CDI.

As the founding Executive Director, Theresa was instrumental in growing CDI into a leader in the field of college counseling for low-income, first-generation-to-college students in Montgomery County. In its first year, CDI served ten students at two high schools. Today, due in large measure to Theresa’s tireless efforts on behalf of Scholars, CDI serves 137 students from six county high schools.

Founded in October 2005 by Nina Marks—an educator with over 30 years experience as a teacher, college counselor, and school administrator—and her husband, Jonathan Marks, a leading corporate and commercial mediator and arbitrator, CDI recognized early that high-achieving children from low-income, first-generation-to college backgrounds are further disadvantaged by not growing up in a college-going culture. Working together to close the educational and opportunity gap, Nina and Theresa built the framework for the program and established the initial key relationships with Montgomery County Public Schools, community supporters, and admissions offices at selective four-year colleges and universities.

Under Theresa’s stewardship, and with the help of CDI’s trained, professional corps of college counselors, 98% of CDI Scholars graduate from selective four-year colleges within six years—and most do it in four—because CDI stays with Scholars from the time they enter the program as rising seniors in high school until they graduate from college. By comparison, only 11% of their peers nationally graduate with a bachelor’s degree, according to a 2008 Pell study. It’s this concentration on to and through college that differentiates CDI.

“CDI was a groundbreaking organization,” Theresa says. “From the very beginning we were focused on college readiness and retention—and we’ve been helping students not only get into selective schools but through them successfully and consistently ever since. I’m proud of our results.”

Although Theresa’s presence will be missed at CDI, Rachel’s transition to Executive Vice President provides leadership stability. After receiving her D.Phil in Education from Oxford University in 2009, she served as a Junior Dean at Harris Manchester College in England before accepting her current position in the Baltimore City Public School system where, among other duties, she supports the strategic planning for principal and teacher professional development across the 204 schools and programs in that district. Rachel also received a Master’s in Education from Harvard (2005), and her B.A. from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (2002), where she was a Morehead Scholar.

“During her time at CDI,” Rachel says of her predecessor, “Theresa has helped establish a strong culture in which Scholars know they will be cared for, challenged, and supported from start to finish on their college journeys. I look forward to continuing this work with the CDI team, its wonderful Scholars, and its committed partners.”

Class of 2012: College Matriculation List

Congratulations to all of our Class of 2012 Scholars! If you click on those Scholars whose names are hyperlinked you’ll be transported to CDI’s YouTube page to watch footage of them at their recent graduation ceremonies.

Paula Castro & Program Director Ana Hilton at Springbrook HS’s graduation ceremony

