State: North Carolina, USA

High School: Public school, 50 students in graduating class

Ethnicity: Hispanic / Gender: Female

GPA: 4.98 out of 5.0


Extracurriculars: Research, founding science fair mentoring director, founding Editor-in-Chief of student newspaper, beach volleyball, fundraising artist

Awards: Intel International Science and Engineering Fair Finalist, US Public Health Surgeon General's Special Science Award, National Hispanic Scholar, Jack Kent Cooke Semifinalist, Wayne Hanson Excellence in Science or Engineering Award

Major: Math


My father said I didn’t cry when I was born. Instead, I popped out of the womb with a furrowed brow, looking up at him almost accusatorially, as if to say “Who are you? What am I doing here?” While I can’t speak to the biological accuracy of his story — How did I survive, then? How did I bring air into my lungs? — it’s certainly true that I feel like I came preprogrammed with the compulsion to ask questions.

I received my first journal in preschool, probably because my parents were sick of cleaning my crayon drawings off my bedroom wall. Growing up, my notebooks became the places where I explored ideas through actions in addition to words. If the face I was sketching looked broody, I began to wonder what in her life made her that way. Was she a spy? Did she just come in from the cold? Graduating from crayons to markers to colored pencils, I layered color upon color, testing out the effects of different combinations, wondering why the layering of notes in music filled me with the very same happiness as the sight of the explosion of paired colors beneath my hands.

I began to take notes, on anything and everything. Reading Steve Martin’s Born Standing Up, I took away lessons on presentations, of maintaining a rhythm and allowing crescendos of energy to release every so often. While watching a documentary on people preparing for a sommelier exam, I made note of the importance of an enriching environment where most everything points you to your goals. Flipping through my old journal, I see that even an article about trouble in the South China Sea inspired notes on precedent and maintaining tradition lest you provoke the unknown. I was looking for the rules of the world.

More than just a place to catalogue my observations about the world, my notebooks are places to synthesize, to course-correct, to pinpoint areas for iterative improvement. When the words are down on paper, I see my patterns of thought and the holes in my logic stark against the white page. If I have a day of insecurity that leads to a sudden rush of journaling characteristic of that in a teen movie, looking down at the angsty scribbles, I'll recognize my repeated thoughts and actions and look for pressure points in that system of behavior where I can improve.

Now my 2016 notebook returns to exploring the world through actions and experiments. Dozens of doughnut-shaped sketches dot pages that ask “how would you play tic-tac-toe on a torus?” Another page containing bubble letters answers the simpler question of the result of sorting these figures into groups of topological equivalences. Not two pages later are the results of a research binge on Mersenne primes that took me through perfect numbers and somehow deposited me at a Wikipedia page detailing the mathematical properties of the number 127. Once again, I look for the rules of the world.

Whenever I feel discouraged, I look to my stack of notebooks, shelved neatly by my desk. In those pages I’ve learned that I have room to fail and grow, to literally turn over a new leaf if a problem is particularly tricky. Through years of scribbling away, I’ve learned that the most fundamental part of my development has been giving myself the space to try: to sketch mangled faces, to draw the wrong conclusions, to answer a question incorrectly, and to learn from my mistakes without shame. I look to that mass of notebooks filled with my ideas, my mistakes, and my questions, and I'm reminded that I’ve grown before, and that I’ll grow again, all the while asking questions.



Marina’s opening line catches readers' attention, although it’s not immediately clear how it relates to the theme until Marina's reflection on her initial anecdote shows, rather than tells, her predilection for asking questions. Marina stakes her interest in keeping notebooks through anecdotes relating even back to preschool. Although her imagery borders on purple prose, the momentum of the essay keeps the writing from dragging too much.

Marina tracks her shifts in mental framework — from initially gathering information to finally synthesizing and building upon her observations — as she flips through the pages of her notebooks. While the examples of notes taken, in paragraph three, walk the line between adding detail and being repetitive, they deepen the reader's understanding of her notebooks. We see her exhibit a growth mindset, as she notes that she uses her notebooks as a space to process thoughts and find areas for improvement.

Marina tracks her shifts in mental framework — from initially gathering information to finally synthesizing and building upon her observations — as she flips through the pages of her notebooks.

The second-to-last paragraph also walks the line between deepening Marina's interests and adding redundant details. However, it broadens Marina's interests to not only cover pop culture and world events, but also math. This also exemplifies the paragraph's purpose, of the notebooks as a way to explore the world through experimentation.

Marina closes her essay on a positive, grounded note that brings the content of the essay one step further to show her mindset of iterative growth. With a closing sentence returning to "asking questions," she exhibits full-circle imagery which underscores the essay's theme.

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