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"How SSP Changed Me"

The enthusiasm and longevity of the Summer Science Program's support from its own alumni may be unique among summer programs for high school students. That support is the best evidence of the profound effect SSP has had on the lives of its participants. Here are comments from last summer's alumni:

2014 - California Campus

Because of SSP, I have realized who I am. I have found my abilities, my limits, and my true potential. There is nowhere I would have rather spent my summer. I come out with an understanding of myself. I come out with the greatest friends anyone could ask for. I come out with the knowledge and power to succeed in my endeavors in life. SSP has changed me forever. I am no longer stressed about being unready for courses because I have no background in the material. SSP has shown me that hard work and the enthusiasm to learn can overcome that. SSP takes you in, molds you, and compresses you until you come out shining like the scholars you are. SSP hasn't just changed me, it has transformed me. A metamorphosis incomparable to anything else anyone will ever experience. I come out a completely different person, ready to take on the challenges of the rest of my life head on. -Anthony Flores


SSP has changed me completely. I'm usually a late sleeper, but I've woken up early every morning because I know that whatever we're going to do, it's going to be amazing. In only six short weeks I have found a new love in computer science and been exposed to at least three different foreign languages. I've learned how the universe began and where it's going. I've learned to swingdance, longboard, bodyboard, and frazz. I've learned the names of the constellations and how to observe them. I've met the nicest people in the world and had a chance to learn from them. I've learned to work hard and take every opportunity both academic and otherwise. SSP has completely changed my plans for the future and prepared me for what lies ahead. -Zoey Flynn
SSP is the land of the Doge Uncertainty Principle - where you cannot tell the existence of an academic experience and a social experience at the same time. While maintaining an intense academic curriculum, SSP is a place where 36 people from wildly different places meet each other and realize that they are not so different after all. I had connections with other SSPers that I didn't even know existed. We are all from the same cult of mathematical and scientific genii with similar interest from around the world. Meeting these individuals and learning from them and befriending them has been thoroughly enjoyable and inspirational for me. -Rishabh Chandra
SSP is all about the people you meet. Yes, astronomy and programming and all the academic stuff is awesome and they are valuable skills to have and the overall rigor of the program definitely helped me feel more prepared for college. However, all of that comes second to the fact that this place brought me together with brilliant, unique, and amazing people. I have never felt so inadequate in my life when I hear about the amazing things everyone here has done, but I also never felt even more at home knowing that I'm doing the same types of things the students here are. I have found my mindmates; I've found people who share my interests, my sense of humor, my passion and drive and enthusiasm for learning. I hope to stay in touch with everyone here because everyone has changed my perspective in life in different ways. -Hannah Nikole Almonte
What happens if you gather thirty-six bright students from all over the world for five weeks and a half? A lot of work? Definitely. Meaningful conversations? More than I can count. And... competitiveness? Surprisingly not. If you add to the ingredients listed above the degree of motivation of each and every person you meet here, you will realize that competition is not part of the SSP vocabulary. In SSP, you find yourself cooperating with your peers until midnight in order to finish the homework assignments on time, and everyone is eager to help others. This is the magic of SSP - the friendly, enriching environment put together by motivated students who are sincerely passionate about learning. -Elba Alonso Monsalve
SSP can be described as a star. In the outer layers, one can find all the academic knowledge that the wonderful professors give; in the middle layers are all the fun experiences that students have; in the layers near the core one can find all those problems sets that personally and/or academically challenged the confidence of all students; and, in the very core, one can find the confidence that every student has to ask any question to anyone at any time. -Jessica Ambrosio
I think the essence of SSP is to be truly challenged academically unlike we can be in a high school environment. I think it definitely prepared me better for college. Also, I made some great friends here that I hopefully keep in touch with. -Mark Berger
SSP is an experience that will impact me for the rest of my life. Working with students who love science as much as I do, who are kind, friendly, and helpful, and who have a great sense of humor, in order to learn about and complete the orbital determination project is something that has changed how I see myself and my future in science. I have made lifelong friends at SSP, and I can't wait to see what all of us do in our futures. -Sierra Chapman
