By Curt Yeomans
Marcel Thomas and Heidi Ashley have attended the same schools since they were eighth graders at Pointe South Middle School.
The Mundy's Mill High School seniors both have grade-point averages which exceed a 4.0, and can look forward to four more years of being classmates, because both were accepted to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.)
The educational journey will take them from Jonesboro to the Boston suburb of Cambridge, Mass.
"We've known each other for awhile, so it'll help when we get to M.I.T., because we'll already know one person," Thomas said.
Ashley, who applied early, received her acceptance letter on Dec. 15, 2007, and Thomas received his letter exactly three months later, on March 15. Both will attend M.I.T., on academic scholarships.
"It was a big relief to be accepted before my last semester of high school began. I didn't have to worry as much about applying to other schools," Ashley said.
"It was more of a quiet Zen moment for me," said Thomas. "It's like a jigsaw puzzle, and that was the final piece. I was able to look at the whole picture, and say, 'Ah ha, this is what I've been working towards all of these years.' "
Thomas, who is Mundy's Mill's STAR student for the 2007-08 school year, will major in mechanical engineering, and minor in chemical engineering. He plans to develop efficient alternative fuel sources, as well as cars which can handle the new fuel.
"I was going to major in chemical engineering, but I realized even if I came up with an awesome fuel, it would be squandered on an ineffective machine," Thomas said. "I've also always been into Legos and similar toys. When I was a little kid, I'd take the instructions which came with the Legos, and make the designs I was told to make. Then, I'd make spaceships, cities and stuff like that when I was done with the instructions."
He said he is drawn to problem-solving, and is an avid fan of the Rubik's Cube. As he and Ashley were being interviewed about being accepted to M.I.T., he picked up an unsolved cube and began playing with it as he continued to talk.
Within five minutes, he had solved the cube and quietly placed it back on the table in Mundy's Mill's guidance office.
Ashley said she plans to major in architecture. While she comes off as being quieter, and more demure than Thomas, she expressed an interest in developing her artistic skills.
She has always had a love for drawing and mathematics, so she felt architecture was the perfect blend of the things she loves.
"I also always liked buildings and looking at them in the city," Ashley said. "My favorite building in Atlanta is the Georgia Power building, which is the black building that looks like it's leaning."
She said she is looking forward to seeing the Charles River, which separates Cambridge from Boston, once she begins taking classes at M.I.T.
"When I went up there during spring break to see the campus, I was impressed by just how big everything [in Boston] was, and how much stuff there was to do," Ashley said.
Margaret DiVito, a guidance counselor at Mundy's Mill High School, said the school is "very proud" to send both Thomas and Ashley to M.I.T. They will join former Mundy's Mill student, Jeremy McGee, who graduated from the Jonesboro school two years ago.
"It's always nice to send our best and brightest to a prestigious school like M.I.T.," DiVito said.
Thomas became interested in M.I.T. during the summer of 2007, when he participated in the school's six-week Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science (MITES) program, which is designed to encourage minority students to become more interested in science-related fields.
When he came back to Mundy's Mill in August, he shared some information about M.I.T. with Ashley, who decided to apply, also.
"I always knew about M.I.T., but I thought it was this mystical place with unicorns, nerds and rainbows," Thomas said. "I went up there, though, and realized 'Oh yeah, this is a real college campus.' "