Summer Breaks: What are They?


Diego Capcha

A summer pre-college program at Stevens Institute was capped for Jacob Amaro ’19 by a dinner cruise showcasing New York Harbor.

This is the first in a series of articles about members of the SBP community and how they spent their summer.

Summer breaks, for the average teen, entail fun vacations to Disney World, Universal Studios, or even different countries around the world. My summer breaks, on the contrary—and you might say, “poor guy”—have, for several years, entailed listening to my siblings cry, playing judge to settle disputes between them, cooking for them, cleaning up their mess of toys, and, in the midst of that all, trying desperately to study.

This isn’t to say that I hate my summers. No. I absolutely love them. It is the only time of year that I can dedicate myself wholeheartedly to my seven—yes, seven—siblings, and the only time of year that I can partake in their development.

This summer, for instance, I took up the daunting task of teaching my three-year-old brother, Matthew, to use the toilet. And because Matthew is a slow learner, I thought that I would be far from successful. Much to my surprise, however, he learned in a matter of weeks, and the experience as a whole was worth far more than any trouble I went through. I love being there for him (or for others); nothing fulfills me more. The smile on his face when he finally used the toilet on his own was priceless. As little as it may sound, it resonated with me the entire summer.

But this was not to be the only highlight of my Summer. Last year, during Winter Term, Stevens Institute of Technology reached out and encouraged students to apply to their pre-college programs. Normally, these programs would cost around $2,000 to even $3,000 dollars, but, as part of a program that the institution calls “ACES”— Accessing Careers In Engineering and Science, and is geared toward “underserved and underrepresented minorities,” as their website states—they would be granting 4 students from our school full scholarships to the programs of their choice. It was a great opportunity, but I must admit, I was reluctant at first because I didn’t think I would be among students selected for a full scholarship. But, with encouragement from Dr. Lansang, SBP’s Chemistry teacher,  who reached out to all eligible students, I applied and got into the program of my choice, Pre-Med/Biology, on a full scholarship. (The cost would have been $2,400.) I was joined by other SBP students including Jules Gouton ‘19 (Civil Engineering and Architecture), Juan Perez ‘19 (Cyber Security), and Tyler Antoine ‘19 (Pre-Med Bio)

My Experience – Arriving At Stevens Institute of Technology – Hoboken, New Jersey
The day that it was finally time to leave for Stevens, I was nervous. Never before had I spent more than a couple of hours at a college campus; and never before had I been put in a situation where I would be forced to be social. Nonetheless, I picked up my things and got into my Uber (my parents were on a retreat). When I arrived, I signed in and picked up my dorm key. I met with Mrs. Thompson-Mettle, the “ACES” coordinator, who was very helpful in orienting me. I then headed out to my dorm to unpack and settle down. My roommate, Diego, had already arrived. Luckily, it was easy to talk to him from the start. We talked about our backgrounds and interests, and I helped him set-up the WiFi on his devices.


A view of Lady Liberty at night from a cruise for students attending a Stevens Institute summer program

After meeting him, the time came for the orientation, held in one of several buildings. There, the administrators reminded us of the rules and then treated us to delicious pizza from down the street on Washington Street (Hoboken, New Jersey)—it was delicious! After that, we did some ice-breaker activities, where I got to know all of the people in my Pre-Med/Bio Program.

