A Longer Explanation

What follows is another tale of a student who took an LOA and wasn’t working for a fancy engineering company.

I try not to publish my own personal stuff on Frankly Speaking and that’s just my own weird thing. I’m not sure at what point I’m over-sharing or just talking about stuff that no one really wants to read.

But when people ask me “how was your LOA” or “what did you do for your LOA,” in most cases, I don’t really want to get into explaining exactly what I did, either because I don’t have time to sit down and walk through the process or because I know that they’ll just be like “oh, cool” without really knowing what I’m saying. I say that it was good and that I took some AHS classes. Sometimes I’ll even include that my parents moved and I had to build a steel cable fence around the entire perimeter of the yard. But I stop there, and I’ve finally realized I’m not doing justice to the last 8 months of my life.

My name is Jayce Chow. I’m 22 years old, I’m a junior majoring in Mechanical Engineering, and I’m a transgender man.

For those of you that don’t know, transgender is the label for when you don’t feel like your gender (typically man or woman) is aligned with your sex (male, female, intersex). In my case, I’m female by birth but feel like a man. Many trans people socially transition by dressing differently, going by a different name or pronoun, and physically transition through hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and/or surgery. One thing to note is that none of these changes are required for someone to be trans.

I began socially transitioning the summer following my freshman year. I sent out a school wide email letting everyone here know what was going on, asking them to use a different name and different pronouns. (For those that are curious, there was no problem with the name, but humans are remarkably steadfast in their pronoun usage).

Anyway, on to the LOA. By March last year, 6 months of hit or miss pronouns had really started getting to me. I began talking with an LGBT HRT clinic near my parents’ house, and found out that they would need me to be frequently available for various blood tests over the course of a 6 month period. That ruled out starting hormones over the summer.

And so it was in a hotel room in Seattle that I called my mom and asked how she would feel about housing me for the summer and then some.

That was the plan. Go home, hopefully be able to start hormones. But I’m also very old for my grade and wanted to graduate before I was 24 (I started preschool a year late because my mom thought I was too antisocial, and I got waitlisted at Olin and took a gap year). The solution was to take summer classes.

Thankfully, one of the colleges near my house had a decent set of summer classes. I took Intro to: Intellectual Property Law, Children’s Book Illustration, History of Children’s Literature, Writing for the YA Reader, Screenwriting, and Creative Writing. I even got my AHS concentration out of it.

While taking these classes, I was cleared to begin hormone therapy. That involves injecting .5mL of “depo-testosterone” into a muscle in my thigh every week. Testosterone can change the pitch of your voice, metabolism, body fat distribution, body and facial hair, blood pressure, head hair, and mood. Any and all of these are fairly arbitrary, but most guys see some moderate improvement in most, if not all, areas.

And it took a few months to see any changes. During that time, I was waiting for September to roll around to meet with a surgeon for a top surgery consultation. Top surgery refers to removing breast tissue from a patient’s torso. This can be done as easily as lyposuctioning out a small bit of fat to a full double incision mastectomy (what I had).

This was the change that I had been looking forward to for the longest, so getting a surgery date was an incredibly happy moment. Aside from having a general fear of needles being in my veins (just needles anywhere else are fine) and my anesthesiologist telling me the anesthesia could kill me, surgery went off without a hitch. (side note: many trans men fundraise to cover the cost of top surgery because their insurance doesn’t cover it. Mine does, but it’s also a “disaster plan,” which means that the deductible is designed for someone going through cancer and is rather high).

The feeling of not having something on my chest was incredible. And it wasn’t strange for me. It didn’t give me pause; I wasn’t self conscious about stand up paddle boarding with my shirt off a few weeks later.

I got to wear shirts that I had given up on for how dysphoric they made me feel. I was able to literally roll out of bed and leave the house having overslept for an appointment without having to bother to take the time and bind my chest.

I finally physically felt like me.

The last big hurdle I crosses on my LOA was getting my name and gender legally changed. If anyone has ever experienced a legal name change, you know it’s ridiculous. There is so much paperwork and so many forms, and most American citizens have 3-4 forms of identification that all have to be handled separately.

