Letter to All First Years

I’m just going to get some thoughts down here for my views on Pass/No Record at Olin and the student body’s perception of Pass/No Record. Pass/No record is a wonderful thing that Olin does to help with what can be a difficult transition from high school to college.

For a lot of people, myself included, their first year at college means their first year being away from home, from people they love, from environments they’ve become accustomed to, and really the start of a new part of their lives. That’s where it helps to have something like Pass/No Record. It takes away some focus from your academic performance and gives you the opportunity to get yourself situated.

Sadly, I don’t think this is the common perception of Pass/No Record at Olin. It seems as though we, as a student body, treat Pass/No Record as a time to slack off and not try our hardest to apply ourselves to what we’re learning. Something that feels very special about a lot of classes at Olin is that you get out of them what you put into them.

You have so much agency with what you choose to focus on in your classes that no two people will come out of the same class having gained the same things from it. This is easy to take for granted when it feels like you’re not learning what you think you’re “supposed to be learning” from a class, but the reality is that you can learn what you want to learn from a class. At least, you have a better chance to than you would with a narrower curriculum.

Let me explain. Over the summer, I had the awesome opportunity to work at Harvey Mudd and go through the course materials of a class there called “CS 35.” This class is the closest equivalent Harvey Mudd has to Software Design here at Olin.

Both classes are designed to teach computation as a tool with exposure to an assortment of powerful Python libraries. The point is to give the students an opportunity to do some stunning things with the power of programming.

However, when you look beyond the goals of the classes, and really pay attention to their structures, you begin seeing the discrepancies. Before I go on, I want to explicitly say that by no means do I think either class is better than the other. Both do a wonderful job of achieving their goal, but they go about it very differently.

Software Design gives students a ton of freedom to go where they want with Python and to develop creative solutions to the challenges it throws at students. The underlying core of Software Design is its open ended projects.

You start with a relatively simple, well-scaffolded project to get you comfortable with string manipulation. All of the high level code architecture is there. You just have to turn the ideas into computer code. The next project is also well scaffolded, this time with an emphasis on recursion. Again, the high level code architecture is there; you just have to turn ideas into computer code. How you do this is up to you.

Then we get to the part of Software Design that gets really interesting. You’re introduced to lots of different libraries in Python: web scrapers, data visualizers, game development, sentiment analyzers, the list goes on!

Then you’re told to go ahead and create projects that utilize these libraries. Software Design is truly an open-ended, project-based class, ending with a final project where you can go nuts with a team of people and develop your software skills in whatever the heck you want.

With this example, it’s fairly easy to see how two people could go through Software Design and get very different things out of the experience. I learned how to utilize object oriented software principles to make a simple game, whereas some of classmates learned how to visualize massive amounts of data. These are two very different outcomes from the same project, and projects are the backbone of this class.

Now let’s take a look at CS 35. CS 35 has students go through a series of problem sets that expose them to different Python libraries and challenges them to do some really cool things with those Python libraries. Students learn how to use Python for image processing, machine learning, file management, web interfacing, and so on.

It’s an awesome class, but it’s structured very differently than Software Design. Students in CS 35 come out of it with a shared experience, and shared knowledge. Everyone going through CS 35 will learn about image processing, machine learning, and so on. Students going through Software Design will have very different experiences depending on where they choose to invest their time. This makes Software Design a strong example of Olin’s self directed learning model.

With all this, the question remains: How does this relate to Pass/No Record? Pass/No Record is the epitome of self directed learning. You’re not doing it for the grade; you’re doing it for your own learning. No one is going to be there to evaluate and hold you accountable for the effort you put into your first semester classes.

It’s up to you to begin taking control of how you spend your time, to start figuring out how you best learn, to get what you want to get out of your classes, and to get what you want to get out of your education.

If you want to get better at sketching and communicating ideas visually, really pour your heart into practicing sketching in Design Nature. If you want to learn more niche programming skills, take what you learned in ModSim about parameters, functions, and arguments, and go work on a project in the Robo Lab. Start searching for the opportunities to work on what you want to work on.

Of course, figuring out what you’re going to want to work on can be really challenging. A lot of Oliners advise that you try everything all at once and see what sticks. It’s Pass/No Record after all, so why not go ahead and take the risk of overcommitment? Well, from my perspective, you shouldn’t because overcommitment is overcommitment.

You could try this approach and spread yourself thin over Baja, OARS, the Robo Lab, Ultimate, and all of your coursework, but there’s no way you’ll get what you want to get out of any one of those things.

