A Community that Cares
Sonola (soon to be BS ’17) opted for the bold move and enrolled at Caltech, for both the change of scenery and the academic challenge. Scholarships made that move possible. At Caltech, he found a community of like-minded undergraduate scholars who encourage and motivate one another. And he put his heart into supporting his peers—including serving as president of Fleming House.
“One of the better parts of the house system is that you’re surrounded by people who have gone through the exact same thing as you,” says Sonola, who pursues an option in chemical engineering with a minor in computer science. “Anytime you face a struggle, odds are someone right next to you has had the same struggle.”
His entrée into the Caltech community started well before his first day of class. He participated in the Freshman Summer Research Institute, a program that offers incoming students from underrepresented groups early exposure to Caltech’s labs, classrooms, and social opportunities. That experience proved so valuable that Sonola returned as a counselor the following year.
The theme of giving back to the student community—and especially making sure his knowledge benefits newcomers—suffuses his slate of extracurricular activities. To give just a few examples, Sonola served as a teaching assistant for five courses, a leader at new-student orientation, and a manager of Chouse, the late-night coffeehouse run by students.
“Over three years working there, I’ve seen a lot of people come in and out of Chouse,” Sonola says. “Even if they don’t know me by name, they know me as ‘the guy who made my quesadilla.’”
In addition to his financial aid, many activities that enriched Sonola’s undergraduate experience have been made possible thanks to resources provided by philanthropists.
For instance, he has played in three different bands at TechStock, an annual competition that showcases the musical talents of the Caltech and JPL communities. Key support for the contest has derived from the Moore-Hufstedler Fund (MHF), which invites grant applications for programs that will have a positive impact on student life.
In his capacity as Fleming president, Sonola sought assistance to purchase sports equipment for each member of the house; the MHF advisory committee liked the idea so much that the fund kicked in $5,000 and broadened the initiative to benefit all undergraduates at Caltech.
“All the things that happened beyond the classroom really defined my Caltech experience, and a lot of that wouldn’t be possible without donor funding,” Sonola says.
After commencement, Sonola will make his next bold move. He will apply his computer science expertise to build algorithms for Goldman Sachs in New York City. Extending Techer bonhomie beyond campus, alumni made the introductions that led him to the job. And alumni have promised to advise him about life in the Big Apple.
“It’s very nice to know that I can always text someone who graduated eight years ago and ask things like, ‘Where should I live?,’ ‘How do I get around the city?,’ and ‘Where can I get good pizza?’”