So around 3000 miles ago, life was good. Now, 3000 miles and 6 weeks later, life is even more awesome. I'm William, a first year from sunny San Diego, California and I cannot begin to explain how awesome Olin is (even though the west coast is still the best coast).
Well, actually, I can begin to explain, but I don't think I could ever hope to finish. (read: prepare for the cliche but oh so true statements) The moment I stepped onto campus, it already felt like everyone here was a part of my family: it's only been 6 weeks, but it feels like I've known people here for years. I can just walk into the dining hall and sit down at any table and have a conversation with whoever is sitting there (this includes professors!) and I can send out an email about a pickup game of Ultimate and people will show up ready to play.
The other day I was walking out of class and I told Mark Somerville, who has written several books and has a PhD from MIT, "Bye Mark, have a great weekend!" It felt so weird, but it also felt so great, and it gives you a good idea about how the student-faculty dynamic works here. Most faculty at Olin prefer to be called by their first name and are not just our professors, but also our colleagues, mentors, and friends. Just this past weekend, I went out with my faculty advisor (Jessica Townsend) and our group of advising students to Sky Zone, an indoor trampoline park, and had a great time jumping around and playing trampoline dodgeball.
Other than being friends with all the faculty and staff, we all are nuts about group work. Before I came to Olin, I was accustomed to just locking myself in my room and studying until the job was done. Now, it's harder for me to do work alone in my room because, well, you need help from others and you want to also help others. Just this past week, I was sitting in a lounge late at night (or early morning depending on how you look at it) and working on a lab for Introduction to Sensors, Instrumentation, and Measurement (Olin's version of an Intro to Circuits class) and whenever I needed help, there always seemed to be a person awake and willing to help me. Our labs for ISIM (our awesome acronym for that class) are due the day we have the lab section for that class, and the next day, I spent a good deal of time running around helping people who had the same lab due the next day. The tips and tricks I learned the previous day helped several people complete their lab at not-post-midnight, and it made me feel great.
The strange thing about ISIM though, is that it is an entirely new course... being tested out on the freshmen... who are the only ones who ever take that class. Last year (and a few years before that), the course was called (or at least the acronym was) ModCon. ModCon was taught first semester freshman year and then followed by a class called ModWorm during second semester. The faculty constantly collect feedback in an effort to improve courses, and it actually bears fruit. The faculty in charge of ModCon and ModWorm decided to take what students felt were the most useful/awesome/fun parts of ModCon and ModWorm and combined it into a 1 semester course. This all goes to show how fast change can happen here - it still kind of shocks me when I realize I'm taking a class that was never offered before.
In news other than classes, there is a thing called Pass No Record for your first semester of freshman year. What that means is: if all your classes first semester are taken pass/fail and if you do not pass a class, it will not show up on your transcript. What that means Olin wants you to do is:
What Pass No Record enables you to do is not slack off, but to join every club or student organization you could ever possibly be interested in and not be afraid of totally crashing your GPA. For example, I am in/on the Ultimate Frisbee team, Cheerios (a-capella group), SASE (Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers), OFAC (Olin Fire Arts Club), REVO (Research in Electric Vehicles at Olin), SLAC (Stay Late and Create/Code), ORS (Olin Robotic Sailing), OVAL (Olin Volunteer Ambassadors League), OWW (Olin's Nerf Club), and WHACK (a group of students who want to learn/do fencing). Most of those are student orgs and REVO and ORS are large project groups, which means you work in subteams on a large project. REVO wants to build an electric car and compete in Formula SAE and ORS wants to build a robotic sailboat that can complete a transatlantic voyage. I obviously need to pare down my committments, because sleep is apparently not a thing for me right now.
On top of all our lovely student run organizations and teams, I'm also taking the standard freshman first semester load of 4 courses. I already told you about ISIM, but I'm also taking Design Nature (bio-inspired design class), Modeling and Simulation of the Real World (exactly what it sounds like - it teaches you how to take real world systems and implement them with models), and Robots, Mutants, and Monsters: Envisioning Science in Cinema (class where we watch and analyze awesome sci-fi movies). ISIM, DesNat, and ModSim (yep, acronyms) are classes that every freshman takes first semester, but the last class, which I shall refer to as "the robot movie class" is called an AHSE (Arts, Humanities, Social Sciences, and Entreprenuership) class, which you get to choose (being a well-rounded engineering is important)! Your class choices definitely start freeing up next semester, but I find the three required courses quite refreshing - they open up your mind to new possiblities of things that you can do in the engineering field. I came into Olin almost dead set on majoring in Electrical and Computer Engineering, but now I'm no longer 100% that's exactly what I want to do.
I guess after those long paragraphs, a semi-decent way to summarize Olin so far would be this: I have never been in a place where everyone is so willing to help each other. If you need help, someone will help you. If someone needs help, you will want to help them. If you have a passion for anything - you can and will pursue it.