Going to court and getting a form signed by a judge was easy. 3 different DMV visits because of unacceptable photocopies and the fact that their website doesn’t give you actual information is hard. Getting a new passport when you can only make an appointment via phone call and the lines are perpetually busy is hard. Updating your birth certificate when you literally have to send away for the form because God forbid you print it off the Internet is hard.

But I did it. That’s the biggest thing, for me. I got through one of the strangest periods of my life, and I came out a lot happier.

People still occasionally use the wrong pronouns. There are still days where I look at my body and wish it was different. I’m still a little hesitant when there’s ‘guys’ and ‘girls’ and ‘me’ and I don’t quite know which group I’m supposed to be in.

These things will become less prominent issues as time goes on, but they’ll probably always be there.

So. What did I get out of my LOA?

I got a new name. I got voice cracks, acne, and body hair. I got a new chest.

I learned that while time waits for no one, waiting for time isn’t an option either. And as many middle-aged adults will tell us (though generally in regard to travel), we’re not gonna have the time to do this stuff later.

I needed to get on with my life without the setbacks of my body. It only took 8 months and some make up school work. Just a really long sick day.

If you have any questions and are vehemently opposed to Google, feel free to come talk with me. I’m happy to tell you about my experiences while reminding you that I do not speak for the entire trans population. What I will not talk about: whether or not I’ll have more surgery; if I’m “done” transitioning; my sexuality. Maybe someday I will, but for now, I’m happy saying that some parts of my life are private. Thank you for reading. I hope some of what I’ve said has at least caused you to think.

Horoscopes by Drunk Editors

Aquarius (Jan. 20 – Feb. 18): Your most productive time of day for the next 8 weeks will be between 3:14 AM and 12:01 PM. Try to schedule all of your meetings and get all of your homework done during these hours. So what if your significant other is trying to sleep?

Pisces (Feb. 19 – March 20): The world is going to try and make you feel bad for being single. Guess what? You don’t have to spent hundreds of dollars on flowers and chocolate and fancy dinner and gifts that your significant other wouldn’t really care about anyway. Take all that extra cash and go have some fun.

Aries (March 21 – April 19): Your best friend is going to try and make you feel bad for not being single. They wish things could go back to howthey were before you “fell in love.” Pity them, but then remember you’re in a very happy and loving relationship and go have a good Valentine’s Day.

Taurus (April 20 – May 20): It has been said that diamonds are a girl’s best friend, that the only way to show a woman that you love her is with a million karat rock that’s at least three month’s salary. Why does it seem like everything about love always comes back to money? Are we really that shallow?

Gemini (May 21 – June 20): According to legend, St. Valentine was executed shortly after healing the daughter of his jailor and writing her a letter signed, “Your Valentine.” That’s a happy an uplifting message: do something nice for your tormentor, and you’ll still die. Happy Bloody Valentine’s Day.

Cancer (June 21 – July 22): You should inform Taurus that yes, we are really that shallow. Ten thousand years ago a declaration of love may have been getting to eat the first bite of wooly mammoth brain. Now it’s a shiny rock and a mortgage.

Leo (July 23 – Aug. 22): Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
I didn’t know you were severely allergic to chocolate!
What- what do I do?

Virgo (Aug. 23 – Sept. 22): Greek gods and goddesses used to put their dead lovers in the stars for the world to see. What have you honestly done that’s even half that impressive?
Libra (Sept. 23 – Oct. 22): This holiday is arguably more red-centric than Christmas. Starbucks will probably have blue cups just for the 14th. Let’s not read into it too much, ok?

Scorpio (Oct. 23 – Nov. 21): Do you remember when you used to be required to make a valentine for everyone in your class, and at the end of the day you walk out of school with a box of candy and maybe a single mass produced card stock character valentine that your crush had written both of your names on? Ah, those were the days.

Sagittarius (Nov. 22 – Dec. 21): The 14th is on a Tuesday. Let’s see what the most romantic thing you can come up with when you and your significant other both don’t have weekend Wednesday is. Please remember: be safe, be respectful.

Capricorn (Dec. 22 – Jan. 19): Can you imagine being dumped on February 13th? I can’t think of anything more painful. Thankfully, stores are normally only sold out of chocolate and roses this time of year; pints of Ben & Jerry’s might actually even be discounted because the shop owners feel bad for you.