The passion of the people here. Everyone is unique in his or her own brilliant way, and I learned to appreciate myself more by learning from others. -May Chen
SSP will change you in unexpected ways. There's so much to learn and to explore and to care about in the world, no matter what you're interested in. You'll meet people whose perspectives and passions are so different from your own, who will push the envelope of your worldview. You might agree with them or you might not, but you'll learn to understand them and you'll get a taste of their ardor and enthusiasm. Keep an open mind. Perhaps you'll find that you share that zeal too. -Zhanpei Fang
SSP is an environment where you will be challenged. It's where you will be humbled and you will have to ask for help. A place in which you will get some research experience and collaborate with some of the most intelligent, talented people you have ever met. That's SSP! -Isaac Guerrero
It showed me just what I was capable of doing if I am willing to work hard. -Sawyer Hart
At SSP, you can walk into the classroom and say, with a low error bar, that you are not the smartest person there. Never have I been so thoroughly surrounded by smart people, and never have I been so content to be comparatively unintelligent. At SSP, you realize that you are not the smartest person ever, and that you don't need to be. -Jonathan Heckerman
I discovered myself at SSP. I am a better me because of SSP. Each experience has been another piece in the jigsaw puzzle that is the meaning of life (42? You have to find out for yourself!). The conversations, the existentialist crises, the random epiphanies... this was my SSP. -Saanya Jain
This has been the best summer of my life. Never before have I learnt so much in so little time. SSP is not a science camp. Period. It is a character building process. Everyone emerges as a new individual, with different perspective about life, the universe and everything. I can't even imagine the introvert I was before the program. These six weeks have filled me with confidence and enthusiasm and given me a clearer idea about what I want to do in the future. However what makes SSP truly special is the people. I've made friends that I won't forget for the rest of my life and met people with the most amazing ideas. The experience has been great! -Aditya Khandelwal
SSP is the work and academics you would expect from the greatest math and science students in the country, but it's more than that. It's also the social experience of a lifetime. When you put all the kids in a room together, you can feel the determination that is consistently there throughout SSP. However, you can also feel that we're just a bunch of kids who want to have fun doing it, doing it together. SSP doesn't have the competitive setting that one would expect. Instead, it has the best dynamics between students I have ever seen. -Kush Khosla
I can say without a doubt that SSP has made this summer the best and most memorable of my life. Having been tested here both to my mental and physical limitations, I emerge with a better understanding of myself and other people. But through all the various activities and experiences that I have had here, one thing has consistently made them all the more valuable: the people. Everyone here is truly amazing, and to have had this opportunity to spend so much time with them is both humbling and exciting. I will always remember the friendships, the beach trips, the late-night talks, the card games, the star-gazing, and the stressing over the orbital determination with them for the rest of my life. Looking back, it is amazing how fast my time here has passed. I will cherish my few weeks here with them forever. -Matthew Li
I learned more about experimental research. -Zheyu (Joey) Li
SSP is such an amazing experience. It is a place where nerdy jokes are appreciated and neutrino is a driving question during lunch. Beware: I thought SSP would help me narrow down my decisions regarding college and career choices. However, SSP only opened up more options and possibilities for the future. I have made friends that I will keep for a lifetime and made memories that I will cherish forever. Before SSP, I was not very interested in astronomy. Now, I enjoy gazing up at the sky and retracing what our ancestors saw when they gazed up. It is truly beautiful and mysterious. -Minh Nguyen
It will take me weeks, maybe years, to figure out how SSP changed me. Until I figure it out, I'll look back at SSP as the most academically humbling, socially rewarding experience of my life. -Nisarga Paul
I learned a lot about programming, astronomy, and related subjects while at SSP. However, I believe that the work habits I developed here are more important than the specific things I learned. I became very good at accomplishing things on time. I won't say that I've learned to not procrastinate, since that simply isn't true; however, I believe that I have perfected the art of procrastination. While working on your problem set, there is a rate associated with the infinitesimal fraction of the entire problem set (dp) that you complete in an infinitesimal time element (dt). To procrastinate effectively, you must work faster as you approach the deadline, so d/dt (dp/dt) is greater than zero. The exact curve to follow for dp/dt is something you get from experience. (Alternatively, you can just ignore all of this and not procrastinate). -Jacob Pierce
