2018-2019 Takeoff Space Scholars

We have been guiding two remarkable young people Carlos Marquina and Julius Zhang

Carlos Marquina

Lowell High School, Lowell Massachusetts

Key Team Members

Mark Kantrowitz: Identified US colleges most suited to Carlos’s qualifications and interests and with potential for offering scholarship funding. Advised on financing alternatives and offered detailed guidance on application completion.

Jonathan Richmond: Arranged and accompanied Carlos on college visits, conducted fundraiser for summer study In English and math and supervised summer program completion. Used Socratic method to ask Carlos questions to help him focus effectively on application essay writing, ensured key tasks completed on time, liaised with Lowell High School, communicated with colleges for information/advocacy. Located professional family to welcome Carlos at weekends to encourage his education. Connected Carlos with Society of Professional Hispanic Engineers. Supervised completion of resume/LinkedIn page. Took Carlos on legal visits to review asylum application process. Regularly visited family to keep parents informed and check on welfare.

Carl LaCombe: Advised on selection of math tutor and curriculum for summer study.

SimDy: Advised on options for coursework and support at Lowell High School.

Ataur Rahman Chowdhury (Shuvo): Web page design and implementation.

Carlos and Jonathan made the video above for a fundraiser that raised over $3300 for Carlos to complete a college preparation English course and receive private math tutoring over the summer. Carlos, who taught himself video skills, edited and produced the product you see. He also won one of only a handful of prizes, the prize for multimedia, at a summer course in journalism where he’d focused on his video skills. Please see our video to appreciate the extent to which Carlos values the freedom possible in the United States and his intense desire to move forward and succeed in spite of any adversity he has faced.

Carlos respects the freedom possible through sacrifice in the USA

We have taken on Carlos’s case for many reasons: his quick intelligence and focus, energy, and determination to succeed are high amongst them, but we will remember for a long time a particular characteristic that is rare among disadvantaged kids in Lowell: his complete graciousness. Carlos has been through massive difficulties and trauma, but he is polite, appreciative, smiling and he reaches out to help others. He has made massive efforts to strengthen his qualifications for college, but raw qualifications apart, he will bring an inspiring and memorable presence to any university that admits him.

Carlos’s family had to live with increasingly threatening official behavior in Venezuela, including violence against his mother, when his parents refused to support the government. While all this was going on the family was increasingly identifying as Jewish Conversos (descended from Jews converted to Catholicism at the time of the Spanish Inquisition as the only way to escape torture or death) at the same time as Venezuelan government antisemitism was becoming ever more troublesome.

Carlos talks with Lowell High School Graduate Ken Hong during visit to Brandeis University

Finally, the family left Venezuela for the USA, where Carlos has shown maturity well beyond his age in helping his family settle in. His father works a night shift and is asleep during the day; his mother works nightly until 11 pm. Carlos provides extensive childcare for his two sisters, to whom he is very devoted, juggling homework with keeping them entertained and fed. In addition, he does a construction job, leaving him with very little time for himself. In this context, it is notable that he has volunteered to help new immigrant arrivals at Lowell High School with English and also started having lunch with special needs kids, helping organize events to help them socialize normally for Best Buddies International.

The move to Lowell, Massachusetts, and the need to learn English, set Carlos behind at high school. He enrolled in English Language Learners courses and reported limited understanding of teachers during early phases. His seriousness of resolve to graduate high school and attend college and his unusually mature and giving personality persuaded us to sponsor him for a series of activities, including college visits, summer study, and connection to a vibrant Newton Jewish community where a professional family welcomes him when Carlos can spare the time.

Carlos was well-respected at his summer English language class where he asked to be placed on a more demanding track than initially assigned because of his desire to learn college-level paper preparation skills. He also received four weeks of math tutoring from retired professor Robert Pierce, who we instructed to assign him extensive daily homework. The tutorials enabled Carlos to jump to an Honors math track at Lowell High School where his work this past fall earned him a grade A.

Carlos has participated in the afterschool program offered by Teenblock of Lowell Community Health to help organize an event to bring community in Lowell together, received a Rotary Youth Leadership Award, participated in a program to visit the Massachusetts State House where he spoke on the need to help immigrant students succeed in life, and he plays guitar in the Girls & Boys Club Music Room. He has also joined the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers as a junior member.

