I'm designing a robotic puffer fish, 3D printing functional dynamic assemblies, making E. Coli glow in the dark, and hopefully sending out an autonomous robotic sailboat to cross the Atlantic Ocean by the end of this school year. I don't think there is any way to phrase how absurd this semester has been so far. What does all this stuff even mean? I don't even know where to start.
I guess I'll start with freshman year at Olin. While I was a first year, graduation was a long way off. I didn't really know much, and I knew I didn't really know much. All of these really cool upperclassmen were running around doing insane things like building calligraphy writing robots, leading project teams, and creating massive, school wide events like Build Day. All of these things were so out of this world, so inspiring, and so exciting, and as a first year I didn't think I'd be doing anything like that in the near future.
I can't really wrap my head around the idea that I may have become one of those people that I looked up to my freshman year. Do I really know what I'm doing? The answer is yes and no. There will always be room to learn more, and there will always be areas of study that I'm not too sure about. I may feel like some of my classes are a struggle because I'm not quite sure what is going on. However, those classes are tricky for the same reason that I'm taking them; because I haven't learned the material yet. Have I really learned that much? Well, that's where Olin's project based learning structure comes into play. Parents are always looking for toys for their children that are secretly educational. Toys that will help children learn, without letting the kid in on the secret that there is some educational experience in the game they are playing. Things like ant farms, that not only are cool to look at, but also teach kids about ecology, or Scrabble, which is secretly a test of spelling, vocabulary, and geometry (if this one isn't quite clear, I find Scrabble to be a very interesting space-packing problem; i.e. how can you fit the most amount of tiles in one turn the least amount of space?). I have found Olin to be an incredibly amazing, lifelong, secretly educational toy.
The Olin Robotic Sailing team's most recent boat, Damn Yankee, on display at Expo last semester. This semester we will be working to design and manufacture a boat that has the potential to cross the Atlantic Ocean.
So somehow, I've learned all of these new things without realizing it, and as I look back on all of the projects I've worked on and I'm currently working on, I am constantly surprised at how much I have evolved, and how much I really have learned just working on them. By focusing on project based learning, Olin has really helped me learn how to tackle real world projects through my excitement for the school and for the projects that I have worked on. Even though I know I haven't learned everything about every type of system, through these projects I can see that I've learned how to teach myself what I need to know in order to tackle a difficult problem.
-Alex, c/o 2016