SSP, while being one of my most memorable and life-changing experiences, is truly indescribable; words are simply inadequate. I arrived expecting merely a five-week academic challenge, but I have received so much more. This program has not only stretched me intellectually, but it has also unmasked to me the diversity of brilliant minds in this world. Each and every one of us has limitless potential so long as we continue to reach. And reaching is precisely what SSP has so artfully and deftly taught us to do -- reaching academically, reaching socially, reaching mentally, reaching psychologically. -Linda Qin
Learning from such a brilliant and inspiring group of people really is the most unforgettable and life-changing part of SSP. The challenge of SSP has been such a rewarding experience that has pushed me to my limits, broadened my imagination and curiosity, and changed the way I think about the world around me. -Nehal Rawat
The most important part of SSP to me was the new concept of learning that it allowed me to develop. Through being so immersed in a community of passionate students, along with a very accessible and non-pedantic faculty, I realized how important it is to learn for the sake of learning, rather than for anything else. I will try to remember this when I poorly on a test, but especially when I do well; I realize that exams do nothing but allow people, including myself, to judge me. True learning and understanding has a value that can never be evaluated, and it is now one of my highest priorities. The environment at SSP allowed me to see how incredible a passion for learning can serve somebody, and the perspective I gained will allow me to achieve my full potential as a student in life. -David Rower
There's so much to be said about the essence of SSP. Every aspect of SSP plays a different, but pivotal, role in the experience. I learned new things about myself and was reminded about characteristics I used to have that I had forgotten about. I discovered my limits, and I pushed past them. I met people I can talk to for hours on end, people I can trust, people that I know will still be there for me next month, next year, five years from now.... I will never forget all that SSP gave me, and I hope that ten, twenty years from now, I can be as involved as the countless alumni that I had the privilege of meeting throughout the program. The academic and social benefits of SSP are something that cannot be paralleled, and I am so grateful for having been given this incredible opportunity. -Alexandra Smerekanych
One cannot merely describe the essence of SSP - one must immerse oneself in such an environment to comprehend the true prowess of said program. Who am I kidding, I can talk about SSP all day. SSP has forced me to look within myself and realize my flaws and areas of weakness. I think that this is one of the most important parts of SSP - seeing the true form of yourself. The challenge of the classes and the unity with others I feel here are things that I have not experienced before, and I hope to be part of such a community again in the future. SSP is not one thing; it is space, science, math, friendship, teamwork, support, patience, love, determination, motivation, drive, hilarity, humility, passion, introspection, and happiness. SSP has changed the definition of these concepts, and I hope to adhere to these new ones for my whole life. -Christina Sue
The essence of SSP is working hard to accomplish things to be proud of with your friends rather than learning new interesting subjects, although that's certainly a part of it. SSP has been a place where I've learned and challenged myself academically, but it's the experience I had with the people I've met here that made SSP what it is. -Mehmet Tuna Uysal
SSP is the single best experience I've had in the past few years. I have never been so inspired and so motivated by the people around me. I was always interested in the STEM field before I came here, but SSP made sure that I would definitely want my future to be in this kind of environment. Before coming to SSP, I thought it would be fun to spend time with people who love STEM as I do; upon coming here, I realized it is even better than all the good things I had imagined it to be. For me the essence of SSP has been working with all these brilliant people who inspire me in every way possible and give me a new perspective of my own life in ways I never imagined. -QiQi Wang
There's a large gap in the road between where you are and where you want to be. You jump, and fall just short; some of your friends make it across unfazed. As you realize you're not going to make it, suddenly a group of 35 collectively grabs your hands and pulls you up to the other side. I suppose that's really what SSP is all about to me: teamwork. It doesn't matter what OD team you're on, everyone has the same struggles and hardships, and everyone knows some solution to some problem. Collectively, everyone avoids the gap of problem sets and write-ups and observation failures, and emerges victorious on the other side. It's changed me because I know how much help I need, how social I am, and other such stuff. The testimonials are true, and this place is one-of-a-kind. -Richard Wang
