A Conversation with Minerva Student Raymundo

Meet Raymundo, a student in the Class of 2019 | Nov, 21, 2017

Quick Facts

Raymundo Gonzalez-Leal

Cadereyta Jimenez, Mexico


Major & Concentrations
Computational Sciences
Data Science and Statistics

Higia Technologies


Why did you choose to attend Minerva?
I was mostly interested in Minerva because of its academic model. The whole idea of developing skills through education and leaving behind traditional rote memorization, such as trying to remember formulas in math, really appealed to me. Some people in my life were skeptical of my decision at first, especially because I joined what will be the first graduating class. I knew, though, that if I didn’t experience Minerva I would never know whether it was really good or not, so I decided to give it a try. I could always go back to traditional education if I found that it wasn’t right for me.

What are some of your passions and interests?
Swimming is one of them, although I have never swam competitively. But it’s a sport I have always found quite relaxing. Also, in middle school, I played oboe in the band. I stopped during high school because I moved to the city, and it was challenging for me to find easy ways to continue with it. Now at Minerva, I’m trying to pick it up again by myself. I don’t want to play in a band anymore or practice as frequently, but I do enjoy playing every now and then.

You said you were drawn to Minerva for its academics. What about the academic experience do you most like?
Something that I like, especially with computational science courses, is that you are expected to learn fundamentals on your own. You’re not going to sit down in a class and have a lecture on how to write code, when you can do it yourself. You’re never going to have class on something that is easily accessible to you by watching online videos or reading outside material. Instead, you spend as much time as you need learning on your own, and then in class you focus on learning the skills you actually need. You use class for debate or to solve problems, for example, and it makes for a much more interesting and engaging experience.

What is a problem you would like to address in the world?
Something that has been very interesting to me is applying machine learning to be able to provide the solutions to medical problems that are prevalent in rural areas. At the company I am working for, Higia Technologies, we are developing a breast cancer screening device that could help those living outside of large cities who have less access to medical facilities and treatment centers. Using machine learning to conduct a risk assessment is empowering and is something I would like to work on after I graduate.

What do you enjoy most about being a part of the Minerva community?
The people, definitely. The students who I interact with have become my close friends. They are incredibly interesting and they have a wide variety of perspectives, having come from different backgrounds and having different interests, past experiences, and ways of thinking. It is quite common that I have really good conversations with them and that teaches me a lot. That has been the most meaningful, and definitely the most memorable, part of my experience at Minerva so far.

Share a trip or experience you have had outside of class that has broadened your perspective or challenged the way you think.
Some of my classmates and I organized a trip to the Wendelstein accelerator in Germany, which was built for nuclear fusion research. Nuclear fusion is a potential way for us to generate energy, and if we are able to, this energy will be super clean and efficient. We visited the research center and we were able to see parts of the actual machine and meet some of the people conducting research there. We learned how the center was built and all the work that was put in it. What is mind-blowing is the amount of effort that projects like this require: years and years of research and design. It was inspiring to see, and it’s a nice example of how a very good project with great people behind it can change the world.

Tell us about a collaboration with a Civic Partner that you most enjoyed.
In Buenos Aires, some classmates and I collaborated with a data scientist from the Telefonica Foundation, a large communication company in Latin America. We talked about how it is important for data scientists to ensure that the work they are doing will actually be useful and relevant to people — not just conduct research on topics they find interesting. For Telefonica, it’s not about doing research for the sake doing research. Rather, they focus on giving back to communities. Seeing how Telefonica combines research and its organizational priorities was very interesting to me, since I myself enjoy doing research more when I have a real goal in mind — especially when that goal can have a real world application.

What would you tell another student who is considering Minerva?
I think the best advice I have is to give it a try and see for yourself if you like it. I don’t think Minerva is a good fit everyone, nor will it be enjoyable to everyone. But I do think that there are ways to test it out before committing. If you’re admitted, you can attend events like Ascent, where you come to San Francisco to meet other students and get to know your professors. I think the experience can be quite valuable.

Describe your involvement with the Math Olympiad. What skills or lessons have you found most helpful in your studies?
You say that you are going there to “train” instead of going to class because the whole point of the Olympiad is to not sitting back and watch the professor write formulas on a white board. For example, during my first day of training I was presented a problem I didn’t know how to solve. So, I went to a trainer and said, “I don’t know the answer. How do you do it?” And his response was, “Well if you knew the answer, this wouldn’t be a problem. So, go back, sit down and spend time trying to figure out how to do it.” That advice was mind-blowing. Up until then, in school, it has always been, here is a problem and here is how you solve it. If you saw something new, you wouldn’t know how to do it. What really got me hooked on the Math Olympiad was my trainer’s advice and getting to experience solving those problems on my own — from having no clue how to do them, to spending hours trying to solve them.

Why did you decide to pursue an IB Diploma? What appealed to you about the program?
I was an overachiever; I would always try to have the best grades. I decided to complete the IB program because I knew that it was more intensive than the other paths, and that probably meant that it had more interesting classes. Another reason I chose to pursue one, quite honestly, was that I thought it would look better on a resume or college application. I believed that I could do it, so I said, “let’s just do it.”

Who inspired you in high school?
My parents value education a lot, especially my dad. He knows that, had he gone to a better university, he would’ve had better opportunities. So, they wanted my sisters and me to be able to pursue the best opportunities available to us. They were never harsh; they never pushed or forced us to always get the best grades. But they taught us about the importance of putting in effort, regardless of whether the results were amazing. I remember once, when I didn’t get a good grade, instead of punishing me, my mom brought me cake. She knew that I was sad, so she said, “Here’s some cake. You’ll be fine.” This is just one example that shows how my parents never forced us to be “the best.” They just tried, and succeeded, at making us see the value in education.

Did IB’s Theory of Knowledge (TOK) course prepare you for Minerva’s active learning experience? If so, how?
Theory of Knowledge is kind of like philosophy. The focus of this class is understanding what we know, and then figuring out how we know what we know. It really focuses on how different professional fields go about understanding what knowledge actually is, and brings into question how certain we are about things we claim to know. This was quite interesting to me, because in science classes, at least in traditional schools, there are many things you never question. For example, being told, “this is a formula about how gravity works,” and then believing that. At Minerva, we’ve explored how strongly we can believe in different things. Calling into question the potential human errors that can be made in the process of arriving at a conclusion is something Theory of Knowledge and Minerva classes have in common.

How is Minerva shaping your future?
Minerva has opened up more possibilities for me. If I had stayed back home, I would have gone to a traditional university, chosen my major at the beginning of my first year, and started on a path that was pretty much defined for me. Here, having the opportunity to explore different professional fields, I’ve discovered my passion for data science. With every passing semester, Minerva is broadening my perspectives, helping me make more informed decisions, and developing me professionally.

If you were inspired by Raymundo's story and are seeking a college experience that will teach you valuable pragmatic skills that will enable you to change the world, apply to join Minerva today.