You would not think from the above rich range of activities that Carlos has fled from harassment in Venezuela and has a pressured and often sleep-deprived life helping his family survive – but he is not to be stopped. Carlos walks home two miles after school whatever the weather because he cannot afford the bus fare, and his phone was disconnected or dysfunctional almost all the time we have known him because of a lack of money to fix it until his host family generously bought him a replacement.

Carlos lacks what many teenagers take for granted, but continues to be upbeat, forward-looking, uncomplaining and indeed caring. He has varied interests that he probes with a spark of brilliance, challenging himself beyond his preparation. He communicates and makes friends easily and will be an inspiration to any college lucky enough to have him enroll. We are honored to support his case.

Julius Zhang

St Paul’s School, London

Key Team Members

Mark Kantrowitz: Identified US colleges most suited to Julius’s interests and with potential for offering scholarship funding. Advised on application procedures.

Jonathan Richmond: Used Socratic method to ask Julius questions to help him focus effectively on application essay writing, ensured key tasks completed on time, liaised with St Paul’s School (of which Jonathan is an alumnus), communicated with colleges for information/advocacy.

Davie Rollnick: Helped evaluate Julius’s mathematical level.

Ataur Rahman Chowdhury (Shuvo): Web page design and implementation.

The video above shows the introduction and interpretation of the first portrait in a tour Julius Zhang arranged for a group of Jonathan’s friends, his sister and himself at the National Portrait Gallery in London, where Julius is a member of the gallery’s youth forum and enjoys sharing his enthusiasm for portraiture (Julius’s comments on some of the other paintings he showed us are reproduced below).

This was no ordinary tour but evidence of the great resilience Julius shows in moving himself forward and preventing obstacles getting in his way. As a child he suffered from severe Tourette Syndrome for which he was bullied by teachers at his rural Chinese school who misconstrued his illness as a behavioral problem. Julius developed a fear of public speaking because of his mistreatment and through self-analysis on a level rare for teenagers decided that the best way to confront this was to share his enthusiasm for art publicly in a way that allowed his natural eloquence to win through.

Jonathan first discovered Julius at an engineering evening at one of the great schools of England, St Paul’s, where he had himself studied. Julius tracked Jonathan down on LinkedIn and showed interest in having our team advise him on his US university applications. Julius was a good match for a Socratic style in which the task was to ask him questions rather than attempt to supply all the answers.

Art supplies many of the metaphors for Julius’s take on life: early on he messaged Jonathan: “I look up to Cezanne as a role model who took a controlled approach to personal struggles (partly financially if I remember correctly) and used the hardships to perfect his art, which contains far more universal themes and emotions.”

“Drawing helps me destress and go through some of the most difficult periods,” he wrote, and this interest led him to two years of “helping out with event organizing and curating the gallery space” of the National Portrait Gallery.

One of the things Julius wants to do in college is to “curate an art show with fellow students…I want to draw attention to the exploration of synesthesia (a phenomenon in which a sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in another), which I used to experience as a young kid, and the representation of growth as a journey.”

Yet art is but one of Julius’s passions: he excels in math and is excited by engineering. His personal circumstances growing up in a rural area as well as losing much time having Tourette Syndrome treated meant that he did not have the opportunity to be snapped up by the Chinese competitive math and science machine that does so much to develop Chinese talent, but he developed the habit of problem solving for personal enrichment, and keeps a boxful of maths problems that he solves between classes. He solved a math Olympiad problem that only two out of six of the actual Chinese team Olympiad students got right.

Julius recently got an internship in the finance industry of the type undertaken by advanced college students and developed complex models for quantitative finance pricing, rapidly picking up the principles of the industry and its requirements. He is literate in English to a higher standard than most native speakers, is widely read, and routinely browses complex papers in the research literature.

Julius’s father initially sent him to an international school in London that Julius found unchallenging and unaffordable. Living alone and needing to support himself, he helped make ends meet by doing math tutoring. He then heard of an open house at St Paul’s, walked in, said he wanted to attend, was interviewed and subsequently accepted. He is currently on full scholarship and living in a school boarding house.

