Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Georgia Tech in Two Microcosms

Recently, I had the pleasure of judging some high schoolers at a Science Olympiad competition. Luckily, I got an interesting event, in which the kids made robots and used remote controls to pick up things and drop them in boxes. It was very OM, very reminiscent of weirdly creative problem solving and contraptions, and an entire years' work dissolved in a left wheel's detachment at just the wrong time. (OM never had competitors yell obscenities when that happened, though, at least not my elementary school teams.)

And seeing this from the other side now, it's also a remarkable microcosm of kids that are destined for Georgia Tech. A sort of Yellow Jacket funnel, if you will. All of the dramatis personae were there. You had the cocky Asian kid, the one who six days out of the week resents his overbearing parents for making him keep at his studies so hard, but come Science Olympiad time on the seventh day, he comes to accept his burden to boss around all the lesser competitors.

The uber-geek, who can give you a ten minute thesis about how his robot works, or launch into a nuanced debate about how to beat the expert levels on Guitar Hero. But at the same time, he is so withdrawn from conventional social interaction that he finds it difficult to ask you when the competition starts.

The Abercrombie-wearing white kid, who seems just a little apathetic, a little jaded, and far out of place in this world of obsessive love for physics. Perhaps it's a secret passion of his, having to hide his scientific excursions from his beer-guzzling friends and provide an excuse why this weekend is a bad one to go to the lake house and chill. Far more likely, he's here just for the extra credit.

Two girls.

All of these people will probably get accepted into Georgia Tech. "Wow!" says some admissions officer. "A 700 SAT math! And he was involved in Science Olympiad back in high school. He will make a fantastic aerospace engineer." Probably he will. But what this admissions person fails to see (surprising, in the day of student body diversity) is that this only encourages the homogeneity that already pervades this campus. The very fact that an average Tech student can enter this subculture and see not just hints but strong streaks of his own community in them... Tech's stereotypes are self-perpetuating.

The other situation, merely a day after the Olympiad, was an event called Connect with Tech came through. CWT is officially the program that you can be invited to if you're reasonably good at high school, so you can see Tech and Tech in turn can recruit you. More significantly, CWT is known throughout housing staff as the one day besides holidays when the dining hall serves edible food. (Lately, that's been more of a myth than an actual truth, but at least it's something to get excited about.) This group of people was completely different than the Science Olympiad kids.

The cute and now sort of average girl, who's into theater and maybe a couple of generic service clubs in her high school. Little does she know (or maybe well does she know) that by virtue of being female and at all extroverted, she's about to become ridiculously sororitied up.

The apathetic dude without a shred of charisma or conversational ability who's used to getting good grades because high school is so damn easy. But when he gets to Tech, he'll suddenly find that school can indeed be tough. The only question that remains for him is whether he'll notice he's failing under all the pot he'll smoke.

The guy who's actually a decent human being, who you'd feel comfortable hanging out with and becoming friends with, but who takes one look at Tech, and decides against it. The rigor, the reputations... and all the odd people.

With no foreseeable end to any of it.

Currently listening: Billy the Kid, Aaron Copland

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