Stanford Fall 2007 Essay Questions (before Stanford switched to the Common Application)
I worked for my father's business during the summers designing and assembling testing devices and prototypes, and helped at the company’s Midwest Renewable Energy and Sustainable Living Fair booth. In addition to volunteering at the San Lorenzo Valley Museum, I often visited my grandma, partially to help her with housework and repairs. Finally, I spent some time working on my own electronic projects, such as an improved version of my radio-controlled well pump controller.
My involvement and interest in electronics has been an important part of my life for many years. Ever since I was quite young, I’ve liked to design and build my own gadgets. Partially because of my dad’s business, I became interested in how electronic circuits work and how to make useful devices using simple components. While in elementary school, I started wiring my own circuits, such as light-pulse counters, sound detectors, and even a digital clock. At first, my dad provided the designs, but I eventually learned how all of them worked and then began to design my own. Although I’ve never taken any classes in electronics, I’ve read textbooks and learned from the successes and failures in my own efforts. In recent summers, I even worked for my dad’s business as a technician and engineer. This last summer, for example, I engineered and started to build an automatic test device designed to simplify the task of testing and calibrating every battery monitor that his company sells. However, my interests are not confined only to work or my own projects.
A couple of years ago, my dad and I decided to start a club at my high school for people interested in designing circuits with microcontrollers, which are essentially simple computers on a single chip. While that club did not meet often enough to be a success, this year I’ve tried again and my new Electronics Club is still going strong, and interested people keep coming back for more.
Two years ago, while taking AP Physics, I finally realized that time travel is theoretically possible, though not practical. Although this revelation was interesting simply because it made me rethink the laws of the universe, that was not the main reason I found it amazing. What I still find most interesting is the origin of this surprising theory.
Over a century ago, the experimenters Michelson and Morley discovered that light travels at the same speed from the perspective of any observer. However, it took Einstein’s genius to realize that if light goes at the same speed for every observer, then time must not always go at the same rate for everybody. From these observations, he reasoned that someone who travels at high speed will think less time has gone by than someone who has stayed home. The first person would, in effect, travel forward in time.
Just to be perfectly clear, I don’t believe that time travel by this method is at all practical or even useful. It is simply the theory that amazes me, that such a simple observation can lead to such a complex and counterintuitive conclusion, which nevertheless has been experimentally verified to be correct. When Einstein published his theory, there was no way to test whether it worked or not. Many scientists were skeptical at the time, but more recent tests using atomic clocks have verified the predictions. From this theory and its origins, I saw the beauty of an ordered universe where, as in math, simple statements can lead to profound conclusions.
Among other things, I like to help other people. For years I’ve tutored students after school, even though I didn’t need the time for my school’s community service requirement. While I’ve not always found it easy, I have done my best and enjoyed it too.
Last year, I spent some time helping one particular geometry student who was struggling to pass the class. One day during a tutoring session, she came to me and asked if I would help her rework old test questions for partial credit. While I generally don’t think tutoring is particularly difficult, this time it wasn’t easy for me. First of all, I felt bad because I didn’t really know what to do to help her, especially because I could see that she was really making an effort to understand the problems. Also, despite her (and my) best efforts, we made slow progress. I felt somewhat exasperated that I couldn’t explain the material so that she understood it completely, and I didn’t even know if I was really helping. However, after more than an hour, I managed to help her rework all of the problems she had left to do.
The next week, she specifically asked if I would help her again. I immediately said yes, despite some misgivings, because I felt really good about being able to help. Perhaps I had been more useful than I thought. After a few more weeks, I came to realize how nice it can be to help other people, even if it isn’t the easiest thing to do. If there is anything you think I might be able to help you with, I will be glad to try. There will almost certainly be things you can help me with as well.
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