Takeoff Space supports Julius’s current application efforts for his extreme natural brilliance; rare talent in both arts and sciences (and interests in seeking connections between the two); spirit of enterprise; personal good manners (he has shown great appreciation for his opportunity at St Paul’s as well as for our encouragement); and immense courage in overcoming obstacles that would throw off many of his less-determined peers. Unlike many at St Paul’s, Julius’s family lacks the ability to fund his higher education, and we therefore encourage colleges reviewing his application to consider offering generous scholarship support as well as admission: they will receive a student who will rapidly inspire creativity and innovation and become a leader amongst his peers.

Julius on some of his favourite National Portrait Gallery art as presented to our group

Portrait of the artist Ella Naper by Laura Knight

This painting was done in 1913 when painting nude female models was still a taboo. It is unusual for a portrait to focus on anything other than the person who is the subject. In this piece, the artist played with the traditional concept of a portrait by focusing on the artist’s art-making process, leaving only a sideway profile for the artist and completely hiding the face of the model.

Colour use is vibrant and subtle: the red palettes have multiple shades that add depth to the painting. The brushstrokes on the artist’s clothes show Impressionist touches. As Vermeer once remarked, a cloud is never white but interspersed with green and yellow hues reflected from the grass. The touches of emerald green contribute to interesting light effects on the model and make the pale facial tones stand out more.

‘Man In A Chair’, painting of Jacob Rothschild by Lucian Freud

Lucien Freud’s hallmark style of heavy impastos (where paint is applied thickly to create effects of texture) is evidenced in this piece. The subject here reflects Freud’s inclination to portray people intimately, revealing vulnerability as well as tenderness with intense honesty.

Freud looked up to Francis Bacon as an inspiration and longed to add to art what it previously ‘lacked’. One piece could take as long as 2,400 hours to finish. The long, demanding poses often led to stiffening in the body, which conveniently allowed Freud to capture elusive insight into the delicate weariness exposed by the sitter.

Freud divided his work into day and night paintings, depending on the time at work. This portrait was a night painting done in his characteristic artificial white light. Freud started painting with the head, which for him captured the quintessence of a portrait, and worked outwards. Regions in the background adjacent to the face were deliberately darkened to make the portrait stand out more. Freud would wipe the paint off the hogshair brushes after each stroke to create the richly variegated and layered effect of wearied expression. These touches expose inner feelings and conflicts as if bringing out the inner psyche — not a surprise, as Lucien was deeply influenced by his grandfather Sigmund Freud’s theory of the ‘subconscious mind’.

Portrait of Sir Ken Dodd by David Cobley

The word ‘persona’ derives from the Latin word for ‘masks’. In this painting, David Cobley presents comedian Sir Ken Dodd as a wearied actor backstage. This piece stands out with the use of the mirror, which reflects an aspect of Dodd’s personality hidden by his jovial stage impressions.

Motion seems as if frozen in this piece. A random gesture of the hand seems more perfunctory when viewed alongside the comedian’s wizened face, where the focal point lies. The background is blurred out in a disorderly condition. Even the lighting seems to suggest a process in decay and is slightly bizarre. The colour use seems appropriately gaudy in contrast with the weary-looking actor.

Portrait of David Attenborough and Richard Attenborough by Ivy Smith

Ivy Smith’s work strikes me with his careful manoeuvring of perspectives. Space is distorted to reveal multiple vanishing points, making the piece appear different when viewed from different positions. In this piece, the curve of the hand placed on the arm works well. The edges of the tiles curve slightly into the background, achieving harmony in the composition. The gesture as well as absent gazes seem to imply subtle power dynamics between the two brothers.

When asked in an interview to compare his work with that of Vanessa Bell, the British painter famous for her portrait of Virginia Woolf and her theoretical, abstract approach to forms, Ivy Smith replied that he saw and presented concrete shapes in his paintings. Simple shapes and plain colours dominate the mise en scéne and teem with subtle variations. In this piece, for instance, the colours gradually gain warmth as one gazes up from the bottom. Mostly monotone patches are interspersed with subtle dips of colour variation to achieve an aesthetically pleasing texture.

The mostly unsaturated side on the right contrasts with the brighter left side to achieve balance in colour use. The patches of colours on the faces slightly resemble Byzantine mosaics, which relate well with the roles of the two sitters as art collectors. The African sculpture adds another exotic dimension to the piece, balancing a composition that might otherwise have registered primarily as a slightly confusing and intense juxtaposition of the two sitters.