October 16, 2014
Meet the Mentor: Monica and Math


By Monica Kendall

I love math.

That’s a strange thing to hear. I’m always taken aback when someone says that.

I tell people that I majored in math in college and usually all I hear is a long sigh followed by a drawn out, “I hate math!”

That’s a really strange thing to say to someone who has just told you what their passion is. But it’s part of how we relate to each other – talking about hating math.  So when someone says this to me, I just smile because I understand. Math is hard. And it is nice to commiserate.

But, I don’t hate it anymore. Now, It relaxes me. It’s consistency calms me.

Haruki Murakami says it so well:

Math is like water. It has a lot of difficult theories, of course, but its basic logic is very simple. Just as water flows from high to low over the shortest possible distance, figures can only flow in one direction. You just have to keep your eye on them for the route to reveal itself. That’s all it takes. You don’t have to do a thing. Just concentrate your attention and keep your eyes open, and the figures make everything clear to you. In this whole, wide world, the only thing that treats me so kindly is math.

There is a flow that math takes, and there’s a flow you can enter when working on math problems. You might have experienced with something else like basketball, painting, or playing the guitar. It’s as if your brain shuts off and you’re entirely absorbed and present with what you’re doing.

But as with anything else, it takes practice to get to that point. Math takes practice. It’s not something you are usually inherently or immediately gifted with. As painting takes practice, as free throws take practice, math takes practice. You might need to solve for “y” a thousand times before it feels like you know what you’re doing.

Unfortunately, most of us grow up with this idea that math is something you must be built to do. I always assumed that I was not built to do it. Everyone said it was so hard. So when I didn’t understand it right away, I labeled my brain as a “non-math brain”. And when my teachers explained things to me, I would zone out at the first hint of a difficult concept.

“There she goes again talking about functions. This is where I’m just too dumb,” I would say to myself.

But I was not too dumb – I was getting in my own way.

One time, while I was slogging through a pre-calculus class and crying a lot as a result, I recognized that I had kind of a bad attitude. I realized that I was approaching math with expectations of failure and embarrassment. That expectation was fulfilling itself dutifully, as self-expectations tend to do. I was too afraid of failing or even of asking a stupid question to let myself learn.

So, I decided to pretend that I could do it and that I loved math. I began writing down everything my teacher put on the board to force myself to pay attention. I allowed myself to make mistakes so long as I learned from them. I asked questions in class as if everyone else was wondering the same thing (they were).

Pretty soon, I was fascinated! Small pieces were coming together for me, and I began to see math as a puzzle.  This is when math started to feel like relaxation. The pressure had eased a bit, and I began to enjoy math for its own sake. I found that I could turn on my music and work on math problems for hours while having a pretty good time.

Math is now just about the simplest thing I can do. These days, the objectivity of math feels like a vacation from the subjective complexity of everything else happening around me.

I want everyone to have this much fun!

Monica Kendall (mkendall@esmcollege.com) is an academic mentor for the ESM Group in Portland, OR.

October 2, 2014
ESM adding new coaches, mentors

With 15 years of experience counseling students in public and private high schools, Jennifer Rasmussen joins the ESM Group as Senior College Coach.

Jennifer Rasmussen

"We are thrilled to add Jennifer to our team of mentors and coaches," said ESM Group founder and CEO Billy Downing. "Jennifer’s experience, expert knowledge, and counseling skills are going to be a huge asset for our students."

Jennifer’s passion, commitment, organizational abilities and patience are utilized every single day as a full-time senior counselor at Jesuit High School, a college preparatory school in Sacramento. She says she loves working with students to prepare them for their journey into college, and helping them find the one that fits their aspirations the best.

She is a graduate of CSU, Sacramento with a M.S. in counselor education and B.A. in childhood development.  She also has a Pupil Personnel Services (PPS) Credential.

A wife, mother, and athlete, Jennifer enjoys training for and competing in marathons and triathlons.

