Life Isn’t About Standardized Tests

Written by Minds Matter Portland on November 29th, 2014. Posted in MM Portland

An Interview with Elwin Aragorn, First Minds Matter Alumni to Return as a Volunteer

By Briana Crider

At first glance he’s quiet, unassuming, and—much to my astonishment at nine in the morning—does not want a cup of coffee from the bakery where our interview is set. However, after a few minutes of polite banter, and once I sip my coffee (without which I cannot function), we are ready to dive in to the questions.

I’m talking about our first Minds Matter Alumni returning volunteer, Elwin Aragorn. The youngest of three brothers and the first to attend college, Elwin has made his way back to where it all began. Returning as a tutor for Minds Matter of Portland seemed like a “no-brainer” when approached by our executive team. Elwin was part of the Minds Matter program as a student at Marshall High School and then went on to graduate with a mechanical engineering degree from the University of Portland. After only a few minutes of chatting I realize Elwin is full of inspiration, wit, and intelligence. With his engineering background and a job working with metal testing at IMR, he is the perfect candidate to work as a math tutor with the MM program.

Home life proved to be a large factor in Elwin’s college conversation—a conversation that never happened. Although his parents had both attended college, they did not play a role in helping Elwin navigate his personal college future. Elwin turned to Minds Matter where he found a great support system and opportunity to develop a new network with a priority focus on college. He enjoyed spending Saturdays with his friends and mentors, some of whom he still keeps in contact.

Ben Gilbert and Elwin Aragorn2We touched base with one of Elwin’s mentors, Ben Gilbert, to get some insight from the mentor’s perspective. Ben was most intrigued by how committed the students were to the program. “There are very few teenagers who are willing to get up early on a Saturday morning and spend all day in a classroom with tutors and mentors who are pushing them to learn and live outside their comfort zone.” In developing his relationship with Elwin, Ben talked about how they are both fairly introverted and took some time to get comfortable with each other. However, after some effort, they developed a great relationship, and Ben even gained some insight into his own life experiences by being part of this interaction.

One of Ben’s proudest moments was watching Elwin navigate a group conversation—something Elwin found slightly discomforting—and come out surprising everyone with not only his intelligence, but his unique point of view. During one of MM Executive Director Graham Covington’s many group discussions, he raised a question about a very odd historical fact, and no one seemed to know the answer. Graham was “champing at the bit,” as Ben put it, to illustrate why everyone should know this fact. After a few moments of silence, Elwin quietly chimed in with the correct answer and cited his source from a video game. This definitely threw Graham for a loop as it wasn’t the traditional learning approach, but needless to say, it was a winning moment for Elwin. And for Ben it was a good reminder that mentors have as much to learn as the mentees in the program. Even with the substantial time commitment, Ben still recommends that others volunteer with Minds Matter because it’s a good program with a positive impact on many lives. “The more time I spent with Elwin, the more I enjoyed the experience and was able to appreciate him and the process.”

While enrolled in Minds Matter, Elwin was able to go to summer programs in his sophomore and junior years where he experienced first hand what college would be like. In his sophomore year he attended the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York, for an architecture program. This was somewhat nerve-wracking as it was his first time flying, that he could remember, and his first time across the country. Elwin spent his next summer at the University of Idaho in Moscow, Idaho, studying engineering for two weeks. During his time at the UoI he made a friend who ended up not only attending the same college as Elwin, but is now Elwin’s close friend and roommate.

Elwin feels like he “was here yesterday” when he talks about developing relationships with the students now as a tutor. He has had a lot of fun in the first few weeks of the school year getting to know the students and figuring out the tutoring rotation schedules. For Elwin, Minds Matter was more than just focusing on the steps for college admission, but the chance to understand what’s going on in the world, and develop soft skills that are just as important. “Life isn’t all about standardized tests.” They are essential, but not the complete pieces of the puzzle.

Elwin plans to positively impact others during his life by continuing to volunteer. He enjoys volunteering, because it’s “awesome and fun,” to put it lightly! He also hopes to make a difference using his degree and career path to ensure accountability in the products companies make. He currently works for a company that tests the “biology” of the metals by looking at their cells, (and way more high-tech words and concepts I don’t feel qualified to discuss). Basically he’s a wizard with understanding metals, their composition, and whether they meet specific standards. He also hopes to one day focus his educational background into renewable energy generation. Degrees in STEM areas are a large focus of the MM program, and with our present example we hope to continue enticing our students into this incredibly interesting world.

Elwin’s advice for students considering the program is very simple and to the point: just do it. His advice for people considering volunteering with Minds Matter is also very simple: just do it. “When you actually make that jump you realize how enjoyable volunteering is, and even if you don’t think you’re making an impact, you are.”

Having Elwin come back to Minds Matter to sit on the other side of the table is a great achievement for the program. We are exceedingly thankful to have him on board, and hope more Alumni will follow in his footsteps. Elwin is living proof of how this program truly changes the course of our students’ lives by providing them a safe and supportive environment to realize that college is an option.

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