The Week – July 22-28, 2018
My schedule for the week was quite simple. At 8 a.m. there was an optional breakfast at one of the dining halls. Breakfast was buffet style; several things were laid out for students to grab as they pleased: fruit, bread, yogurt, eggs, bacon, ham, pancakes, tater tots, cereals, juices, and milk.
After an hour at breakfast, we had class from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.. In class throughout the week, we worked on three different lab projects: one on antibiotics, another on protein separation, and the last on enzyme kinetics. The goal, at the end of the week, was to choose one of those three projects and present it to the class. We had several hours in the middle of the day for free time and lunch. Lunch was also buffet style; they offered a variety of delicious meals. During my free time, I would either hang out with friends or swim laps at the pool. After lunch, we resumed class time. After classes, from 4 to 6 p.m.,  was my favorite time of the day. During these two hours, as part of a tradition called “Dinner In Hoboken,” we were allowed to leave campus and eat dinner from a selection of quality restaurants on Washington Street, using a balance of 55 Duckbills ($55) which the program managers had provided via our ID. By the end of the week, I had gone to Qdoba, Panera, Benny Tudino’s Pizzeria, Giovanni’s Pizza, a Chinese Fine Cuisine Restaurant, and, my favorite of all, a pancake house named “Stacks.” One would think that I had to go out-of-pocket to pay for meals after eating at so many restaurants but, by the end of the week, I actually had about 4 Duckbills left-over to use at the Bookstore! After dinner, we had several discussions with Stevens students. We learned a lot about why they had chosen Stevens, what, in their opinion, made the place special, why they chose majors in biology and chemistry, and so much more. After, and running to about 11 p.m., we were free to participate in campus social activities—movie nights, lawn games, board games—or, if we wanted, we were also free to simply stay in our dorms. At curfew, 11 p.m., we were to be in our rooms.

Excursions (Highlights of the Program)
There were two days when we did not follow the schedule. We partook in an excursion to the Liberty Science Center and a cruise-ride on the Hudson River.

The excursion to the Liberty Science Center was, in one word, amazing. We watched a live kidney transplant carried out by a surgeon with over twenty years of experience (3,500 transplants). But, wait, there’s more! We also got to ask him questions!
With regard to details of the kidney transplant, a woman was donating her kidney to her sister. The receiver (of the kidney) had fallen ill after living an unhealthy lifestyle for several years. Her kidneys had begun to fail. Luckily, her sister was compatible; so she was able to receive a transplant promptly.

Brought to our attention by the surgeon, most importantly, was the fact that transplant opportunities are becoming so scarce. More and more, people are dying on the waitlist for transplants. Part of it has to do with the difficulty surrounding compatibility; the other part has to do with many people not knowing or being too scared to donate their organs.
At this time, I would like to invite you, reader, to think about organ donations, and if that is a path you’d ever be willing to take.

The Dinner Cruise, which was highly anticipated by everyone, ended up exceeding my expectations. The cruise was quite big; there was enough space, I’d say, for a hundred people. During our time on the Cruise, we ate high-end food, danced, and took in the gorgeous view of New York City.

The Project
I had to choose one partner, and there was no one better than Diego (my roommate). We worked well together. In fact, we were able to whip out a comprehensive presentation on Protein Separation (the project we had chosen) in just a day.

Protein separation by the process of gel electrophoresis was developed in the 60s. Gel electrophoresis had replaced a process known as density gradient centrifugation, as density gradient centrifugation required massive equipment and a large concentration of samples.
Gel electrophoresis is used, in modern times, not only to separate nucleic acids or sequence them but, at a much larger scale, to better understand genetic disorders in order to develop gene therapies for them. Gel electrophoresis has also been used by forensic workers to identify criminals, and even by doctors to test for paternity.

The project’s goal was to identify three unknown proteins by using gel electrophoresis. Essentially, gel electrophoresis allows one to track and identify a protein by producing a unique band/pattern on a gel film. Our results were very near the expected results. We were able to identify all unknown proteins: BSA, Trypsin Inhibitor, and Lysozyme. Overall, the presentation went well. It was a great experience because we received feedback from Dr. Poliwal, a professor of biology at Stevens, who had worked with us all week.

My experience at Stevens was wonderful. I made two friends who I still talk to every day. One of them was, yes, you guessed it, my roommate, Diego. The other, whose name is Miguel, actually traveled all the way from Puerto Rico to attend the program. These people, both of whom happen to be extremely intelligent, inspired me, in just a week, to never settle for less. As the new school year unfolds, I hope to do everything necessary to matriculate into the college of my choice in the Fall of 2019.
I also encourage more students to apply to the Stevens Pre-college programs. Opportunities like these are difficult to find and well worth applying to.