The essence of SSP is friendship, magic, and nights spent working on problem sets and programming in the computer lab. -Julia Wei
As the faculty often say, SSP is like drinking out of a firehose. The intensive curriculum is second only to the overwhelming plethora of experiences outside of the classroom. I will never forget the OD, the star parties, or the smile on everyone's faces the night of the OD report. But more importantly, the bonds formed at SSP will stay with me for a life-time. I walk away with a better understanding of myself knowing that I will always remember this experience of a life-time. -Congwen (Nancy) Xu
How can I describe SSP? Coming to the end of my journey now, finally having to come out of denial that yes, the program does end, I am asked to capture the essence of SSP. I can tell you that I have grown academically. I have gotten used to long lectures and problem sets that require group brain power. I can tell you that I have grown socially. I have found some of the most wonderful people on Earth, many of which I hope will be my lifelong friends. I can tell you that I've learned more about life, both in general and mine in particular. I have learned that life has strange turns and that have yet to fully understand my own life. But I have learned so many things, grown in so many way, that these few statements above just don't capture it. While the program is only 5 and a half weeks from our lives, in those 5 and a half weeks I have lived at least a year. All those experiences that have so radically impacted me, I cannot express in a few compact statements. So I've tried to fully convey the essence of SSP, but there are so many things that I haven't put in. But as long as I know them myself, and never forget...well that's what really matters. -Michelle Xu
SSP was a very humbling experience for me. It taught me why collaboration is better than competition. You will be amazed to see how much you will learn by collaborating with other people. -Orhan Efe Yavuz
2014 - New Mexico Campus

SSP is an unforgettable journey of discovery. Being constantly surrounded by such fascinating and diverse students proves a truly humbling experience. Every SSPer has something to offer, anything from moving musical talent to impressive astronomy skills. And yet, despite our varying backgrounds, we all share the same sense of curiosity, an insatiable desire for understanding. I arrived at SSP unsure of what to expect, but ready for some sort of challenge. And I was right. Every problem set and every lecture pushed me to think differently. Even when I did not understand some complex physics problem or had trouble debugging code, my peers were always ready to help. Moreover, alongside the incredible social and work experience, SSP sparked in me a continuing appreciation for science. I came to New Mexico with no astronomy experience, and I left the campus with a huge respect for the field of study. Even if I do not wish to study astronomy in the future, the experience of observing at Etscorn Observatory with a C14 telescope and tracking an asteroid across the night sky is irreplaceable. Indeed, no other program can replicate what SSP does. My SSP experience was intensive, incredibly rigorous, but above all, immensely rewarding. I learned that I am more capable than I ever imagined, and I made the most incredible friendships along the way. -Emily Abdo


SSP is doing the most work that you could possibly do while also having fun. -Daniel Assumpcao
SSP is a roller coaster. There isn't really any way to prepare yourself for it, and you will be terrified and having the time of your life the whole way down. You make friends at SSP that you will cling to for the rest of your life, and you definitely gain new perspective and move faster than you ever thought possible. But SSP is also like a roller coaster in that you never want in to end, and as soon as it's over you just want to do it again. -Claire Burch
The essence of SSP is being with 35 other people who are all similar to you but have qualities, talents, or hobbies that make them unique. SSP has made me realize that I am capable of much more than I believed academically and as a person, and has given me experiences that I will never forget. -Alexander Chang
At the core of SSP is one concept: support. Everyone supports each other in being themselves, embracing their interests, getting through everything. You can't get through on your own; just hold on for dear life, and everyone will get through together. It's the only way, and it's best way. Everyone here needs everyone else, and together we are unstoppable. -Rachel Cohen
SSP is seriously the best choice for your summer!!! This program was the most intense academical experience I have ever had, with lots of early deadlines, work over work over homework over work, with AMAZING field trips, with amazing people and so much fun that sometimes you just can't or don't want to end it and start doing something else. I love SSP! The students, the TAs, the professors, the food, the lectures, the homework, everything. It is an amazing opportunity and you shouldn't miss it!!! -Paul Andrei Draghis