Out of the Ashes – Interlude 3

The camp is noisy as usual. Soldiers joke and swap stories as they dine, breaking out into sporadic bursts of laughter. They make merry with a quiet desperation, the melodies of a dozen songs unspooling into the night sky – songs of home, of lovers and family awaiting the victorious soldier’s return.

The songs are familiar but irrelevant – nothing awaits you back in the Tower. Nothing save another mission and old memories, best forgotten.

Metal clanks on metal as some soldiers maintain their gear; sharpening swords and spears, tightening straps on shields, polishing armor till it gleams softly in the firelight. A young man scribbles on grubby parchment with borrowed quill and ink, tongue sticking out as he works on a home-bound letter.

To whom? You wonder. A parent? A sibling? A friend? A lover?

He breaks into a grin as one of his comrades yells encouragement and pats him on the back, and you realize he can’t be older than eighteen–

The cost of victory is always death, you think. The tiniest of sparks – disagreement over gods, money, land, I know not which – ignites the fires of war, and we are all burned…

But it matters not why we fight – there is no righteous cause capable of stopping an arrow or turning a blade aside, no justice that can put a man’s blood and entrails back in him as he writhes in the mud.

Men and women embrace under the night sky, heedless of discipline or consequence – there are rules against fraternization, but tonight no regulation will be enforced.

Let them find comfort, you think to yourself. Nobody will begrudge a little joy before the horror; a little calm before the storm. There will be no joy or calm tomorrow.

You’ve seen the reports. The invaders are converging in hordes – archers on sturdy horses, lancers on armored stallions, infantry and mages… Castle Rubinsk is small, but its position atop a hill overlooking the Volgrad’s waters has made it a thorn in the side of the plainsmen for the past months. Now sixty thousand of them are descending on the province to pluck it out.

Rubinsk’s fields are heavy with golden wheat, but there are no farmers for the harvest here. Only soldiers. Gold will soon become red, you think. Lord-Commander Reynar has made his intentions clear.

~~

You feel a tension in the air when you wake – a heady mix of alertness and apprehension of men and women preparing for battle. Patrols tramp past your tent as you dress and don your armor, and the ever-present murmuring of soldiers has faded to silence.

The enemy is here.

Soldiers and horsemen pour from the camp’s wooden palisades in steel rivers, standard-bearers calling out a marching cadence. Spears and swords gleam in the morning sun as the First Army maneuvers into position, the very earth trembling under the thunder of boot and hoof as you fall in alongside a column of pikemen.

How many will die today? How many men and women will fall to sword or lance or arrow, never to see another dawn?

Forty thousand of Imvarr’s finest soldiers stand ready to repel the invading plainsmen, but you’re not sure if they’ll be enough. The Lord-Commander’s strategy is unconventional – his infantry has been divided into homogenous blocks of a thousand men, each a miniature army capable of fighting on when encircled. Mounted archers equipped with stronger bows will beat the plainsmen at their own game, and the heavy cavalry will be held in reserve for a decisive hammer-blow…

But the Second Army paid a heavy price for underestimating the swiftness of the plainsmen’s horses and the deadliness of their arrows. If the infantry folds too quickly or our mounted archers fail… we lose everything.

Ten thousand Imvarri and two of your Order gave their lives last summer, pierced by arrows and butchered by scimitars. Krakov was a grievous loss that will take years to replace, you were told. Failure at Rubinsk is unacceptable.

It will be different this time, you tell yourself, standing at the head of a thousand men on the left flank. We will prevail. Reynar has more soldiers, more horsemen, more Knights. Twenty of your kind – the finest warriors of your Order – have been assigned to his command. A huge risk to take, but the plainsmen must be stopped.

Lord-Commander Reynar and his personal guard make their way to the front of the army on horseback. One of his companions makes a gesture with her hands, and Reynar’s voice echoes like thunder.

“Men and women of Imvarr! The Great Khan is on his way here as we speak – he leads forty thousand of the savages on their damned ponies, with twenty thousand more on foot. The horse-fuckers seem to have taken a liking to fair Rubinsk,” the Lord-Commander booms. “I say we bury them here.”

