Prompt:Interest in math, science, or engineering manifests itself in many forms. Caltech professor and Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman(1918-1988) explained, ''I'd make a motor, I'd make a gadget that would go off when something passed a photocell, I'd play around with selenium''; he was exploring his interest in science, as he put it, by ''piddling around all the time.'' In a page, more or less, tell the Admissions Committee how you express your interest, curiosity, or excitement about math, science or engineering.
Before answering this question, you might ask those around you - family, friends, or teachers - how they see you as a mathematician, scientist or engineer. They may offer insightful observations!
It is said that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. This was certainly my experience when, enrolled at age six in weekly training at FutureKids, I was introduced to computers. FutureKids provided only basic instruction—the use of Microsoft Windows and Office, but to me, it was absolutely captivating. I was able to make things appear on a page, move them around, change the way they looked without anything tangible; I could express my thoughts, work out my own ideas, and endow their expression with flare. The computer gave me a tool of creation, seemingly from scratch, and it has held my attention ever since.
Once introduced to the art of computing, I jumped into study of it. This is to say, I played around with it a lot, but my hours of idle experimentation and tinkering were rewarded. Not long after beginning, I surpassed others and became exceptional. My preeminence began simply, an ability to create 3D text that no one else could replicate, but by the end of first grade I was traveling around my elementary school fixing frustrated teachers' technical difficulties. The next year when computer specialists were being hired, my principal quipped “we don't need one, we have Donald.”
Knowing how to be an end user was never enough for me though. I've always wanted to understand how it all works. I started with a desire for answers to “simple” questions: How are programs made? How do they run? How does the internet work? As I've discovered the true complexity of these issues, I've not been dissuaded. I still have that seemingly unquenchable thirst to learn just exactly how it all works and I've worked very hard at trying to understand it.
These attempts began back at FutureKids. I got the teacher to pull the case of a desktop and point out the parts, to crack open an old floppy and let us see the actual magnetic disk. The two summers after I began at FutureKids, I begged my mom to let me go to their computer camps: first one on the basics of the internet and then one on basic robotics. This was all interesting, but what seemed like the holy grail at that point, programming camp was supposed to be the third summer, but it was not to be. Just as I moved into middle school, FutureKids shut their doors, and I was left with pretty much no instruction. Sad, but still determined to learn what I could, I turned to self-study.
Having some familiarity with it from the first camp, I started with web design. At first, I wanted to use the latest and greatest tools, so I looked for books on Dreamweaver and Frontpage. After looking at these for awhile, I became frustrated that the details were being hid from me and I turned to my first language book, Make Your Own Web Page--for Kids! by Ted Pedersen. I went to American Computer Experience (ACE) camp that summer where I did some rudimentary study of C++ but, being now engrossed with web design, spent more time learning Photoshop and Flash. I was drifting away from my desire to understand workings and back to just making things. Over the course of that school year, things changed. Shortly after my week at camp, but unbeknownst to me, ACE camp suddenly died. When I was notified of this by e-mail later that year, it was FutureKids all over again, but I resolved to go back to self-learning. Still thinking in terms of web design I picked up PHP & MySQL For Dummies. Shortly after learning PHP, however, I had a friend introduce me to Perl. This was a real programming language, with which I could make programs that didn't even need a browser. Making the small syntactic jump with the assistance of Sams Teach Yourself Perl in 21 Days, within a week my friend and I started a little text adventure RPG called province.
The next summer, I ended up going to Cybercamps, where I was supposed to study game design. Yet again, however, my interest was redirected. Under the enthusiastic direction of the counselors (who ignored many of the rules like curriculum and curfew), I learned about Linux and the Open Source Movement. I was exhilarated by the concept of free information. When I got home, I immediately installed Mandrake 8.2 on my parents' desktop and convinced my friend to license province under the GPL. I spent much of the next year tooling around with Linux and our code then making my all too complex HTML/PHP/SQL portfolio for the local technical academy high school (the expectation was an Access database).
When time rolled around to choose, however, I forewent the technical academy in favor of the Math & Science academy. I realized that the technical academy was very much a vocational program and I wanted to know how things worked. In this program I learned the math and physics that underlay computers. I did, however, choose to take the Computer Programming class. Though in C++, the class was only taught in terms of procedural programming. I got my own books and did my labs object-oriented anyway. Over the summer, I created a website that let my classmates match their schedules online which garnered much acclaim from peers.The next year I took AP Computer Science. Having learned Java over the summer, I again decided to exceed the curriculum. Though the class was taught to the Computer Science A exam, I ignored this fact, got my own books, learned data structures, and took the Computer Science AB exam. I was the only one in Virginia Beach to do so and I got a 5.
The next year was the culmination of my self-study. After learning Ruby over the summer for fun, attending the National Youth Leadership Forum for Technology (where I spent the majority of my time hanging out in the Linux nerd infested Network Security Challenge Lab), and reincarnating the schedule matching website in a new CSS, facebook imitating guise giving it the name Dolphinbook, I started school to finally fulfill part of my dream. First semester, I took MG Computer Architecture—a course in Computer organization, architecture, gate logic, and x86 assembly. I was the only student. Using Andrew Tanenbaum's Structured Computer Organization and Linda Null's The Essentials of Computer Organization And Architecture, I taught this class to myself and enjoyed it all.
This last summer, I refined some of my language study: reading the Camel Book for Perl, the PickAxe for Ruby, and K&R for C. I also peeked at Knuth's Art of Computer Programming and the classic Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs. This school year hasn't allowed me a lot of time for such studies, but I know that college will more than make up for this. I finally feel like I have a good understanding of how things work at a high level; these types of books have answered my questions on programs; RFCs and other resources have helped me understand the internet. As I move into college I have a new resolve—to learn hardware. Now I would like to know how the circuits work. When I get a handle on that, onto the physics of how the components work. I love the computer. I now understand it sufficiently to know it's not magic, but I don't care—it's an amazing testament to human ingenuity, but it can be improved on, and I'd like to help do that.