Undergraduate Admissions

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Volunteering at JPL

"So what do you normally do for weekends?" she asked as she drove us back home to Caltech.

What do we do for weekends?"Sleep. Homework… although that mainly happens on Sunday," I admit sheepishly. "We go out for food. Chill." It sounds boring, maybe.

She’s a JPL-er, JPL being the Jet Propulsion Lab. Her hair is cropped and crisp white. Her eyes are the bright image of clarity and experience. She drives stick with confidence on the 110 in the midst of Saturday morning L.A. traffic. She chats with us like that, too, hardcore and with suchconfidence.

The people here. I’ll never get over the people here. I have no idea if it’s a California thing or a SoCal thing or just Caltech. They’re so sweet. JPL is so legit and prestigious and one of those things that draw Caltech applicants, but on the inside, the people are so humble and gentle andfriendly. Sometimes, we call professors by their first names. Well, maybe not the ones from New England. (;

This conversation was from the first time I volunteered at JPL for the Regional Science Bowl. Last weekend, I got to help out again for Ocean Science Bowl. The place is stocked with security–except the deer and raccoons can somehow still get in without state-issued IDs–and we had to be escorted everywhere. The place is gorgeous. It’s right at the base of a mountain, which is where the wildlife comes from. It really does feel like a campus. Today it was pretty quiet, but the scientific brains and energy were still evident in the forgotten equations on whiteboards and the spacecraft models in the hallways.

Witnessing and helping out with today’s science bowl regional competition was just as refreshing. High schoolers racing each other to answer questions of many things STEM, ranging from cellular biology to maths to geology. I was amazed at how they could just hear the question, buzz, and answer much less than five seconds after the question was asked. To my surprise, itwaskind of fun, and I’m not someone who likes to think fast under pressure.

Probably because I said I was from Caltech, the JPL-ers essentially treated me as one of them. I attribute it to the honor code–that’s what we’re known for, and that’s just how we do, yo. When I was applying, it sounded idealistic, but it’s just so amazing that it actually exists and just happens.

And when she offered to take me home, it was just so sweet. Yeah, Caltech’s campus literally includes some houses, like our Undergraduate Admissions office and Music House, but on top of looking the part, our neighbors treat us like neighbors, too. It’s just too sweet.

tl;dr – Being at Caltech means a weekend spent at the JPL can be a semi-termly thing.

Jenny Sheng