A roar rises from thousands of throats, going on and on like the crashing of waves, and Lord-Commander Reynar waits for it to subside.

“They have the advantage of numbers, but I have faith in Imvarri steel! Not just the swords and spears and arrows which will soon be tasting the enemy’s blood, but your training, your discipline, and your bravery. Hold firm, follow orders, and fight well. That is all.” Another cheer from the army, and the Lord-Commander and his entourage take their place at the center.

A fine speech, you think. But words mean nothing on the battlefield. Steel will decide.

~~

The First Army advances across the plains, halting on Reynar’s command – blocks of men arranged in a checkerboard formation, loose enough to minimize damage from arrows but close enough to support each other.

You feel the army’s tension again, stronger than before. Soldiers shift uneasily in their armor, resting man-high shields in the mud. Archers plant bundles of arrows into the dirt, and mages begin pulling defensive walls from the ground. Then–

A sharp intake of breath as the plainsmen’s first banners crest a distant hill. “Here they come,” someone mutters, and you hear faint clanks as the soldiers’ fidgeting becomes more pronounced.

Then the horde comes into view – a dark stain of men and horses that bleeds across the golden hills. From this distance they look like ants swarming from a disturbed nest, united in violent purpose.

“God preserve us,” another soldier whispers. “There’s so many of them.” As the plainsmen gallop towards you, murmurs break out in the ranks – half-hearted jokes, promises, prayers for salvation…

You draw your sword and take a few steps forward, leaving the First Army’s front line behind. And as the light of the morning sun bathes you in warmth…

You raise your sword, its blade a sliver of golden radiance against the blue sky, and out of the corner of your eye you can see your fellows doing the same.

“IMVARR,” you shout, and forty thousand soldiers take up the call.

~~

“We stood across the battlefield, him and me, gambling the fate of two peoples on the events of one afternoon.
I won.”
– Lord-Commander Reynar

Honor Board: Inclusion

What does the Honor Board even do? Some people think that when a case happens, the Honor Board has the power to decide what the sanctions are. That isn’t what actually occurs. The Honor Board’s role in cases is closer to mediators than adjudicators. Honor Board members are involved in collecting information for a case and handling the logistics, but we do not actually have any decision-making power. Determination of responsibility and of sanctions is decided by the Hearing Panel, a group of four students selected from a larger pool of trained students (although this semester’s pool isn’t as large as they tend to be (plug: get trained!)). Additionally, there are checks in the Panel selection process and sanction implementation process, so the idea of either the Board or the Panel having too much power doesn’t hold water. Still, it’s understandable that some people are skeptical and distrustful of the Honor Board. If your experience with the Honor Board is interacting with us for cases, and especially if you are unhappy with how the case was handled, then you’ll have a very particular perception of the Honor Board.
The Honor Board has been trying, for many semesters, to become more involved in the everyday lives of students. We want to become approachable to the student body as a whole. Rather than only being needed in times of crisis, the Honor Board should be a place for students to turn to no matter the circumstances. We are a living breathing organization and as such, we want to reevaluate our role on campus and what we can give to the student body. To achieve this end, this semester we decided on the goal to “position the Honor Board as supporters of inclusion” on campus.
As you may have noticed, the Honor Board earlier this semester put out a box asking students what parts of their identity they feel they can’t show on campus. From those responses, we grouped several similar ones into larger categories and then showed the breakdown of those categories in a pie chart shown in the dining hall. We also created a word cloud of the responses, which you can see below:

screen-shot-2016-11-28-at-16-54-07-1

This chart represents our 52 responses. We noticed a trend of students feeling that they could not share their conservatism, religious beliefs, national identity, and introversion, to name a few. Many students also expressed how their identity has changed since arriving at Olin and were not sure how to communicate those changes. In creating spaces for these students to not only express but also to uncover their identity, we hope that we are able to create a more inclusive community at Olin.
Of course, we don’t expect that this conversation ends with us or with this article. As such, we will be holding a conversation about identity at Olin on Wednesday December 7th at 7-8:30pm in the library. We expect this to be an open conversation based in the information we have already gathered from the student body along with other insights you are willing to share with us. It will be formatted as a drop-in session, so feel free to come by whenever you can. We will also be sending out an email with the following article so that we can get your feedback on it and have this conversation be an ongoing one. As always, please feel free to reach out to anyone on the board or come to our open meetings Tuesday during lunch in CC 210.

