Prep alum teams up with fellow MIT students to pen advice book for teens


Transitioning from Flintridge Preparatory School in La Cañada to the hallowed halls of MIT was a big leap for Vick Liu and brought lessons the youth would later reflect upon in a series of journal entries.

“I started to keep this journal just to document happy memories, sad memories, anything I thought was a notable point in my life,” the 21-year-old recalled in an interview.

When his younger brother, Ben, began contemplating college last year, he’d occasionally call Liu for advice. Wanting to help, Liu turned some of his journal’s more poignant reflections into a Google doc he’d update and share with Ben.

Fraternity brothers who knew about Liu’s Google doc encouraged him to make it available as a PDF to incoming freshman members of Phi Beta Epsilon. Some suggested he turn it into a book. But before he entertained that notion, he knew he’d need more input.

“[Mine] was just one perspective that may not cater to different types of people in college,” said Liu, at home in Arcadia during his school’s winter break.

He found three fellow MIT students he thought would have perspectives different from his own and talked them into collaborating with him on a book. The 185-page result, “Points of You: Four Friends from MIT on Growing Up,” was published through Amazon Nov. 21 and has since sold more than 2,500 copies.

The idea is to give young people advice from people who not too long ago went through the exact same issues, Liu said.

With author introductions followed by 15 sections on different aspects of growing up today — from character and emotions to relationships and effective leadership — the book provides bite-sized insights gleaned from the collective experiences of Liu and fellow authors Julia Rue, Mina Fahmi and Drew Bent.

“We thought a lot about what’s the best way to get a high schooler to read this,” said Liu, who himself doesn’t have much bandwidth for personal reading. “If they don’t have a lot of time available, it’s easy to pick up and read for a couple minutes.”

Each passage bears the initials of its author, allowing each to speak from his or her unique viewpoints.

Liu weighs in on setting and achieving personal goals. Last September he and other MIT friends launched the business TravlerPack, designing lightweight blankets for refugees and displaced people, and have distributed some 1,000 units so far.

While still at Prep, a teenage Liu developed a portable blood analyzer that could identify and count blood cells for a science project. He later created a 3-D printed cellphone microscope capable of transmitting images of blood samples taken in the field.

Rue, who graduated and now works in product design, offers wisdom on art, family and overcoming insecurity. Bent, now studying education reform at Stanford, tends more toward philosophical pondering and reflects on famous quotes, while Fahmi weighs in on mental health issues.

Fahmi, an MIT senior studying mechanical engineering, said he became interested in the project after experiencing a period of depression in which he needed to step back and evaluate his life.

Now, he wants younger people to know it’s OK to take time to find one’s place in the world.

“Upperclassmen, and adults for that matter, you think they have everything together,” he said. “It helps to be reminded everyone’s still trying to figure things out.”

Twitter: @SaraCardine