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Beyond the Infinite

Beyond the Infinite, Summer 2014

Success in and out of the water

Amphibious Achievement

Achievers celebrate each other on the last day of the spring 2014 session. Photo courtesy of Amphibious Achievement.

Five minutes on the ergometer, 10 SAT prep questions, and 50 yards in the pool. This is how every Sunday on campus ends for the high-school "Achievers" participating in Amphibious Achievement. And every Sunday, the loud screaming cheers of MIT mentors greet the Achievers before each exercise.

The mentors' screams aren't meant to distract. Instead, the collective roar of encouragement pushes the Achievers to best their personal records of how far they can row, how many questions they can answer, and how fast they can swim.

In only three years of existence, Amphibious Achievement has seen tremendous growth and a measurable impact on the high-school students it serves. A dual athletic and academic program, Amphibious Achievement brings Boston-area youth to campus as MIT student mentors teach the meaning of success in and out of the water. Each semester of the program, Achievers have seen a 15-20 percent improvement in their personal records across the board. And among the program's graduating high-school seniors, Achievers have a 100 percent college matriculation rate.

"I think we've been successful because we're holding true to our motto of 'success in and out of the water' and always holding true to our goal of helping youth through sports and academics," says junior Alice Huang, co-president of Amphibious Achievement. "But, we've been really flexible with everything else, as each year new mentors, new leaders bring their spin and new ideas to the program."

Noam Angrist '13 and Ron Rosenberg '13 founded Amphibious Achievement in 2011 to apply their respective passions for crew and swimming to serve Boston-area youth. In its first year, Amphibious Achievement brought 15 Achievers to campus from two local schools. Now, just three years later, the program hosts 55 Achievers from eight schools.

Amphibious Achievement's leadership engineers the growth of the program to realize a local impact where it's needed most. When deciding which local high schools to target, these MIT student leaders examine dropout rates and demographics to ensure that the program is meeting its goal of helping urban high-school students in need of support.

Though the idea of spending Sundays engaged in rigorous academic and athletic exercises may sound like a tough sell to high-school students, demand is very high. Each year, Amphibious Achievement receives 25-30 student applications for 10-12 available spots in the program.

Demand is even higher among students from MIT and other universities who engage in the selective application process to become mentors. In addition to MIT, mentors come from Northeastern University, Boston University, and Boston College. Some students from Northeastern University adapted aspects of Amphibious Achievement for a pilot program on their own campus.

"We've had mentors from other campuses come to MIT and be part of the program, and now we're excited that these mentors want to bring the program to their own campuses," says co-president Shilpa Agrawal '15.

This year has been especially exciting for the program. In January, U.S. Olympic gold-medalist swimmer Cullen Jones visited MIT as a result of Amphibious Achievement winning a contest with the USA Swimming Foundation. Jones spent the day with Achievers and mentors and also presented a two-hour pool clinic.

At Amphibious Achievement's annual Erg-A-Thon in April, more than 100 MIT students rowed on machines outside Kresge Auditorium to raise over $10,000 in support of the program.

Amphibious Achievement also receives financial and in-kind support from various MIT offices and outside organizations. The PKG Center has supported Amphibious Achievement with grant funding and advising support since its founding, and the Division of Student Life (DSL) is also a key supporter.

"We're really grateful for the PKG Center support, since every year we receive support from the PKG Center to keep the program alive," says Agrawal. "Dean Colombo and DSL also are very crucial in supporting the program."

By providing mentorship through athletics and academics, Amphibious Achievement provides support to local youth who may not otherwise find opportunities for support and leadership development.

"I thought MIT was just about science and engineering, but I realized that it's really about problem solving," says Agrawal. "And every day at Amphibious Achievement we're problem solving through the lens of community service and mentorship for inner-city youth."

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