Polk State Lakeland Collegiate alum graduates from MIT

Posted on by Polk Newsroom

Sergio Perez fondly remembers late nights studying English flashcards with the help of his mother “when she didn’t know the language herself.” Now he reflects on how far he has come as an alumnus of both Polk State Lakeland Collegiate High School and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

“It’s really how far we have come – my mom and I,” Perez shared. “My mom immigrated from Cuba, where she did finance management for the fishing industry. My mom is so good with numbers, although she is not able to do that in the U.S.”

“To her, it means the world to be able to see me succeed,” he added. “I am proud to be able to bring her along with me because none of this would be possible without her.”

Perez enrolled at Polk State Lakeland Collegiate High School in 2017 to challenge himself academically. Most collegiate students receive their associate degrees simultaneously with their high school diplomas and at no cost to them.

“The Lakeland Collegiate program allowed me to take dual enrollment in high school and it allowed me to take the most rigorous classes I could,” he explained. “I was able to graduate with my Associate in Arts…, and that prepared me for classes at a four-year university.”

With an interest in computer science, the first-generation-in-college student had his sight set on MIT early on.

“MIT was my dream school. Growing up, I was really interested in computers,” he reflected. “Since freshman year of high school, I knew that I wanted to pursue computer science as a career. That made MIT my No. 1 choice.”

Only 4.8% of first-year applicants are admitted to MIT.

Perez was a strong candidate with a 4.484 grade-point average and a 1510 SAT score – on par with the MIT average at admission of 1535. Like his mom and her knack for numbers, Perez achieved a perfect score in math on the SAT. He founded the Math Club during his time at Polk State Lakeland Collegiate, where he provided SAT prep and math tutoring for his peers. Perez also served as a part-time math tutor at the College.

MIT’s admissions webpage states, “Remember that there are many ways to make the world better—we’re not looking for applicants to have cured all infectious diseases in the world by the time they’re 15. Tutoring a single kid in math changes the world.”

“Getting in [was] a surprise,” Perez exclaimed. “Seeing that acceptance letter really validated my mom and the value that my mom has instilled in me to better myself and to always improve and be better.”

In addition to admission, Perez was grateful for MIT’s commitment to meet students’ full financial needs for all four years of their undergraduate careers.

“The financial situation at MIT has been a huge blessing for my mom and [me],” he said. “Any student under a certain threshold financially is completely supported by MIT scholarships and donors.”

“My preparation at Polk State was amazing thanks to some great professors. I was able to take many advanced STEM classes. Polk State is an amazing start because it has everything you need. t’s local and attainable, and you can go very far here.”

During his time at MIT, Perez also benefited from participation in Google’s highly sought-after Student Training in Engineering Program (STEP). This program presents a unique experience for first and second-year undergraduate students in computer science, providing professional and technical growth opportunities within the industry. STEP is especially competitive, with reports stating that approximately 3% of applicants are accepted.

“The program was my first time applying what I’ve learned in school in an industry setting,” Perez shared. “Thanks to great mentors that summer, I practiced many real-world software engineering skills that sometimes get overlooked in classes, for example, unit and integration testing. After STEP, I was able to go back to Google the following summer as a software engineer intern.”

Perez received his Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science in May 2023. He is currently pursuing his Master of Engineering in Computer Science at MIT while also working as a software engineer.

He credits his start at Polk State for part of his success.

“My preparation at Polk State was amazing thanks to some great professors. I was able to take many advanced STEM classes. Polk State is an amazing start because it has everything you need,” he said. “It’s local and attainable, and you can go very far here.”

He offered advice for those interested in attending MIT or pursuing a career in computer science.

“If that’s what your passion and what your goal is, pursue it regardless of what you think the outcome will be,” Perez said. “Focus on becoming a better version of yourself; that will give you the best chance to be an MIT graduate one day.”