Fossil Fuels and Olin

As alumni we were excited last May to read about the efforts of several students to engage the administration and work towards divestment. If Olin divests we would be in good company, joining other schools like BU, Stanford, Yale, RISD, UMass, and over 500 institutions with total assets of over $3.4 trillion dollars. But important questions need to be answered. Is divestment a sound financial decision? Is it an effective way to accomplish anything?
I hope to make it clear that investing in fossil fuels is almost certainly an unsound financial decision. Fossil fuel companies live and die by a measure called the reserve replacement ratio, which is the ratio of proven fuel reserves added to a company’s reserve base to the amount of fuel removed from these reserves (the amount of fuels produced). A ratio above 100% means that a company is adding as much or more than it’s using, and so will stay stable or grow. A ratio less than 100% means that the company will eventually run out of reserves and die. Dropping below that 100% mark can be disastrous for the value of a company’s stock. In summary, an accurate reserve replacement ratio is a huge determiner of the value of a fossil fuel company’s stock.
Scientifically speaking, it is clear that if we want to meet global warming targets set out in international agreements like the Paris agreement then there is a limit on how much CO2 we can emit, a so-called carbon budget. Current projections suggest a budget of around 800 GtCO2 (gigatons carbon dioxide) to have a 66% chance of staying below warming of 2°C (closer to 500 GtCO2 for an 80% chance), the current agreed-upon target. At the same time, proven reserves (which go into the calculation of reserve replacement ratio and thus the value of fossil fuel companies) are estimated to represent around 2,800 GtCO2 in potential emissions, or around 3-4 times the carbon budget (5-6 times for 80% chance). In other words, in order to meet current globally agreed warming targets, about 66-75% of what fossil fuel companies are valued by needs to remain in the ground, becoming so-called stranded assets. This suggests a market value for these companies that is far, far below the current market valuation, making continued investment in this bubble a very risky proposition.
Unless, that is, you believe that these companies will be able to dig up and burn all of these reserves, which would pretty much guarantee warming >2°C, with unpredictable but potentially catastrophic consequences. It is likely that this scenario would be exceedingly bad for global markets, and thus making an investment in this scenario is a very poor long-term investment for a school that, I assume, wishes to still be around for the later half of the century.
On the moral side, we are already seeing the negative effects of CO2 emission driven climate change in lives and livelihoods, from superstorms to increased droughts, fires, floods, famines, and war. The fossil fuel companies themselves are associated with large-scale destruction of ecosystems (think BP oil spill and tar sands) and blatant racism in the placement of fossil fuel infrastructure (think rerouting of the Dakota Access Pipeline through Native American land because of concerns about the impacts on predominantly white communities). Since the profits of these companies don’t account for these many externalities, Olin’s profiting off of these companies is tantamount stealing from everyone, including its students, who are and will continue to live their lives in this world affected by climate change.
A desire to “Better the World” is baked into Olin’s Vision and Mission, but these risky investments put that mission in jeopardy. Either the carbon bubble pops and Olin loses a lot of money again (recall what happened last time), or all of that fuel is burned and a better future is exceedingly unlikely. No matter what your belief or preferred argument I hope that I have made it clear that these investments are a threat to Olin’s mission and should be removed as quickly as possible.

Horoscopes by Drunk Editors

Sagittarius (Nov. 22 – Dec. 21): The course of true love never did run smooth.
Capricorn (Dec. 22 – Jan. 19): Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind, and therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.
Aquarius (Jan. 20 – Feb. 18): Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste death but once.
Pisces (Feb. 19 – March 20): Never a borrower nor a lender be; for loan oft loses both itself and friend, and borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.
Aries (March 21 – April 19): The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.
Taurus (April 20 – May 20): Out, out brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more; it is a tale told by an idot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
Gemini (May 21 – June 20): This above all: to thine own self be true. And it must follow, as the night and day, thou canst not be false to any man.
Cancer (June 21 – July 22): Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more, Men were deceivers ever; one foot in the sea, and one on the shore, to one thing con- stant never.
Leo (July 23 – Aug. 22):
Have more than thou showest, speak less than thou knowest, lend less than thoou owest, ride more than thou goest, learn more than thou trowest, set less than thou throwest.
Virgo (Aug. 23 – Sept. 22): Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we might oft win, by fearing to attempt.
Libra (Sept. 23 – Oct. 22): Swear not my the moon, the inconstant moon, that monthly changes in her circled orb, less that thy love prove likewise variable.
Scorpio (Oct. 23 – Nov. 21): You starvelling, you elfskin, you dried neet’s tongue, you bull’s pizzle, you stockfish. O for breath to utter what is like thee!
For potential legal reasons, though Shakespeare is public domain, dis- claimer: all quotes are Shakespeare, and Frankly Speaking does not make financial gains from their use.