Everyone on this earth has exactly 24 hours in a single day, no more and no less. The more things you’re doing, the less time you can allocate to any one thing. The less time you can allocate to any one thing, the lower the chance you can actually get what you want to out of any one thing. Also, the higher the chance that your personal health is going to take the hit for your overcommitments. Your sleep is important, dammit!

To remedy all of what I’ve said, I want to leave you with a piece of advice that I welcome you to follow or not follow as you see fit. Take advantage of Pass/No Record as a time to get yourself situated, to figure out how to balance your coursework, your extracurriculars, and your own personal health.

Don’t fall into the trap of seeing Pass/No Record as an opportunity to slack off and do whatever you want. Use it as an opportunity to prepare yourself for the rest of your time at Olin. Set up good habits now so that when you’re thrown into the more intense classes like QEA, MechProto, or SoftDes, you’re ready for it.

Everardo Gonzalez, your friendly neighborhood ModSim NINJA

One Last Note:
As a ModSim NINJA, I get to work with ya’ll and get some glimpses into your lives and how awesome you all are. There’s so much positivity and awesome questions! Keep that up! Asking questions when I’m lost and keeping a positive attitude in the face of some really intense challenges is probably the reason I’ve survived QEA thus far. Keep those positive attitudes and inquiring minds. Just make sure you’re taking care of yourself and not falling into the overcommitment no-sleep tired-all-the-time trap. It’s not a fun place to be, and yes, I’m speaking from experience.