Jennifer joins a growing roster of ESM mentors and counselors in California. The company also added numerous academic mentors in September, including Christian Lawrence, a graduate of Biola University, and Yale graduates Justin Scott and Tyler Guse.


September 26, 2014
Meet the Mentor: Lucas McAdams

Your city: I just moved to Oakland, CA from Portland, OR. ESM’s CEO, Billy Downing, somehow convinced me to leave the city I was raised in (and still love) - but I’m glad he did. I’m excited to be here!

Your favorite thing about the Bay Area so far: The view. I had no idea this place was so beautiful.
One thing you wish you could take with you from Portland: Wow, that’s hard. One thing? With apologies to my family, my friends, the rain, craft beer, Taste Ticker sandwiches, and intelligent urban planning, I have to go with Portland Timbers games. As a soccer fan in the US, there’s really nothing comparable. Wait, maybe that’s a little selfish - should I go with the rain? Or would people down here actually hate me for that? Ah, this is too hard!
Degrees earned, colleges attended: In 2011 I graduated from the University of Oregon (quack quack) with a major in Political Science and minors in Business and Computer Science. 
Why you’ve decided to work for ESM: Though my degree choices in college wouldn’t have told you this, working with students has always been my passion. I love coaching, mentoring, and teaching, and ESM is a great combination of all of those things. 
The subjects you specialize in: SAT/ACT, math, English, and astronomy. True, I have never tutored anyone in astronomy (aside from my girlfriend as she struggled through ASTR 123 in college, a story she still hates when I bring up), but when the opportunity arises, I’ll be ready!
Trailblazers prediction for 2014/15: Regular season W-L: 59-23. Third seed in the West. Will beat the Grizzlies in the first round and the Clippers in the conference semi-finals. Will lose in seven games to the Spurs in the conference finals. Lamarcus Aldridge will finish 2nd in MVP voting; Damian Lillard will finish 5th. Nic Batum will average 15.7 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 6.1 assists… should I continue?
Dish you cook to impress your girlfriend: I’m just an awful cook - my girlfriend does nearly all of the cooking for us. I’m a darn good dishwasher, though! If I had to make something to impress her (though the simple fact of me making her something would probably do the trick), it would include a BBQ and some red meat. Pretty impressive, right?

How a scout would describe your basketball game: McAdams’ best attributes are the intangibles: communication, leadership, etc. At 5’11”, he’s often undersized, but rarely backs down to a difficult match-up. A too-streaky but still dangerous shooter, and more oddly, a streaky passer; a spectacular bounce-pass assist will sometimes be directly followed by an ill-advised turnover. More than anything, he’s a competitor, and will hopefully make a much better coach than player someday.
Can you vote in UK elections?: I need to look into that. My father was born in Oxford, and by a miracle stroke that entitles me to a UK passport; I just received my first earlier this year. I haven’t made it across the pond yet, but when I do, voting is one of the first things I’ll look into. Why not? I always have loved politicians who aren’t afraid to scream at each other.

September 25, 2014
College Applications

Our founder and CEO, Billy Downing, presented this webinar to the Positive Coaching Alliance on Wednesday Sept. 24 on the college application process.

September 24, 2014
We’re Growing

ESM’s academic mentorship service is expanding, and we’re adding new mentors throughout California.

Today, we welcome Christian Nathaniel Lawrence and Justin Scott in southern California:

Christian was born in southern California but lived in Trinidad and Tobago for ten years of his childhood. He says this experience dramatically shaped his joy of engaging people from varied cultural and ethnic backgrounds.

At age 16 he moved back to Redlands, CA with his family and finished junior and senior years of high school before heading to Biola University for undergraduate studies in mathematics. Christian considered both engineering and medicine, but found his calling in math education instead. After graduating he taught math Glen A. Wilson High School in Hacienda Heights, CA for five years.