Isabel Argoti (Albert Einstein HS) – University of Virginia

Paula Castro (Springbrook HS) – Canisius College

Victoria Charles (Albert Einstein HS) – University of Richmond

Rundell Douglas (John F. Kennedy HS) – Boston College

Kidest Fikremariam (Albert Einstein HS) – Columbia University

Abenezer Frezghi (Wheaton HS) – Marymount University

Azita Halary (Walter Johnson HS) – University of Maryland College Park

Ahreum Han (Walter Johnson HS) – University of Maryland College Park

Woong Hong (Walter Johnson HS)  – University of Maryland College Park

Dagmawi Jiru (Wheaton HS) – McDaniel College

Julie Kwong (John F. Kennedy HS) – Princeton University

Cataysha Lee (John F. Kennedy HS) – North Carolina A&T University

Yueni Li (Albert Einstein HS) – University of Maryland College Park

Veronica Moreno (Wheaton HS) – Catholic University

Ursula N’Guessan-Gbe (Springbrook HS) – University of Virginia

Van Nguyen (Albert Einstein HS) – University of Maryland College Park

Jasmine Nunez (John F. Kennedy HS) – McDaniel College

Arlo Perez (Walter Johnson HS) – Boston College

Naysia Phifer (Walter Johnson HS) – Trinity University

Bhagawati Phuyel (Springbrook HS) – Frostburg State University

Yosmary Rodriquez (John F. Kennedy High School) – University of Richmond

Ashmina Shilpakar (Wheaton HS) – University of Richmond

Miklos Szebeni (Walter Johnson HS) – Princeton University

Lionel Tchechuent Pelap (John F. Kennedy HS) – Goucher College

Iris Ucanay (Wheaton HS) – University of Maryland College Park

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

Why Internships Matter: An Interview with Dr. Lee Verstandig

Today, internships are an essential part of a student’s education. In fact, it’s hard to imagine anyone getting through high school and college without ever having an internship. At CDI, thanks to a generous donation from Archstone, we offer Al Neely Scholarships in memory of longtime CDI friend and supporter Al Neely, who believed in their value. The scholarships provide a stipend to students (who need to earn some money for school) to allow them the opportunity to have an internship. Not every organization or company offers such opportunities, but in this brief interview, Dr. Lee L. Verstanding, a former Dean at Brown University, talks about the importance of internships. Whether paid or not, internships do matter. (A shorter version of this interview originally appeared in the Spring 2012 issue of the CDI quarterly newsletter, Milestones.)

Q: From your experiences in education and the private sector, what do you see as the greatest value of an internship?

An internship during one’s college years can be a valuable experience especially to provide a perspective and possible focus on career considerations. Internships can provide insights into new fields of interest. Also they can provide an important distinction on one’s resume for when one enters the job market after college. Given the current state of the economy and job market, a solid academic college record (GPA) is extremely important,  but the prospective employer seeks to know more about an applicant beyond grades. When I was an academic dean at Brown University, I recall each late spring seniors would come in to see me saying, “Well, I’m going to graduate soon. What do I do next?” My standard response was: “All we promised you when you were admitted to Brown was a good liberal arts education.” That is still the dilemma today and will continue to confront future college graduates. Therefore, the question is, what can be done during college years to expand prospective early-career interests and areas and enhance job opportunities after college? An important answer to that question is an Internship.

Likewise in my days as an employer in the Congress, Federal Government, and private sector; I interviewed many candidates for positions who were Phi Beta Kappas from Harvard and other fine colleges, but that’s all that their resume reflected about them. What else had they done during their four years at college? What more could one glean about their other capabilities, potential, motivation? An internship experience can provide many different facets about a person, and interests, ranging from the ability to adjust to a new environment, work ethic and experiences, collegiality, etc.

Q: How should students go about identifying and garnering internships during college?

Today, it is extremely unlikely that an internship will provide remunerations. When I was the Chief of Staff to a U.S. Senator, we paid our interns—that was 25 years ago. Paid Congressional internships do not exist today. However, their value leads us to investigate how one goes about identifying and getting an internship. At colleges today, there are probably no Offices of Internships. However, faculty can be a very useful resource. So too can the identification of local small companies and business, clinics, labs, veterinaries, etc. These are potential resources. Thus, it’s important to get to know some of your professors, your neighbors, and people in your community.

In one case, I recall a student who was approached by his biology professor who indicated that there was an internship available at a local medical research institute and urged him to apply.  While the initial internship consisted largely of cleaning  test tubes and other laboratory materials, he got to meet a number of people in different areas of research and see first hand various aspects of medical science. He was invited back the next year. Subsequently, he decided to major in biology and possibly consider graduate studies, and thus had the resources of those acquaintances. This same opportunity might apply to a student majoring in creative writing or literature looking at opportunities to intern as a writer for a local newspaper, magazine, or newsletter; or someone who loves animals becoming an intern at a local veterinary or animal shelter; or someone studying government or political science and interested in politics and public policy contacting local elected officials (mayor, city and county officials, legislators) about an internship experience.

Q: How can students turn the internship experience into post-college jobs?

Clearly, the opportunity to reach out and identify people with whom you are associated at college—e.g. professors, local community businesses, clinics, labs, etc.—should afford opportunities to inquire about the willingness to gain work experience beyond the classroom, develop new and different relationships, and experience different challenges that may in turn lead to new academic and professional interests. At the same time, the student is developing a resume beyond simply the courses taken, an academic major, and solid GPA. The internship work experiences provide additional insights about the student and his/her capabilities as well as a reference for use in seeking future employment beyond college. The internship experience tells a future employer  something more about that applicant and potential. An internship can become an amplifier about oneself, which might open new horizons, areas of interest, and opportunities.

Dr. Verstandig has a Ph.D. in History from Brown University where he served as Associate Dean of The College for 7 years; he subsequently served as Chief of Staff to a US Senator; 7 years in several high level positions in the Reagan Administration including Assistant to the President; and held the position of Senior Vice President for several major trade associations. He currently serves on the CDI Board of Trustees.

CDI at the Cherry Blossom Festival

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