Perspectives on Olin from The Netherlands

Exchange students on campus add cultural diversity and new perspectives to the Olin Community. This fall, Olin welcomed seven exchange students from The Netherlands, France and Belgium. The following questions and answers provide an image of how these students feel about their opportunity to study at Olin. Thank you, Florian and Jai, for your thoughtful responses and your insights on the novel educational experience of Olin, valued cultural traditions you left behind in the Netherlands, and much more.
1. Tell us a bit about how you found Olin and why you wanted to study here?
Jai: My home institution of University College Twente in the Netherlands has an academic model similar to that of Olin. I wanted to use the semester abroad opportunity offered by my college to not only further develop my engineering skills and knowledge but also explore educational frameworks best suited to preparing me for the complexity of global engineering challenges. After talking to professors and advisors at my college about Olin, I was convinced that it was the best fit for me.
Florian: Olin College of Engineering is not only one of the most prestigious engineering schools in the United States of America. Olin also has an educational model that is most likely to teach you the skills you expect to learn when you go to college.
Can you tell us about your academic experience at Olin so far?
Jai: I had high expectations of the academic rigor at Olin. While I had expected many similarities in the collaborative, project-based learning approach of Olin and Twente, I was pleasantly surprised by the efficacy of learning even highly technical subjects through exploration rather than traditional instruction. I enjoy the freedom to determine my own learning path, so I find my courses challenging and stimulating. The instructors are very approachable, and they provide the needed academic support so that I feel confident in myself in exploring a subject.
Florian: So far, I have really been enjoying my courses. Of course, given that the University I attended in the Netherlands was largely modeled after Olin College’s educational strategy, the way education works at Olin was not exactly new to me; however, at the University of Twente I really missed the competitive aspect of work. At Olin competition is not about beating each other, but it is about continually improving your work and yourself. Because there is some sort of numerical reflection of your performance, liberal though this may be, I feel that Olin does a better job of maintaining the drive to improve than the UT.
2. Can you tell us about life outside the classroom?
Jai: Olin has a very warm and friendly community. I find it amazing that you can strike a conversation with anybody, be it sitting in the dining hall, walking to the residence halls, or out playing on the fields. It is a pleasure being part of such a closely-knit community. I’m also planning on exploring the beautiful countryside and national parks in the New England area on weekends and breaks this semester with other Oliners.
Florian: Life outside the classroom is a bit different from what I expected. For instance, at Olin everyone can be who they are and, even though we are all peculiar in our own ways, everyone is accepted and welcomed into the community. I definitely think this is fueled by the size of Olin. The college at the UT I went to is about half the size of Olin, and I think in this sense the community is too small to maintain a truly open and accepting environment.
3. Do you think studying in the US will ultimately help you achieve what you want to do professionally?
Jai: The US is an undisputed world leader in higher education. Colleges and universities are not only well connected with industry and its needs but also driving a lot of the innovation in science and engineering in the US. Olin and this small region of Massachusetts with its many prestigious universities has many opportunities to connect with exciting ideas and projects in research and industry. With my novel engineering education at Olin, I am certain I will be better equipped to tackle complex real-world challenges and build my career in the challenging field of materials engineering and Nanotechnology.
Florian: Currently I am looking to explore the relatively novel field of combining urban engineering with health sciences to optimize living standards in cities across the globe. Relatively open learning environments such as the one offered at Olin enable me to learn the skills and gain the technical knowledge I need to achieve this. My ambition is to apply for a mid-size to large architectural firm in the United States as a consultant urban planner after completing grad school. I firmly believe that US firms are uniquely well-positioned to make the global changes that I would like to contribute to. US firms are more or less universally looked up to around the globe, and I believe we could harness this respect to make real, lasting impact.
4. What do you miss most about Dutch culture (or your own home country culture if it’s not the Netherlands) now that you’ve been here for over a month?
Jai: Although, I was born and raised in India, studying for the past 2 years in the Netherlands has endeared the country and its culture to me, and I’m proud to represent it here at Olin. Although Olin’s culture of openness reminds me a lot of Dutch culture, I miss the almost brutal honesty of my foster home country. The Dutch are very expressive of their feelings and receptive of criticism. Instead of souring interpersonal relations, this honesty brings people closer and fosters ‘gezelligheid’. This Dutch word lacks an English translation but signifies a state a little beyond cozy, quaint and fun.
Florian: I am one of the Europeans who firmly believe in the unity of Europe. As a result, I consider myself more of a European citizen rather than specifically relating to any country in particular. The greatest difference between American and European culture I have noticed is the European tendency to take everything with a grain of salt. In Europe, people often take each other at face value.
5. Students who study abroad often talk about a turning point as they assimilate and find their way in a new country. For some, it’s about feeling comfortable speaking a new language. For others, it’s feeling immersed in the culture of their host country and enjoying their new home. Can you think of one moment that this was true for you at Olin?
Jai: I was surprised by how easy it was to connect with people at Olin and make friends. I think a more significant aspect of settling in at Olin was identifying with the mission of the college. I think the strong sense of community stems from a common belief in Olin’s model of education and the values it embodies. These values go beyond just the Honor Code and are reflected in simple things like the trust Oliners place in each other to the more abstract, enterprising ethos of the college. I’m still exploring what it means to be an Oliner, but since Olin’s core values resonate with my own, I feel like I belong here.
Florian: When I came to the United States, the biggest challenge was being confronted with the concept of “being offended”. Compared to other countries I’ve lived in, American culture tends to be about respect and acceptance; a virtue that manifests in very different ways in most other cultures I have experienced. In the beginning I was ridiculing it because it seemed like Americans were so sensitive. Now that I understand it better, it actually makes me appreciate American culture more than I already did. I think this understanding of an open culture will make my life in the United States even better than I expected; I hope this aspect of American culture will make sure that everyone in this country can be accepted and appreciated the way they are.
6. Is there something about Dutch culture or language that you would like to share with your Olin classmates?
Jai: The most important word for me in the Dutch language is ‘gezellig’ (pronounced heh-SELL-ick). As I mentioned in a previous response, it doesn’t translate well to English, but a ‘gezellig’ experience most closely signifies a fun, quaint, and cozy experience. I look forward to a gezellig time at Olin.
Florian: The Netherlands is one of the most internationally welcoming countries in Europe. Most of the education is offered in English, the official language of Amsterdam is English and most companies are also really open to employing workers from abroad for their international experience or new perspectives. If you are looking for a way to move to Europe in a country where multiple languages are considered working languages, the Netherlands is definitely your go-to place.
7. Would you encourage Olin students to spend a semester at the University of Twente or to visit you in the Netherlands?
Jai: I would most certainly encourage Olin students to spend a semester at University College Twente (the Honors College of the University of Twente). The educational model is similar to Olin’s. The semester is based on a multidisciplinary project on a real-world challenge. Students choose technical engineering as well as non-technical courses like psychology, economics or product design from across the university to customize their academic profile and contribute to the project by leveraging their unique skill set. Even if you’re not interested in a semester abroad program, the Netherlands is a beautiful country to visit. There’s a rich culture of design, enterprise, and innovation in the Netherlands beyond the tourist traps of Amsterdam. All Oliners are welcome to get in touch with me for any recommendations or questions about the University of Twente or the Netherlands in general, and I’ll be glad to help them in any way I can.
Florian: International experience is always a good to part of your curriculum. The University of Twente also offers good engineering programs to broaden the minds. Especially with the fully English education offered in the Netherlands, international students would have a great experience studying there for a semester. As for visiting me, I have no concrete plans of moving to the Netherlands any time soon. After my semester at Olin, I’ll be going to Singapore for a graduation project much like SCOPE, and I’m hoping to go to grad school in Trondheim, Norway. I also have multiple applications open with American engineering firms, so I’d probably end up getting a job in Boston, New York or Montreal. If Olin students would like to visit me in Singapore, Norway or Canada, they all know they are more than welcome to.

