Do or Do Not, But Definitely Try!

Emily "Pete" Petersell

I joined the Admission team at Olin about six months ago, and in my first six months I’ve learned a lot—about the Olin students and their interests, about the interdisciplinary, hands-on curriculum, and about some of the wonderful cultural quirks of this vibrant, energetic community that is so deeply engaged in transforming education.

When you start a new role at a new organization, you expect to learn a lot about the organization and its culture in the first few months on the job. What I did not expect to learn was a lesson that would significantly alter my outlook on life: I do not have to be afraid of trying.

Prior to arriving at Olin, I had an attitude similar to Yoda’s in The Empire Strikes Back: Do, or do not—simply trying is not an option. I have a classic type-A personality and a perfectionist streak. This means that I have been motivated to work hard all my life, but I also have a tendency to avoid risks and potential failures. If I was going to do something I wanted to feel certain, or at least, almost certain, that I was going to succeed at it. I wanted to feel sure before I tried that I could make the team, win the game, cook the dish, or be admitted to the program. Anything too far outside my comfort zone was a “no-go” for me.

Yoda GIF

And then I came to Olin, where failures and mistakes aren’t just OK—they are actually necessary and encouraged as an instrumental part of education. At Olin there is no room for risk aversion; you have to be willing to try. Every day I am surrounded by students (and staff and faculty members) who are pushing themselves beyond their current knowledge and abilities—facing uncertain outcomes as they try to create something new.

On Monday, the Olin Expo marked the official end of my first semester at Olin, and for the students, it marked the end of weeks (or months) of trying—of reiterating, re-building, re-thinking, and making multiple mistakes along the way. And clearly, it was worth it. I saw some of the coolest, most interesting, most complex student projects I’ve ever seen, and more importantly, I saw some of the proudest, most excited, most inspired students I’ve ever seen. Completing these projects was not easy. The fate of each project was not always certain, and I’m sure there were many times when students got tired of trying and felt like giving up, but they didn’t. Not every project turned out exactly as the students originally imagined it, but all were undeniably awesome in the end.

CNC Pancake Maker

Here is one of my favorite projects from Expo—a CNC Pancake Printer…making a Pikachu pancake!

Every day I am surrounded by these brilliant students who are infinitely braver than I am, and they have inspired me to start trying new things. I have started small—cooking new dishes, sewing my own living room curtains by hand—but being part of the Olin community has increased my willingness to put effort into something when I haven't done it before and don’t know how it will turn out. My fear of failure has diminished.  

As we approach our January 1st application deadline, I think more and more often about the prospective students who are applying to Olin this year. Putting together college applications is exhausting, time-consuming, and stressful, and at times you may feel like you want to quit—especially because you don’t know what the outcome of your application will be. While I cannot guarantee that you’ll get admitted to Olin if you try, I can guarantee this: You definitely won’t get admitted if you don’t apply!

Gretzky Scott

Believe me, I know that putting effort into something without knowing if it will pay off is hard—especially when the holidays roll around and you just want to relax! But if you are really interested in coming to Olin, I truly hope that you will finish your application and send it to us. My colleagues and I look forward to reading it.


Posted in: All Admission Staff Blogs, Pete