Our Time at South by South Lawn

Only good days start with a 3:45am wake up time. Then a 4:15 Uber ride to the airport. Then an hour and a half plane ride, which happens to only be about a third full. Then an airport taxi to our destination, you know, The White House. But let’s back up here. Why exactly were we at the White House? We were there for South by South Lawn. Inspired by South by Southwest (which President Obama attended this past spring), SXSL brought together innovators, creators, and organizers working with social justice and environmental issues in an all-day festival showcasing their work. So, again, why were we there?

Our involvement at SXSL was a collaboration of two labs on campus. Sara Hendren was invited to present her work with a+a at SXSL, and came to us folks in Return Design for exhibit design and fabrication help. Return Design is Tim Ferguson Sauder’s lab at Olin where student designers produce commissioned work for people who help people, including non-profits and art organizations. That’s where we come in… We’re Keenan, Aaron, and Gaby, juniors and student designers at Return Design.

At the White House gate, we were greeted by two of the SXSL organizers, as well as two Secret Service members, fully equipped with all of the tactical gear you can imagine. An adorable German shepard, most likely one command away from tearing out our windpipes, sniffed our equipment-filled bags. It turns out only Sara was on ‘the list.’ The two organizers were at the ready to tackle the situation, and quickly collected our IDs and added us to said ‘list’ via pink-cased smartphone—very official and secure.

After around 20 minutes, the additions to the list had been processed and we were all let through the first gate. All except Keenan, that is, since his birth year was incorrectly entered as 2016. He may have a baby face, but that is a little extreme. So as the rest of the team entered the premises, Keenan had the unique opportunity to stand alone for another 20 minutes with the unflinching Secret Service men before he was reinstated to his rightful age and allowed on the lawn. The two organizers assured him and reminded him to “not lose faith in the government.” Not yet.

Once we got in, we got right to work finalizing the booth and prepping for the press and attendees. Some kind folks from the coffee bar at the event brought us iced coffees to get us going, and soon the last of the vinyl was up, we (finally!) got a power hook-up, and we had the project prototypes arranged.

“I hit something hard when I was putting in this stake. Is there a bunker under here?” – Jeff
“I can neither confirm nor deny those allegations.” – the grinning Secret Service guy

When the SXSL guests arrived, we found ourselves busily engaged in good conversation. Some attendees strolled by, while others were quick to be active in discussion with us. We were excited by how many people we somehow connected to the lab, through personal connections or otherwise.

Although we had numerous interesting conversations with many interesting people over the course of the day, there were a few people who stood out. Adam Savage, with his film crew from Tested, stopped by and interviewed Sara. He was a super genuine guy, very engaged with the project, and was happy to take a photo with us afterwards. Valerie Jarrett, a senior advisor to President Obama, also stopped by with a large Secret Service member in tow. She was sweet and showed a nuanced interest in Sara’s work as well. Both NowThis and Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls dropped by the booth to film Sara talking about the project. The NowThis video, broadcasted live on Facebook, racked up over 100k views. Gaby got to talk to Bob Boilen, host of NPR’s All Songs Considered and the Tiny Desk Concert series, which was awesome. Bob was a cool guy, and even though he was very interested in the booth, we were unable to secure an invite to the next Tiny Desk Concert… Bummer.

In addition to talking about our booth, we were able to see some of the other happenings at SXSL. The National Park Service booth was an interactive installation: a 14 foot diameter compass with a moveable needle. When the needle points toward a national park, the compass emits a joyful ding and displays information about all NPS-maintained land in that direction.

