Of course, our alternative spring break trip would not have been complete without our service project. Our volunteer project was at Hogar Crea Damas, a rehabilitation program for women in Costa Rica. The program works with people coming from domestic violence situations, drug additions, and a variety of other histories, and attempts to help them reshape their lives. Hogar Crea has homes around Costa Rica. We worked at the one in Tres Rios, a small mountain town half an hour from San Jose.
We worked on a few different projects, including fixing the bathroom (when we came, only one of the toilets was working, the showers were leaking, and the drain had a hole in it), painting (the outside of the building and the two bathrooms), fixing some doors, and dismantling a shed (to recycle the metal to build a walkway from the outdoor laundry room to the house).
Fixing a door!
Painting window frames!
Painting the bathroom! By the end of the day, I had stopped trying not to get covered in blue, white, and yellow paint :)
I forgot to take “before” pictures… but by the time we left at the end of our week volunteering, the difference in the bathrooms was readily apparent. At the beginning of the week, I was disgusted walking into the lower bathroom, but by the time we left, it felt cozy and inviting. Though painting is something locals could have done as well, I am glad that we were able to make a small, visible (and very colorful!) contribution to the women at Tres Rios :)
The upstairs bathroom team – we covered the window to take the picture, but the bathroom looks great now! Our motivational quote, “iadelante mujer,” is meant to inspire the residents of Hogar Crea Damas to move forward.
Team downstairs bathroom! When we came, the bathroom was entirely dark blue, and the paint had peeled off in many places. We made the bathroom half white and half blue, and added yellow accents.
We added bathroom windows, recycling the plastic from the (nonfunctional) doors of the old showers. The women wanted privacy but airflow, so we designed the upper window to provide both!
Like many students at Caltech, I suffer from a slight boba addiction, where side effects may include over caffeination, minor sugar highs, and of course, a large toll on one’s wallet. This addiction is not helped by the fact that there are at least three boba shops within walking distance of campus. So, after an entire term’s worth of boba runs, I came back from winter break with a new year’s epiphany: it was time to get a job. Rather than try to curb my addiction, I decided to find a way to subsidize it.
Research at Caltech looks different for every student, and can often vary term by term. As a chemistry major, my course requirements are on the lighter side for a Caltech major, and many chemistry majors take advantage of the lighter course load to join research groups. This can be whenever the student wants, but many people join labs during their freshman or sophomore years. Some may work in one lab only, and some may switch between labs during the course of their undergraduate studies, depending on if their interests change.
SURF, short for Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship, is a quintessential experience for any Caltech student. It is a widely accessible research fellowship for Caltech students that funds your proposed research for one summer term. While many of my classmates did their first SURF the summer after their freshman year, I sent in my first application to the program as a sophomore. As a CS major, I was trying to chase meaningful work that intersected computation with the field of neuroscience. I ended up doing a SURF at the Stanford School of Medicine that first year, studying hand gestures in children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Since then, I’ve been working in the research space of applying computational analyses to ASD.
This summer, from the confines of my Brooklyn apartment, you could find me typing away on a tiny 13-inch laptop screen. At times I was looking for answers on countless Stack Exchange pages, editing a Jupyter notebook, or making blood flow measurements on a software called Arterys. This was my 2021 Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURF) experience.