After having his blood drawn earlier in the day March 14, San Benito High School senior Jaron Cota was backstage conducting a tech rehearsal for the production of the school musical, “Newsies.”
It was Pi Day and the 17-year-old student knew at precisely 6:28pm (or Double Pi) he would learn if he had been accepted to his top college choice, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Once there was a break in the choreography, Cota—surrounded by his fellow student stage-hands—logged into his online account with MIT and was notified that he got in.
“I started jumping up and down and running around like crazy backstage,” said Cota, who had forgotten instructions not to get too worked up since he had given blood. “I got light-headed after that.”
Cota, who maintains a 4.71 cumulative grade-point-average, was so elated he couldn’t contain himself.
“It is ultimately my number one choice,” said Cota, whose academic prowess has already earned him several college acceptance letters.
To date, he has been accepted to Rochester Institute of Technology, Whittier College, University of Michigan, University of the Pacific, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Lehigh University, Manchester University and Stevens Institute of Technology and UC-Santa Barbara.
That list may not have been so widespread had it not been for the influence of two SBHS mathematics teachers and trusted advisors Rick and Christine Dukes.
As a junior, Cota wasn’t thinking of applying to any schools outside of his home state. That was before he sat down one day with the Dukes to discuss his future.
“They asked me where I wanted to go to college and I told them probably somewhere in California,” Cota recalled. “They told me there are plenty of other phenomenal schools I can try for that were outside of California. That got me thinking.”
With an expanded scope of where he may want to attend college, Cota then heard from another teacher about MIT and how they release their acceptance list on Pi Day.
“That got me curious about MIT,” Cota explained. “I researched it and found that it was probably the perfect school for me so I applied and got an interview.”
As part of the application process, which also includes the formal application and teacher letters of recommendation, Cota had to engage with an MIT alumnus from the 1960s named Joel Weinstein who was living in the Monterey Bay area. The two met in Salinas and “he was nice and I guess he liked me” because Cota was welcomed to MIT.
Cota said he qualified for a $65,000 grant (one that must be re-applied for annually) to help cover the $70-$75,000 yearly tuition cost.
“MIT has a lot of financial aid they are willing to give to students,” said Cota, who plans on majoring in nuclear engineering or physics but has a year of college to decide on that. “I’ve always been kind of curious about science and mainly physics. … My teachers fostered the love of science in me.”
Cota—who often watches videos on advanced physics topics and is fascinated with what makes the world work—credited SBHS Science Dept. Chair Tate Edwards with making “class fun and interesting.”
Born in Gilroy but raised in Hollister with two older siblings, Cota is part of the tech crew for school musicals as well as co-president of SBHS’s STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) Club and a special project officer for Senior Class Office.
“I’m very comfortable and accustomed to this community,” said Cota, who would be the first in his immediate family to earn a bachelor’s degree. “We’ve all tried the college game a little bit, but now it is my turn to attempt it.”
Cota still hasn’t made his college decision official. He plans to take a campus tour of MIT, which is a private research university in Cambridge, Mass.
“I will visit the campus in a couple of weeks, talk over the financial aid with my mom, and then I have until May 1 to make my final decision,” Cota said. “I still have decisions to make, but ultimately I think I’ll be going.”