A phrase that gets thrown around a lot is “jaded senior”, referring to seniors that have lost the enthusiasm of Olin after 4 years. Everyone seems to imagine all these jaded seniors grumbling and mumbling about everything because they don’t like what they have to do or they don’t like that the classes are being taught differently than we were, or that all the first-years seem like overconfident young pricks (no offense first-years! Keep reading!) who have no idea what they’re getting into. As a senior, I have a whole bunch of opinions about Olin. Some of my thoughts have been negative, and others have been positive, but I realized that I haven’t thought about who I was when I was a first year in a long time. So I tried.
After interacting with some of the members of the Class of 2019, I realized something. I had nearly completely forgotten all of the experiences I had freshman year, and my sophomore year memories weren’t far behind. The energy and the effort I put into my Design Nature hopper was long gone and all that’s left is the story I tell on tours. I can’t remember how much that story adheres to the original. I don’t even remember the course material of Modeling and Simulation or Modeling and Control (now called “An Introduction to Sensors, Instrumentation, and Measurement”). In my later classes too, I can’t even begin to recall the late nights deriving systems of equations in Advanced Classical Mechanics, or how I went about programming a robotic tugboat in LabView for Fundamentals of Robotics. All of my underclassman experiences are somewhere deep in my memory, barely accessible, but some of those memories I remember being very groundbreaking for me. My Fundamentals of Robotics class, for example, was the class that convinced me to major in Engineering with Robotics. Software Design taught me that although I couldn’t code well, it was something that I wanted to learn for the experience and background. All I remember are that these classes were important to me, and some of the challenges I faced seem very silly. But I can barely remember them because I never stopped to think about it.
My first Olin project: my hopper.
I look at my classes and projects now, and I am amazed. Not at what I’m doing specifically, but at how far I’ve come, and how much I’ve changed. This semester, I’ve been working on things that first-year Alex would have no idea how to do. I’m working with a hacked Neato robot and getting it to draw pictures for my final project in Computational Robotics. Last semester, I 3D printed a robot that could get itself off the build plate, which you can read about here. And this school year, I’m in SCOPE, Olin’s senior capstone, where I’m working with LIMBS International to improve the stability of their prosthetic knee. Comparing my projects now to my projects in my first year, I’m amazed at how far I’ve come. I don’t know where I learned all of this stuff, but somehow, I seem to have made a lot of progress. I’ve learned how to analyze, prototype, and build full systems. I can actually program well now. Just trying to push away the haze and remember what challenges I faced nearly four years ago, and what challenges I’m facing now, really put into perspective how my Olin education has affected me, and how I’ve changed. When I came in as a first year, I was the overconfident young prick who had no idea what he was doing. I had a huge ego and thought I could take on any challenge, no matter what the cost. Now, I’ve learned what I’m good at and what I’m not so good at, and I know how to play to my strengths when tackling a problem to get the job done. I know that I have the experience to get things done well. Now, I know that I am an actual engineer.
My most recent Olin project: getting a Neato to draw pictures.
My reflection has made me re-evaluate the mentality toward Olin as a senior and appreciate my experiences because I can now see how far I’ve come. So I guess you could say my reflection saved me from turning into a “jaded senior”. Whether you are a college student like myself, a high school student interested in Olin, or someone, somewhere with a job and all that “grown-up” stuff (I’ll need to start thinking about becoming that soon), I encourage you to look at where you were three years ago, four years ago, to when you first started your job, first came into school as a first-year, and try to remember what you did. Remember what challenges you faced and how you solved them. Remember how excited you were about a new experience. Remember how little you knew what you were doing, and how much you know now. Don’t forget how far you’ve come.