While we did not get to hear many of the panel discussions (we were so busy at our booth!), we did get to see Congressman John Lewis and his powerful, emotional introduction to a panel. After the booths closed at sundown, we were able to catch the performance by The Lumineers. At one point the guitarist climbed up onto the 12-foot stack of speakers and played for a while before jumping off, guitar and all. (He was OK, don’t worry!)

After a long, amazing day at South by South Lawn, we had a delicious picnic dinner and listened to the POTUS talk with Leonardo DiCaprio and Dr. Katharine Hayhoe about climate change. After, we lay down on blankets on the South Lawn to watch the premier of Leo’s film on climate change, Before The Flood. For those of us who had enough energy left to stay awake for the whole thing, it was an interesting film showing the destruction of climate change and calling for climate action.

Our time at SXSL was an amazing experience. We were able to not only help design and fabricate a kick-ass booth, but we were also able to have interesting conversations with inspiring people and learn from some of the most impressive innovators, creators, and organizers. You can read more about our time at tfergusonsauder.exposure.co/olin-at-the-white-house.

Hey Olin, Why So Busy?

Something about Olin as it is today has been bugging me for the last few months. Olin has changed and is yet still changing. But this change has not gone unnoticed– many of the faculty, staff, and administration have also noticed a difference in the Oliners they see and interact with as well. Some of the underclassmen can’t even tell me what the Honor Code is or what it says anymore, or why they signed it in the first place. So what are our values as a community? I think they’ve changed. Change is healthy, but if we don’t know why we’re changing, or are shying away from our founding values, we need to be actively aware of those things. Current students need to be aware of what they’re allowed to help change and not change. Olin might be a bubble, but it is a very unique community that extends beyond just the current active community that’s on campus.

It has been argued that by making Oliners pay for their tuition, we’ve created an environment where it feels as though being selected at Olin was a business transaction (I get a degree if I hand you $), rather than a gift or an opportunity. We’ve created an environment where students feel they have to get their money’s worth. Where folks expect Olin to be what admissions told us when we were recruited and then complain when reality sets in. Where folks are constantly running around and it’s notorious that an Oliner won’t be able to do anything outside of classwork after the second half of the semester. What was once a busy-ness that stemmed from seeking to satisfy curiosity in learning is now a busy-ness that seems to stem from overloaded course schedules on top of frantic social obligations on top of club commitments on top of research on top of…you get the point. Why are we so busy? What happens when you’re too busy to be creative, curious, or weird?

What happens when we focus on a culture of busy-ness:

1. Mission Lackluster. We do not “continually discover” effective learning approaches and environments in many of our classes. Olin students are not being prepared to be “exemplary engineering innovators” but come to Olin with prior experiences in leadership, entrepreneurship, and/or engineering and build upon those skills. Arguably the environment on campus is no longer conducive to innovation or entrepreneurship as a small fraction of Oliners start companies before they graduate or even upon graduation. Over the course of 4+ years, few Oliners are exposed to more than one broad-impact project or funded experiment. Largely, the Collaboratory (a group created to spread Olin’s unique culture and education initiatives) communicates what Olin is and leaves other schools to decide what to do with that information. Since transforming engineering education is fairly hard to measure, and takes time to see any impact, it does not seem like we’ve had tremendous success. Unless you’re a software engineer, it’s a lot tougher to find a job that doesn’t pigeonhole you by your degree. Which makes me wonder, as a student I was always told industry and academia wanted more Oliners, but when going through the interview process, myself and many Oliners balk in self-doubt and don’t believe they’re technically competent engineers, and interviewers become frustrated at our lack of knowledge of the “fundamentals.” We have graduated 10+ classes of students. How long does it take to change an engineering perspective?
2. Walking Dead Phenomenon. Students are burnt out and it’s October. Students were burnt out when it was September. What is causing this exhaustion? Why does it feel less exciting after first semester?
3. Conflict Aversion. Olin is static because stakeholders (eg. students, faculty, staff, administrators, alumni) refuse to effectively confront one another to initiate improvements.
4. Stagnation of the Olin Classroom. Hallmarks of the Olin classroom environment were close collaboration with faculty members and students nurturing their intellectual curiosity. Teams that would communicate effectively and work together to become better. Projects that people cared about. Willingness to “seize the day.” A drive towards intrinsic motivation as opposed to extrinsic motivation. (Although these qualities may not have been present in every class at Olin, they were definitely part of the vision for an Olin classroom.)
5. Massive Distrust. People don’t believe that teams will be good. People don’t expect huge turnout at student events. People are asserting personal property more. R2s, PAs, OSL, and the Honor Board are all seen as ineffective, nefarious, or both. People believe that “the administration” and “the students” are categorically opposed.
6. Dearth of Honor. Although the system has undergone continual improvements since Olin’s founding, the overall knowledge of the Honor Board/Honor Code system is poor. If people don’t get trained or take the initiative to become informed, there is really nothing about the culture now which really upholds the “honor code.” Why do students sign the Honor Code, but other members of the community (eg. faculty) not?
7. Mis-remembering the Founding Precepts.The founding precepts say things like “even a new institution can, with the passage of time, become resistant to change. If this were to happen at the College it would be a tragic loss” and “The Foundation does not seek to establish a generic undergraduate engineering college.” It’s clear to me that even though we claim to follow each of these precepts, the strength with which they were written has been lost. Sure, we’re still a “student-centered” institution, but ask yourself, does a culture of busy-ness show a care for the students that we were intended to have?

