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A Coke machine got me an internship at Los Alamos National Labs,” says Drew Reese, who will be an MIT junior this fall–and she’s only half joking.

Reese is majoring in nuclear engineering, and when she graduates, she wants to design nuclear reactors. But when the administrators at Los Alamos received her application for an internship this summer and asked her if she had any mechanical experience, she was stumped. This was an area where her transcripts wouldn’t help a whole lot.

But like many MIT students, Reese has more going on in her life than schoolwork. Turns out she’s also in charge of refreshments for the Lecture Series Committee (LSC), the campus group that organizes screenings of recent commercial films. It’s her job to make sure the popcorn and soda fountains are stocked and running. It may not be glamorous, but it’s challenging.

“Every once in a while,” she says, “this Coke machine makes gargling noises and starts dispensing soda on its own.” Rather than send an SOS to a repair technician, however, Reese tackles the machine’s eccentricities on her own. “I take it apart and see if there’s anything I can do. I clean the parts, replace a circuit breaker, whatever.” As a result, the audiences at LSC movies always have cold soda. With some hesitation, she explained this to the Los Alamos administrators. They wrote back saying she had a job.

“I do think that Coke machine got me in,” she laughs.

It’s not surprising that Reese would give a soda machine the same attention she gives her physics classes or her coursework in Chinese literature and culture. In fact, there’s a forcefulness about her that may at first be easy to miss. When she speaks, she angles her head down slightly, and her bangs fall in front of her eyes. At first this might be mistaken for shyness, but it soon becomes clear there is a quiet resoluteness under her apparent diffidence. She brushes her hair to the side and looks at you intensely as she speaks in a calm, measured voice. Reese is passionate about excellence in all aspects of her life.

And when she first came to campus, she was 16.

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