SSP is the most academically and socially intense experience of my life. You're surrounded by 35 other people who share a weirdly specific set of interests, doing real research. It's unlike anything available in high school, and something I'm sure I'm never going to forget. -Luke Finnerty
Spending time working hard and playing even harder with a group of people who you can call family. -Juan Carlos Garcia
It feels like we've known each other for years, brought together in a common goal to do real science. The amount SSP has done for me, mentally and socially, is unreal. -Roland Huang
At my school I do not get much of a chance to spend a lot of time with people who share my interest in math, science, and computer programming. It was really special to spend six weeks with 35 other students, as well the four TA's, Dr. Rengstorf, Dr. Andersen, and Aaron Bauer (even if it wasn't quite six weeks in Aaron's case). I have been really interested in using computer programs to help with an actual research project and SSP's project was a great way of doing just that. -Louis Hyde
SSP is about thinking deeply of simple, pure concepts from all scientific arenas. The concepts magically combine in the orbit determination process, and in pursuing that collective goal, we form the strongest bonds. The experience has changed my vision of scientific collaboration. Learning about the outer unknown brings all of us together regardless of our individual views. -Ji Seok Kim
SSP is an intense experience designed to change your perspective on academics, friends, life in general. And it does just that. From seemingly impossible to understand lectures to playing soccer and ultimate frisbee with my closest peers, SSP has showed me a completely new side of life. I am grateful for being able to spend five and a half weeks re-discovering myself while surrounded by 35 extremely talented, extremely interesting, extremely awesome people. SSP is an experience I will never forget, and I will definitely use the lessons I learned here in college and probably for the rest of my lfie. -Diana Kowalski
The essence of SSP is being surrounded by brilliant people who love learning just as much as you do and realizing that you get to spend almost six weeks not only learning about how to determine the orbit of an asteroid, but also learning from each other. Sometimes, you will be frustrated, you will be scared, you will be overwhelmed, but you will come out the stronger, wiser, and braver for it. And you will never regret attending. -Olivia Larkin
SSP changed me a lot. The bonding and collaboration between SSPers are the strongest companionship I have ever seen in my life. Everyone has been so amazing and inspiring and through this mode of survival I have come to realize the importance of pushing myself really hard through the challenging work and the meaning of pure friendship. -Han Le
Reaching my near maximum potential at SSP was an anticlimactic feeling. There was no fanfare, no ovation. Just a small feeling of knowing that I could do whatever I set my mind to. Every day here, you are pushed to your limits, whether that means learning faster than you have ever learned before, or to work later into the night, later than ever before. And as each generation becomes more liberal about education, we take for granted our abilities as "gifted" high school students. We are all guilty of procrastinating and wasting time. We are not as good as we can be, but here at SSP, we test our outer boundaries, reshaping our minds. Yet no matter how fleeting the experience may be the small feeling of knowing that you can do, was enough to push me forward, faster than ever before. -Kevin Lee
People. You may learn the knowledge later, but you may never meet such a group of amazing people. I learn to accept diverse values, and I know what I want through talk with each other. -Zhiru (Albert) Liu
SSP is confusion, challenges, and frustration. It is learning, living, loving, and improving. We do programming, programming, and more programming. We eat all possible types of potatoes in the dining hall. We visit every existing observatory in New Mexico. We are even closer than we thought. SSP, we call it our home. -Shirley Lu
SSP was probably the program that has changed me most and in the shortest period of time. SSP made me know how productive and efficient I can really be in studying, by raising the rate of study to the limit. I have never learned so much at such an accelerated pace, which was not only a challenging, but also a sense of achievement-bringing experience. I think that, from now on, it would be much easier for me to study, because I'm sure I learned how to do it the right way, and also because I doubt I would find myself in another such place with the heaviest schedule ever. -Tamara Macharashvili
SSP is finding yourself surrounded by minds of great intellect collaborating together in the hopes of accomplishing the Orbital Determination project and rejoice once you have crossed the great expanse that is the Summer Science Program. SSP is a place to grow, a place to learn, a place for science. -Luis Martinez
During SSP, a high school student becomes a college student and a research scientist. So many life and career opportunities have become apparent during these six weeks, and I can't wait to embrace them once I enter college. -Scott McKinley
