From Humboldt to Hampshire to Harvard with Class of 2009 Alum Javier Robles
During his junior year at Santa Ana High School, Javier Robles joined the Nicholas Academic Centers to take advantage of the NAC’s SAT prep classes. A year later, while balancing his time between the NAC and studying for three AP classes, participating as a member on the debate team, and serving as co-editor-in-chief of the yearbook, Javier found out he had been accepted to San Jose State University and Humboldt State University. At the time, he wasn’t sure which school to attend. In addition to choosing a school, Javier also wrestled back and forth between majoring in Graphic Design or Biology. Javier ultimately decided to attend Humboldt State and major in Biology, but his “final” decision turned out to be only the first step in an unexpected direction that has led him most recently to Harvard University in Boston, Massachusetts.
NAC: Can you talk about your decision to attend Humboldt State and then transfer to Hampshire College?
Javier: During my time at Humboldt State, I felt that it lacked something. It was too structured and limiting, and so I decided to transfer to Hampshire College. I found out about Hampshire on the Colleges That Changes Lives website. I browsed through the website and Hampshire stood out to me. I’ve always wanted to visit Massachusetts; there was something about that state that drew me to it, so knowing that Hampshire was in Massachusetts was just another perk to be excited about. One thing that stood out about Hampshire was that it was less limiting in the sense of course work that was required to acquire a major. At Hampshire, a smaller liberal arts school, I was able to explore a variety of courses that were intriguing and more discussion-based, and I was able to create my own major.
NAC: How are you enjoying your experience at Hampshire? Do you have any favorite moments or particularly challenging moments or both?
Javier: Hampshire is very interesting; there is always something to be talked about, whether it’s politics, art, or philosophy. Everyone has something to say, and they have a unique way of expressing it. I love that you can design your own major, and it is up to you to make the best of your education. It’s very self-disciplined, which is something I enjoy. One of my favorite moments was being able to apply for a trip to visit the MIT cognitive neuroscience lab. This took place over the weekend and included a free trip to Cambridge. Through this experience, I was able to see all the different kinds of research equipment that I had been reading about in my intro to cognitive neuroscience class. We saw the MRI machines as well as the EEG machines they use to conduct studies on participants. They had a variety of interesting machinery. I was able to meet a neuroscientist who was conducting research on our perception of objects and how the brain responds to a variety of stimuli. This once-in-a-lifetime experience allowed me to gain a more in-depth view of the field of cognitive neuroscience, and I continue to pursue it.
NAC: You recently participated in a summer program at Harvard University. How did you learn about the program? Also, please describe the program, when it runs, its goals, etc., and how it relates to your interests.
Javier: I learned about the Harvard summer program, also known as Career Discovery, through a friend while I was attending Humboldt. During that time I was hesitant to apply because it seemed a little intimidating. The deadline was approaching, so the timing didn’t feel right, and I decided to wait. A year later, I decided to give it a try. With hard work, I got in! The program welcomes people from all kinds of disciplines who may or may not have had experience within the design field, including people ranging from recent high school graduates to people with multiple degrees. Design, here, deals within the fields of Architecture, Landscape Architecture, Urban Design, and Urban Planning. The program is a six-week studio-based intensive program that takes every hour of the day. Our day started at 9 AM, beginning with lectures from various individuals in the professional field. From there we had workshops and lectures on how to diagram and represent our ideas through various creative forms, such as collage, drawing, mixed media, or using a variety of computer software such as Photoshop. After that, we met with our individual groups; so, if you were in Urban Design like me, you would have met with your instructor. In those meetings, we would talk about the current or next assigned project. By taking field trips, we could analyze and get an idea of what the site was like so we could be conscious of how to implement our design. Later, we would have studio time, which was supposed to run until 6 PM, but, often times, depending on how much we put into our work, it ran until midnight. The schedule changed here and there, but that is usually what every day consisted of, Monday through Friday, and sometimes weekends as well. Every moment of every day is a learning experience when you’re actively participating.
NAC: How did you earn a place in the program?
Javier: I earned my place through my hard work and good merit, as well as with the help of my professors’ letters of recommendation. The application consisted of a one-page essay explaining something you’re proud of. I wrote about design and its potential to change the way people live and even help their disabilities. Grades were also an important part of the application process. Hampshire doesn’t have grades so they considered Humboldt’s grades while also looking at class evaluations I received at Hampshire. They took a look at my resume to see that I’ve been proactive, but overall it was all a question of how passionate I am and how curious I am to engage the field of design.
NAC: Have you always wanted to attend Harvard? If not, did you have a dream school?
Javier: I never considered Harvard to be a place I wanted to attend. It seemed so out of reach, but after attending the program I’d definitely consider attending Harvard for grad school. The vibe of the place was just so lively and serious at the same time, maybe because it was summer, but I really enjoyed the atmosphere. Everyone had something to share, discuss, and be passionate about. Before, in high school, I did not have a dream school. I was happy with what ever came along, though not having one turned out to be complicated. I had to experience college to know what school I really wanted to attend. So, even though Humboldt did not work out for me, Hampshire sure has.
NAC: What are your plans after graduating from Hampshire?
Javier: After Hampshire College, there are two paths I’m considering. The first one is moving out of the states and living in Europe for 1 or 2 years, or long enough to get experience within in the field of design and science while also learning two new languages: French and German. I want to pursue this to be able to get a different outlook on things and get cultured by experiencing, living, and finding other ways to think about design. My second path is attending the graduate school of design in Harvard, getting a master’s degree in Landscape Architecture and doing the urban design track after that. Either way, I know that these paths will intersect, so whichever one I take first I know they both will be fulfilled.
NAC: Anything you want to add?
Javier: I just want to say that people must want something before they pursue it, and when they pursue it, they should know that there are an infinite amount of ways to do it; people just need to find which way works best for them.