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Adrienne Lai ‘21

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) student and 2021 St. Stephen's and St. Agnes Valedictorian
What has your first year at MIT been like? 
The first year of college has been chaotic! There have been a lot of changes with living away from home and adjusting to a new learning environment, leading to many unpredictable events, but overall it has been super fun and exciting! 

I have met so many amazing people who are all super curious, collaborative, and supportive. I love seeing how we all come from varied backgrounds but still have things in common! I know I will be friends with them for life! 

Also, it has been a blast trying many new things like weather forecasting, salsa, and ice cream scooping while continuing things I enjoyed in high school like theater, working on project teams, teaching, and writing. I’ve also enjoyed taking new classes like Children’s Literature, Discover Physics, and Toy Product Design; all of the classes are intriguing and challenging and I think I learn a lot each day! 

Finally, it has been great to explore Cambridge and Boston. I absolutely love walking along the Charles River and definitely recommend walking the Freedom Trail! 

In what ways has your SSSAS education helped you at MIT?
I think learning to ask questions has been a very helpful skill in college. It can be intimidating to talk to professors or go to office hours, but learning the mechanics of it and how to ask through STAT and emailing teachers in high school helped! Also, learning a procedure for writing papers has been useful as for me, all are done outside of class with little consolation, so understanding how one should flow is great! 

What has been the most rewarding experience you've had in college so far?
Joining MIT’s Solar Electric Vehicle Team has been absolutely amazing! I am on the Mechanical Engineering Subteam and have worked on the brakes system, seatbelt, trunk, preload experiment, and rollcage projects. Next year, I will be the Mechanical Engineering Lead for the team. Over spring break, I went on our operations training and testing trip and will be going with the team on the race, the American Solar Challenge (ASC), during the summer. During the ASC, there are two competitions—the track event (related to who can complete the most laps) and the road challenge (which is a race across the Midwest). 

I’ve had so much fun learning more about cars and solar energy (both of which I was not very interested in entering college) along with machining techniques, failure points, CAD, and engineering analysis and documentation. I joined the team because I wanted to be a part of the collaborative, enthusiastic, and passionate student-driven environment, and I’ve absolutely loved meeting the fantastic group of graduate students, upperclassmen, and other freshmen involved. It is great knowing I can ask them anything related to classes or life! I cannot wait to spend three weeks with them during the race over the summer! 
What is your biggest takeaway from your research experience? 
Currently, I am UROPing (Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program) in MIT’s Sea Grant Laboratory working on creating sensors that act like catfish and seal whiskers. These sensors will provide more data for marine machines to use for navigation and sensing. 

I absolutely love my UROP because I apply what I do in the classroom to a project. For example, the day after I learned to solder in my Toy Product Design class, I was creating custom circuits for the sensor! I have also learned lots of new things like how to cast polymers, 3D print parts, and use perfboards to make my own circuit! Additionally, it is super exciting to be creating something new and building off of previous tests and theories; the discovery is infectious! 

My biggest takeaway from participating in research is not being afraid to try something, no matter how unrelated it seems. As everything you do is happening for the first time, any idea could be the best one! Also, I learned to document your work and double-check things that seem given so you can refer to past examples and confirm your theories. 

What advice would you give to our current Saints seniors?
College can be overwhelming, so definitely remember to check in with yourself and your peers! Definitely try anything you are interested in and do not feel pressure to do something because you did it in high school. Finally, be sure to have lots of fun—time is going to fly!
    • In Toy Product Design, each teammate takes turns being the team “Care Bear” where you take care of the team for the week. When its your turn, you get the team care bear, which I am holding.

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