Funetik Inglish

Thu hardist part uv lurnyng Inglish iz lurnyng tue spel, but it duznt haf tue by. Wut if Inglish wuz speld funetikly? Moest uv thyz wurdz mey look streynj, but theynks tue thu dizien uv this nue kunvenshin, meny uv thyz spelyngz ar egzaktly or nyrly thu seym az ther standurd kownturparts, wiel uthurz ar alredy in yues az nonstandurd spelyngz umung yung pypul.
Rydyng this mey by hard for yue, but ask eny chield or hispanufoen and they wil tel yue: this form iz signifikintly yzy’ur tue lurn. If yue kan sey a wurd, yue kan spel it, and if yue kan spel a wurd, yue kan sey it (with thu noetubul eksepshin uv “th”, wich miet by voyst az in “this” or voyslis az in “thin”). It apliez tue neymz tue, soe thu eyj-old dubeyt butwyn “Gedis” and “Gedyz” wood fienuly by rizolvd dependyng on how Jon chuziz tue riet it. Morovur, “Q” and “X” ar wurthlis pysiz uv garbij and ar not yuezd in Funetik Inglish, kutyng thu numbur uv leturs lurnurz nyd memuriez down tue tweny-tue.
Now ie kan hyr yue thynkyng: “Wut ubowt thu etimolujyz? Thu konjoogashinz? Woent it by hardur tue lurn tue riet if kidz doent noe wen tue ad u ‘-s’, ‘-z’, or ‘-iz’? Or uf they kant sy thu ryleyshinship butwyn ‘telefoen’, ‘fonugram’ and ‘funolugy’?” Um, noe. And hue kerz enywey? The kunjunkshinz ar yzy; kidz kan due thoez verbuly withowt thynkyng, soe tychyng them in skuel iz ryly a weyst uv tiem enywey. Az for the etimolujyz, lyngwists liek Noe’u Webstur and Otoe Yesbursin tend tue furget how yueslis they ar. Noe’yng how tue riet iz moer importint than noe’yng frum wens wurdz keym.
Thu oenly ryl downsied tue this iz murjurz, liek how sum pypul sey “kot” and “kot” difrintly, but uthurz doent. In thoez keysiz, ie er on thu sied uv fyuewur distynkshinz—wy Umerikinz get ulong just fien withowt difrenshi’eytyng “kot” and “kot”, soe British pypul shood by eybul tue due soe in rietyng az wel. In eny keys, betur tue meyk wun gruep rite difrent sowndz thu seym than tue meyk unuthur gruep memoriez sielent letur spelyngz.
Ther ar sichue’eyshinz wer spelyngz haf tue dievurj, wich iz wen difrint pypul prunowns thu seym wurd difrintly. For egzampul, “plan” if yor Umerikin vz. “plon” if yor rong. Spelyng standurdizashin iz u posibility, at lyst much mor soe than prununsiashin standurdizashin, but ie woent komprumiez on thu prinsipul that no spelyng nyd by memorizd. Thus, Funetik Inglish wil simply kary thu jrobak that sum wurdz ar speld difrintly bie difrint pypul, but oenly soe far az they ar sed difrintly.
Soe ther yue hav it. Mie prupoesul to meyk Inglish just u litul bit mor sensikul: Funetik Inglish. Wuns eynglufoenz urownd thu wurld sy thu lojik in mie argyuement, iem shoor theyl ygurly meyk thu chranzishin. Look forwurd tue sy’yng thyz spelyngz in thu nekst edishin uv Mery’um-Webstur.
Thats it. Wow, look at that. Undur fiev hundrid wurdz! This iz ryly speshul for—weyt, noe! Deyng it. Nevurmiend.

Promise of Ra: Chapter 1

Oscar walks through the cracked streets. He turns the wrong corner and finds himself at a dead end.

Two teenagers come up from behind, blocking his path. Their jeans are tattered and their guns clearly visible.

One walks forward. She wears an oversized army shirt and a dangerous expression, but more unsettling, her eyes are two different colors, one grey and the other an unsettling yellow.

“What you doing here, pretty boy?” she taunts. Oscar straightens and looks her in the eye.

“I have as much right to be here as you do,” he returns, perhaps unwisely. The girl laughs and shakes her head.

“See, I don’t think so,” she responds. “I think you’re on our turf, and if you don’t get off, you’re gonna end up on the wrong side of my Colt.”

