WSP University of Arizona 2020 Cohort Spotlight: Elana Merrimarahajara and Kenneth Reyes

Elana Merrimarahajara, U.S. Marine Corps veteran

Elana Merrimarahajara

What was your educational experience prior to WSP? Would you consider yourself a confident student?

My educational experience prior to WSP was just a few college courses that I had taken sporadically throughout my Marine Corps career, but I would not have considered myself a confident student. Even though I had taken a few introductory courses I felt like I was still behind due to postponing going to college. I felt like I had lost some fundamental knowledge I would need for college due to choosing to serve my country before pursuing higher education.

Had you participated in any sort of virtual learning before? If so, how does your WSP experience compare to that?

I have participated in online courses before. A major difference was WSP provided much more guidance and the staff was much more interactive with the students than I had ever experienced. The professors and fellows are all there to help you succeed. You can tell that they genuinely care about helping you all the way through the program. It is still an intense program and requires a lot of input from the student’s end to participate.  Zoom fatigue can be a monster, but they make sure to give you ample time to take breaks to step away from technology for a bit.

Why were you excited to participate in WSP this summer?

I was extremely excited to be a part of WSP this summer. My husband introduced me to this program after he had gone through the Notre Dame session in the summer of 2018. He highly suggested that if I was wanting to pursue higher learning that I take advantage of all WSP had to offer me.

What have you learned so far that you think will be helpful as you pursue your degree?

I learned that it is SUPER important to put your ego aside and ask for assistance. There are resources out there all over the place. Use those resources!  Go to your professor’s office hours, check out any tutoring options available, and talk to your peers. This is your education so make sure to get the most out of it as you can by taking advantage of all the things around you to help you learn.

What were you looking forward to learning during STEM week?

I was excited to learn about physics, actually. I had never taken a physics course before, even in high school. I was interested in seeing what it would take for me to learn something completely new in a college-like setting. It was challenging to take the lessons that I had learned during the day and complete the homework assigned. But with help from the fellows and my peers, I was able to understand the work and become confident. This also helped me set a baseline for how I am when learning a new topic.

What research project did you work on, and what did you learn from that experience?

The research project that I worked on was Python coding to analyze and display information on planets and exoplanets. This project was so much fun! There was a lot of learning and time to ask questions. I learned the importance of making your own hypotheses and testing to try it out. Everyone can provide different insights and perspectives when trying to solve a problem. By asking different questions and looking at things from different angles, we can help advance science.

Are there any instructors or fellows who have made a difference for you this week so far?

Brennen was a fellow that I had during STEM week. He made an impact for me because he had experience in two colleges in NYC. I am still applying to colleges in that area, but I had not been able to talk to many people that had experience with colleges other than Columbia. It was nice to be able to ask questions about academic and social differences that were experienced at both campuses. This helped me broaden my horizons and made me think about what I wanted from a college I attended. The diversity of all my fellows helped me greatly because I got to hear about all kinds of experiences in higher education.

Is WSP having any effect on how confident you feel as a student?

WSP gave me a lot of confidence in myself as a student. It taught me that it is perfectly fine to be a nontraditional student, and if I applied myself to be successful, then I would be. WSP gives you the tools that you need to be a successful student. It is up to me to apply everything that I learned during this course. WSP taught me how to ask the important questions and to not be afraid to ask for help or advice. I feel much more confident in pursuing higher education having attended WSP.


Kenneth Reyes, U.S. Army veteran

Kenneth Reyes

What was your educational experience prior to WSP? Would you consider yourself a confident student?

My only real educational experience prior to WSP was high school as well as one pre-calculus class that I took in the spring of 2019. I definitely wouldn’t consider myself a confident student but my WSP fellow group made it clear that it was okay to be wrong here and making mistakes is part of the process, which made me act a little bit more boldly then normal.

Had you participated in any sort of virtual learning before? If so, how does your WSP experience compare to that?

I have done one class online and I found it very difficult to stay engaged since there was very little face-to-face time and I was mostly running through modules. The way WSP responded with Zoom was really impressive. I’ve never seen anyone make so much work with just a video conference app.


Why were you excited to participate in WSP this summer?

I was excited because I think the WSP program really understands what veterans are going through before and after we separate, and what are our priorities. I was also excited because of the amount of recommendation I got about WSP and their tough but rewarding STEM course.


What have you learned so far that you think will be helpful as you pursue your degree?

I think that the problem-solving process that we were taught is going to be extremely helpful for me in organizing my thoughts in the future. I also got a lot of great advice from the fellows and research students about what classes to take and how to best build my schedule for my first year going to college.


What were you looking forward to learning during STEM week?

I was excited to get an idea of the atmosphere of a college lecture as well as seeing what an actual working lab might look like. I think being able to visualize a future in STEM fields can be very difficult, so being able to see that and speak to scientists working in the field today was immensely important.

What research project did you work on, and what did you learn from that experience?

The research project that I worked on was focused on modeling the orbits of exoplanets and I was very blown away by the capabilities of the Python program and some of the amazing programs you can run with it. I could definitely see myself using it again.

Are there any instructors or fellows who have made a difference for you?

Dr. Oliver Monti’s walkthrough of his laboratory as well as his explanation of the research students’ responsibilities was very illuminating and made me realize that I could get involved in research much sooner than I thought I could. Overall, his candidness and clarity in how he runs his lab gave me a lot of confidence and motivation to apply for a research group as soon as I can at my university.

Is WSP having any effect on how confident you feel as a student?

WSP definitely made me feel much more confident and made me realize that I’m not as far behind in my math and English skills as I previously thought. It was a really good chance to dust those cobwebs off and dive back into learning.

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