“Teaching high school math for five years was very rewarding both as an academic mentor and as a life-mentor for so many students. Words cannot express how blessed I feel to have had the window and voice in so many young adults’ lives through teaching in high school,” he said.

For the next step in his life Christian is studying to become an actuary, a mathematician for insurance companies. He joins ESM as an academic mentor as he prepares to take rigorous actuarial exams. 

Justin Scott earned his Masters in African studies from Yale University in 2013, focusing on energy and environmental issues in West Africa. He earned a Bachelors in English Literature from Georgetown University in 2010, where he also ran a unit of the largest student-run business in the world “Students of Georgetown, Inc.”

Justin comes to ESM with a long history of teaching, tutoring, and college counseling, from classrooms in Sub-Saharan Africa to one-on-one settings in Washington, DC. He has a track record of success in each of these locations. In 2011 one of his low-income mentees in DC earned a prestigious Gates scholarship to Northwestern University.

Most recently, Justin has worked as a teaching assistant and grader at UCLA and Yale. He knows what top colleges are looking for, and he knows how to maximize applicants’ potential. He has a passion for helping students edit their essays and develop their creative voices, and his broad skillset allows him to tutor students in subjects ranging from SAT and ACT prep to English, European history, and American history.

Outside of the classroom, Justin enjoys running, playing basketball, producing electronic music, analyzing baseball statistics, surfing, and backpacking.

September 22, 2014
Meet the Mentor: Elena Coupal

We’ve started a occasional new series at ESM called “Meet the Mentor” where we will profile one of our mentors in a question-and-answer format.
Elena Coupal has agreed to be the first. Here’s all about Elena:
Your cityI was born and raised in Sacramento, I completed my undergraduate studies in San Diego, and now I’m attending graduate school in Salt Lake City, UT.
Degrees earned, colleges attended: I graduated from Saint Francis High School in Sacramento in 2008 (Summa Cum Laude), and I earned my B.S. in Biochemistry/Chemistry with a minor in Literature/Writing from UC San Diego in 2012. I’m currently working on my M.S. in Genetic Counseling at the University of Utah and expect to graduate in May 2016. 
How long you’ve been with ESM: Two wonderful years and counting! 
The subjects in which you mentor students: SAT, SAT Subject, ACT, and AP test preparation, chemistry, biology, mathematics up to calculus, English, history, literature, Spanish, religion and philosophy, study skills, economics, and psychology. 
Your favorite childhood activity: Building forts, playing in the mud, traipsing about the neighborhood with my friends, swimming, sneaking around the house in the middle of the night to find my parents’ hidden stashes of chocolate, and reading voraciously! 
Hobby you’re most passionate about: I collect and breed various species of tarantulas. Most recently I collaborated with JR’s Invertebrates to breed the Maraca cabocla (Brazilian redhead) species, and we produced the fifth captive born and bred egg sac in the US! The spiderlings (or “s’lings” for short) are adorable :) 
Where you will be 10 years from now: In ten years I’ll be practicing as a Genetic Counselor, hopefully owning a house, with a menagerie of pets (and maybe a kiddo or two!). 
Sweet or savory: Sweet! I have the biggest sweet tooth. It’s a problem. 
How your grandma would describe you, in one word: “Testarossina!” My Nonna (Italian grandmother) made up this word, which loosely translates to “my little hot red Ferrari treasure.” 
Your approach to academic mentorship, in one sentence: Helping students achieve their goals by building rapport, providing collaborative guidance, striving for success, and fostering a life-long passion for learning.
Favorite Sunday afternoon activity: Besides sleeping in, I love to swim, go blues dancing, and explore thrift shops with friends!

October 16, 2013
College application insanity gets worse


October 14, 2013
The Majority Of College Admissions Officers Do Not Check Applicants' Social Media Profiles

Will they look or won’t they? Would you chance it?

October 11, 2013
The College Application Mistake That Could Kill Your Chances

October 10, 2013
Are College Admissions Requirements in America Crazy?