SSP is a time in which incredibly gifted and talented people have an opportunity to truly learn what they are capable of and meet people like them. Never before have I been surrounded by so many people so smart and driven. It reminded me what I can look forward to and showed me a community I will cherish forever. It opened a window to a future I hope to have. -Cameron Paige
I think the essence of SSP is learning to really work together, think, and thrive in an academically challenging environment. -Alexandra Palocz
The point of SSP is less about learning astro, or math, or physics, or programming. It's more about learning who you are. Not only what you can do but also what you can't. Push your limits. You'll be surprised. -Kinam (AKA Danny) Park
SSP means working harder than ever before. Sitting, listening to the lecturer lecture in the lecture hall, completing problem sets, and coding. SSP means living, and forming bonds stronger than any ever before forged. SSP means stepping out into the clear night sky, and gazing into the light filled field of view in absolute, humbling silence at the stars. -Krsna Raniga
SSP is this strange environment filled with a bunch of really amazing teenagers who have unbelievable talents and kills. Everyone here belongs and fits in somehow. It feels as though these people are friends and family all at the same time. I cannot exactly tell how this place has changed me, but I do know it has. I think I have become more interested in and excited for college and studying a subject such as computer science or physics. I have also grown mentally here. I have learned a lot from just talking with people from all over the U.S. and even all over the world. Culturally I learned a lot about different places and about New Mexico. I felt like I got immersed in New Mexican cultural activities, and really enjoyed learning new things. I have learned a lot about astrophysics, but also a lot about life in general. Overall it was great and changed me in positive ways. -Rachel Resnick
Before coming to SSP, I was a "smart person" at my school. A large portion of the effort I put into essays, assignments, and tests was done because it was what people thought I should be doing. That all changed when I got to SSP. I learned to work hard for myself, instead of doing it to fulfill someone else's idea of how I should work. Instead of trying to make it seem like my success was effortless, SSP made me proud of putting in hard work and long hours to solve even the simplest of problems. SSP introduced me to people with completely different circumstances than myself, who are beautiful musicans, genius Olympiaders, athletes, and more often than not, more than just one. These people challenged me to do better than what I thought was my best, humbled me, helped me solve problems, kept me sane, and altogether contributed to a safe space. Though I don't know who I am completely, I think that SSP has put me on the track to discover that more than anything else I've ever done. -Quinn Shepherd
SSP is unique. It puts you in a new situation and puts you with all the amazing people you knew existed but just couldn't find. Because of SSP I am independent, thoughtful and confident. Because of SSP I am now a man. -Adam Stanford-Moore
SSP has been an experience to broaden my mind both through learning about astronomy, math, physics and programming and by meeting a diverse groups of peers. The asteroid orbit determination project let me delve into astronomy, a field that I would otherwise have had no exposure to in high school. This research project is truly unique and unlike any other summer opportunity you may find. SSP has taught me a lot about what it means to engage in collaborative work. SSP is really a community experience. I think everyone here feels like they have made friends they will keep in touch with for a long time. Overall SSP has given me a broader outlook both academically and socially. -Gigi Stark
The essence of SSP is helping others find their way academically while they help you because science is done in groups. No individual is as smart as everybody. -Natalie Wigger
SSP has been a journey of self-discovery aided by astronomy, math, physics, programming, and 35 of the most brilliant and enthusiastic (in both the academic and the social aspects) people I will ever know. I have emerged more cultured and knowledgeable than before, and I am pleased with what I have become. The SSP trajectory has been an unforgettable and enlightening one, and its essence will be forever embedded within me as I continue to thrive. -Juliette Xiong
A balance of academic rigor and having fun with friends. I learned a lot of social skills, and feel much more comfortable hanging out with American students---it's hard to get totally adapted to a different culture for internationals like me. I think after SSP I will be more prepared and confident about the social aspects in college. It also made me love Astronomy more and really get into it at a college level. -Wenhao Xuan
The essence of SSP is discovery, academically but also socially, which will ultimately have the biggest long term impact. When I interacted with everyone in this incredible community, I was humbled and awed. SSP has given me infinitely robust bonds, bonds that will catch me when I fall, bonds that will help me shatter my limits, bonds that have changed me forever. I found a second family at SSP, and I'm glad I lived every moment of it. -Leroy Zhang