Let’s ask ourselves as a community why we’re so busy. Why are we burning the wick at both ends, or burning ourselves out? To what end? I’ve seen a lot of people unwilling to engage with the community at large, resulting in folks leaving the community, being less creative, less productive, and less happy at large. A less engaged community is inherently against Olin’s nature. A less engaged community means that Olin is interested in incremental improvement and has stopped challenging the status quo and showing the world just how engineering can be different. Although Olin is no longer in risk of ceasing to exist, it is at risk of danger in losing some of the creativity and passion and intensity personality it is so known for. Students have said this is because they don’t know who to go talk to if they do have a concern they want to address.We’re morphing into a corporation of sorts, and downsizing our R&D department, and fundamentally, the student who enjoys production is very different from the one that enjoys innovation and experimentation.

Over the years there have been several pushes to bring the community together, solicit feedback, and refine community values and interests. One example is Build Day, where we brought the Olin community together on three separate occasions to focus on 1-day initiatives to connect at the end of a semester. Build Day started out with a strong committee headed by 2013ers, and then fizzled out to being run by 1 person in 2015. Some other activities include lunches with staff, office hours with CORe/Honor Board/R2s/PAs/OSL, interesting conversations, and co-curriculars and passionate pursuits. There are still continuing ongoing experiments such as alumni seminars, breaking the bubble (B2– an effort to help Oliners transition out of the bubble), alumni as design reviewers, and new classes, like Quantitative Engineering Analysis (QEA) which were made to reflect the desire of many Oliners to be better at the “hard engineering” side in addition to the “soft skills” many are known for. Some of you attend 4N Fridays, where Oliners open their rooms up to folks to provide a venue to hang out in without the context of a party or a team meeting. These are all efforts that do show folks care about the community and about the school. But these efforts won’t go anywhere without active participation by those on and off campus.

I challenge you all to become engaged in the Olin community. Give feedback, whether it’s positive or negative, because folks won’t know if things are going well or not without it. Drop in and introduce yourself to a staff member, seek out administrators, befriend faculty. Don’t just talk about tasks or problems– and if you see issues, approach it with the “can do” attitude Oliners are known for. Talk about Olin (the good and the bad), the meta things about life, and talk to more than just other Oliners. Talk to the folks who make up the community (aka. the bubble). Do something to make Olin better than when you left it, and know that sometimes that takes a lot of time and commitment, but it will be worth it, because what is the alternative?


And special thanks to: Victoria Preston, Mitch Cieminski, James Nee, and Isaac Vandor for helping me edit and express my thoughts in a coherent manner. Also special thanks to many other alumni who I’m lucky enough to call my friends (and have helped to edit previous opinions), like Abe Feldman, Alex Kessler, Victoria Coleman and many others. Glad to know that I’m not the only one who’s seeing what I’m seeing.