Growing up in southern Florida, AJ Perez was an accomplished student with dreams of attending an elite college. The schools he heard most about, however, were the local options: University of Miami, Florida State.
Then, in 2008, as a high school junior, Perez applied for and was accepted to MIT’s Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science — or MITES — program. He spent a month and a half that summer immersed in university-level classes, learning about math, physics, and robotics and, it turned out, reshaping his plans for the future.
“I didn’t know I wanted to go to MIT until MITES,” Perez says. “It wasn’t too often MIT came up in daily conversation.”
Perez, now 21, went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from MIT. He also worked as a MITES teaching assistant the summer between his sophomore and junior years. Today, he is enrolled in a master’s program at the school and is a cofounder of New Valence Robotics, a startup focused on creating 3-D printers that can be used by science and math students in elementary, middle, and high schools. “Realizing the impact we’re having on people and realizing how excited the kids get — that’s what keeps me going every day,” Perez says.
The importance of education in science, technology, engineering, and math — the so-called STEM subjects — has been widely discussed in recent years. MITES, however, has been working to expand interest and participation in these fields for almost 40 years. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology launched the program in 1975 in an effort to encourage more minority and disadvantaged students to study math and science, says Shawna L. Young, executive director of the school’s Office of Engineering Outreach Programs, which oversees MITES.
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