Guest Post: Active Community Engagement (ACE) Counselors – Join us!

Written by: Jisoo Cheong ’23 (Electrical Engineering and Computer Science), Sahithi Madireddy ’23 (Biology), and Sophia Zheng ’24 (Urban Studies and Planning)

The 2021 ACE cohort!

It’s August. College is about to start. You finally chose your kerb after hours of debating which one is the most aesthetically pleasing. Everyone keeps throwing more acronyms and numbers at you. How will you survive the trek from Next to campus every day? What is the hype with Flour? Do you actually HAVE to pass the swim test to graduate? Fret not because Freshman Pre-Orientation Programs are the perfect way to answer all these questions as you’re experiencing campus for the first time. 🙂 The week before orientation, first-years can come to campus even earlier and spend the week in a First-Year Pre-Orientation Program aka an FPOP. We (Sophia, Jisoo, and Sahithi) are counselors for Active Community Engagement, or ACE1, an FPOP with the PKG Public Service Center! 

Why We Participated in ACE (and Stayed Involved as FPOP Leaders!)

Jisoo: I honestly joined ACE because I wanted to get a head start and come to campus early to make friends. As I was scrolling through the descriptions for the different FPOPs, I ended up choosing ACE as my first choice because it seemed like a program that encouraged discussion and social interaction. However, I had no idea that in this program, I would be exposed to so many social justice topics, some of which I never even knew about. Not only was I able to make the friends I wanted, but I was able to have fulfilling discussions with such a diverse group of people as we were all learning together. Being someone who mostly surrounded myself with STEM-related things in my life, it could’ve been easy to overlook and not know about a lot of these topics covered in ACE. However, now that I went through this program, it opened up my perspective and viewpoints.

Sahithi: I came from a high school where social justice was a big part of the curriculum, and I wanted to continue exploring service and advocacy in the new community I was going to be in. Choosing ACE was one of the best decisions I’ve made. I got to know Very Cool counselors who became incredible mentors as well as the staff (“we <3 sarah and leah” – Sahithi & Jisoo) at the PKG center (they have free snacks and tea if you ever stop by), who welcomed me to the social impact community at MIT. ACE was very formative for me as a pre-frosh, and I wanted to give that experience to other people. It’s always amazing to spend a week before the school year seeing organizations doing really good and important work. It can be easy to lose sight of that while you’re stuck with psets.

Sophia: I did ACE in 2020, which was the virtual year. It was 2 days instead of 5, and of course everything was on Zoom. Despite this, I still had so much fun and learned a lot about social justice, especially in the Boston/Cambridge community within that short period of time. I loved it so much that I knew I wanted to be a counselor the next year. This was an even more rewarding experience because even though I was no longer a frosh, I got to experience in-person ACE for the first time as well and learn about all the traditions we normally have but couldn’t do during that covid year. ACE was my first community on campus! I’ve met some of my best friends here and it’s such a welcoming environment for discussion and growth as you’re experiencing campus for the first time. We’d love to have you join our ACE fam!! <3

What A Typical Day in ACE Looks Like

Sahithi: Wake up, breakfast and “caffeinations” (short skits of funny moments the previous day) at 8 am. Get on the T2 to go to a service placement, go through riddles. Meet for lunch. Dances. Deep dive into an interactive social justice workshop. Evening activities, which can be a tour of boston, trip to a museum, movie night, or more.

Our Favorite ACE Memories

Jisoo: As a participant, going out to Boston while doing service placements. For example, we went to a school to garden, Boston Commons to help with an immigration group, and Dudley Street to learn about the neighborhoods for housing justice. As a counselor and coordinator, having meetings with the counselors at the end of the day during FPOP week and laughing together. 

Sahithi: Choreographing a dance to Tik Tok (kakaw) in 20 minutes. Becoming friends with other counselors. Laughing so hard it hurt. Exploring the city.

Sophia: One night, some professors from DUSP gave us a walking tour of Boston, and we ended in Roxbury on the roof of a community building. This was a really special view; you could see most of Boston lit up. Then, we had takeout dinner in a park and just talked! All of us had a really great time that night, and it reminded me of how the community we build at ACE is so meaningful. 

How ACE Has Shaped Our MIT Experience

Sahithi: I’ve grown a lot as a leader through ACE, learning about how to create a welcoming space for people in a new environment to feel safe discussing things like racism or sexuality. ACE really has been a community for me, where I’ve met some of my best friends through the program and people I look up to a lot. ACE set the stage for me to continue doing service and justice-y stuff in college, such as paid Social Impact Internships, PKG IAP Health, and being part of the fossil fuel divestment campaign on campus (shameless plug).

Jisoo: From the friends I have made, to the social justice topics I have been exposed to, to the leadership skills I have learned, there are so many ways my time at MIT has been shaped by ACE. These are things that I could’ve easily not have done with the swamp of work and psets. ACE reminds me to take a step back and reevaluate other important things in life. 

Sophia: I’ve met some of my closest friends through ACE, learned about the significance of service and other social justice topics I didn’t even know about before coming here, been able to talk with external organizations with amazing missions, and found a home in Stud 407 for that packed but crazy fun week!

What ACE Means to Us

Jisoo: Now that this is my third year being a counselor for ACE, I see ACE as one of the first experiences of MIT that many incoming students will have. Because of this, I want ACE to be a welcoming environment and a place where students can meet a lot of people with similar interests. I made a lot of good memories from ACE and loved it so much that I wanted to give back, which is why I became a counselor and coordinator. 

Sahithi: ACE really is a space of love and I think it’s rare that that is explicitly the case for an extracurricular activity. ACE works because the counselor team genuinely cares about each other and we’re excited about welcoming other people to our community. It’s fun and it’s intense, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Sophia: ACE IS FAMILY!! I’ve heard other people say our FPOP is out here doing the most, and that makes me happy 🙂

1previously FUP for First Year Urban Program but got too often confused with the Department of Urban Planning – Sophie

22% of our counselors are urban studies & planning majors tho – Sahithi

2boston’s subway system, which is only sometimes on fire – Sahithi

Applications for all FPOPs, including ACE, are due Monday, June 13. Learn more and apply through the Office of the First Year here

Also, we encourage you to learn more about other programming offered by the PKG Center including:

Tags: Active Community Engagement

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