“Your turf?” Oscar asks incredulously. The girl shakes her head.

“You’re out of your depth, boy.”

“I don’t think I’m the only one.” In response, the girl stops with her hand on her hip. The look on her face, if possible, becomes more dangerous.

“And why’s that?” she asks.

“You don’t have what it takes to shoot me,” Oscar challenges. She laughs drily.

“We’re not gonna kill you, trust fund baby. I, for one, always go for the feet, and Anubis here always loves a good kneecapping.” The boy behind her grins and cocks his pistol. “So get.”

Oscar doesn’t move. The girl pulls him down by the collar.

“Look,” she snarls, “I don’t walk your streets. I don’t crash your high society balls.” When she says this, a flicker of recognition passes across Oscar’s face.

“That’s not true,” he retorts. Her expression darkens. She pushes him back and cocks her gun in one motion, pointing it at his chest.

“I’ve never crashed one of those stupid parties,” she snaps, her voice tight with controlled anger.

Oscar, showing real fear for the first time, holds up his hand.

“Relax,” he responds frantically, “I’m just here to visit my grandmother.”

Surprise then skepticism pass over the girl’s faces. She looks back at the boy who shrugs. She shrugs back and drops the pistol.

“You better not be playing us, Red Riding Hood,” she threatens. She and the boy part to let Oscar pass. He starts to walk through them but stops near the girl.

“You’re playing a dangerous game,” he warns.

She steps closer and, though shorter, seems to tower over him.

“I’m not the only one, and the difference is, I know how to play mine, and I always win. Remember the name Horus, and pray to whatever pathetic god you keep that you never hear it again.”

Oscar, once again reminded of the real danger of the situation, walks away
without responding. Horus bangs her fist against the alley wall in frustration.

“He recognized me,” she snaps. Anubis shrugs.

“Maybe, maybe not,” he responds. “He seems like a guy who likes talking out of his ass.”

“Even so,” Horus says, “I need to be careful. They already think I’m not worth their champagne towers.”

“Champagne towers?” Anubis snorts.

“Yup,” Horus confirms. “Always gets knocked over by some drunk two hours in.” When their laughter dies, Horus suddenly sighs. “I have to get back. There’s another hell fest tonight. It’s not a medal ceremony without a champagne tower, right?”

Horrorscopes by Spooky Editors

Taurus (Apr. 20 – May 20): At any time there is a spider three feet away from you, like the one who lives on my bike. Happy Halloween, Sven!

Gemini (May 21 – Jun. 20): The plural of cul-de-sac is actually culs-de-sac, which makes no sense, but when do the French ever make sense?

Cancer (Jun. 21 – Jul.22): Back in my day we had to dance to get our Halloween candy, so remember that when you’re trick-or-treating. And can I have your Butterfingers again like last year?

Leo (Jul. 23 – Aug. 22): You should not dress up as “I’m starting to wonder myself whether he was born in this country” Donald “Nobody builds walls better than me” Trump again. It was never funny.

Virgo (Aug. 23 – Sep. 22): A vampire can’t enter your home unless invited in, which means you should never invite white people in. The risk is too great.

Libra (Sep. 23 – Oct. 22): Spiders can hear you from across the room, which means you should probably stop trash-talking Sven. He has feelings too.

Scorpio (Oct. 23 – Nov. 21): Not all Canadian people are actually nice. Some of them are jerks. Not naming names, Thomas.

Sagittarius (Nov. 22 – Dec. 21): Most spiders can swim, so it doesn’t matter how many oceans you cross or canoes you live on. Sven can still find you, and he is mad. Why would you say that about his mother?

Capricorn (Dec. 22 – Jan. 19): Watch out for kids around this time of year. They’re scary when free candy is out of the picture.

Aquarius (Jan. 20 – Feb. 18): You’re going to get another basil plant, and it’s going to die. Just like your hopes. Just like your dreams. Just like the last basil plant you killed. It can’t fend for itself, you monster. Just get a cactus already.

Pisces (Feb. 19 – Mar. 20): Sliced bread was invented in 1928, and now I don’t know what is real. Was anything ever invented or was it just always there and one day we noticed it? I guess we’ll never know, but HOW DID NO ONE THINK TO SLICE BREAD EARLIER? COME ON PEOPLE.

Aries (Mar. 21 – Apr. 19): Spiders can live and adapt in space, so I don’t care if you’re going to be an astronaut. Sven can still find you. You don’t want to know what’s going to happen when he does. He may be very small, but he also knows things about you you don’t want getting out.