One Almost-Complete Olin Academic Record

As a senior, I am (hopefully) almost done with my Olin education. Perhaps some of our readers will be interested to see what my schedule has looked like over the past few years.

My major is Engineering with a concentration in Systems Design, which requires two mechanical engineering core courses and two electrical/computer engineering core courses as well as the Systems Design course and all the other general requirements. (Olin's course catalog, which includes course/credit requirements by major, is available at

All courses mentioned are 4 credits unless otherwise noted. An "average" class load is 16 credits (4 classes); a 12 credit load is the minimum required to be considered a full-time student, and a 20 credit load is the maximum allowed (allegedly) without special permission (which many people get, though I can't understand how or why). I personally took 16 credits each semester (in addition to numerous other activities), except spring semester of my junior year, in which I was in Rome and took only 14 credits.

Fall semester, freshman year (2005)

  1. Integrated Course Block (ICB; basically a blend of single-variable calculus, mechanics, programming, and modeling/simulation) (5 credits)
  2. Engineering of Compartment Systems (ECS; also known as "The Gill and Brian Show") (3 credits)
  3. Design Nature
  4. Culture and Difference: an Anthropological Approach (Anthro)

My first semester was a rush. I loved meeting new people--my class, but also all the upperclassmen. I learned tons, spent a lot of time confused, and had many irregular late nights or early mornings as I learned to manage my time.

ICB included some math and physics lectures, problem sets, quizzes, and tons and tons of projects, posters about the projects, and technical presentations using the posters.

Freshmen Dressing Up for ICB

Matthew, Andrew, Eric, Gabe, and Clark holding Chester ('09) on a presentation day for ICB.

ECS was, from my perspective, mainly building circuits on breadboards and staring at the circuit quizzically when nothing worked.


Working in the ECS lab.

Design Nature included an individual project--to build something that hopped out of some plastic, rubber, and other assorted components--and, as soon as that was done, a group project--to build something that climbed a wall (or at least dragged itself along the ground, as was the case with my team's "climber").

Angela + Hopper

Me with my hopper experimental prototype. I was sad because it was too heavy (and could barely get off the ground).

Culture and Difference included a lot of reading and discussions, and culminated in a small anthropological study related to physicists.

Spring semester, freshman year (2006)

  1. Integrated Course Block II (ICB2; basically multi-variable calculus and electromagnetism) (5 credits)
  2. Engineering of Distributed Systems (EDS; "The Gill and Brian Show" part 2) (3 credits)
  3. Introduction to Modern Biology (Bio)
  4. Linear Algebra (LinAlg) (2 credits)
  5. Probability & Statistics (ProbStat) (2 credits)

I spent a lot of this semester reading in my Biology textbook (I have no natural affinity for Biology; it's always been a struggle for me) and wishing I had more time for sleeping.

ICB II brought lots more lectures, papers, and problem sets. EDS involved more puzzling circuits, a coil gun, and a speech synthesizer built in MATLAB (mine said "save me," but we had a bit of trouble with the "s," so it was really more like "shave me").

Coil Gun

My and Andrea's coil gun. It was a monster.

I honestly have little to no idea what went on during much of Modern Biology; there were lots of clear fluids and pipetting involved, as well as words (and acronyms) that I definitely did not understand. In retrospect I'm pretty sure we gave some cells a new gene to make them glow in the dark, but I could be wrong. Linear Algebra--an 8:00 am, two-hour lecture--was when I started drinking coffee. (The story for its early starting time goes like so: the professor is a morning person, and likes teaching at 8:00 am. In one of Olin's first few semesters, the students complained that they had difficulty concentrating so early in the morning. The professor, in true Olin open-to-change form, changed the class to start at 10:00 pm. However, he found the students to be just as sleepy in the evening as the morning, shrugged, and switched back to the 8:00 am time.) I spent much of the time in class trying to keep my friend Carl awake, or at least facing in the correct direction while he slept. (This was more challenging than you might think. Many of Olin's classrooms have white/blackboards on all four walls...) Probability and Statistics was not much different, except that I don't like flipping coins, and Carl had decided that one 8:00 am math class per semester was enough, and had dropped out. I thus spent my coin-flipping time first guessing what I might have flipped, had I actually done it, and then working on EDS lab write-ups instead. The professor actually found this quite humorous, and included a few exam questions about me and the accuracy of my coin-flipping guesses. And I finished my labs on time.

Fall semester, sophomore year (2006)

  1. Principles of Engineering (POE)
  2. Dynamics
  3. Partial Differential Equations (PDEs, or "peeds")
  4. Materials Science (MatSci)

I spent a lot of this semester frustrated. My POE project never worked. Dynamics was a bit mind-bending with all the reference frames and accelerations and whatnot. PDEs was practically a foreign language. And the data that my MatSci project yielded almost always either defied physics (we assume due to machine calibration issues) or was completely meaningless (due to, for example, our sample slipping out of the machine's grips).

Kate and the Instron Machine

Kate ('09) with the Instron Universal Tester. Our silicon sample had slipped out of the grips--again.

Spring semester, sophomore year (2007)

  1. User-Oriented Collaborative Design (UOCD; jokingly known as "Undergraduate Opportunities in Coloring and Drawing"--a nickname which does not please the professors overly much)
  2. Mechanics of Solids and Structures (MechSolids)
  3. Software Design
  4. The United States and the Muslim World

I spent nearly all of this semester either working on Mechanics of Solids and Structures problem sets or in the design studio searching for things like "happy" or "elegant" or "frustrated" in order to make visual representations of emotions and values and such.


My UOCD team on the day of our final presentation: me, Dan, Leif, and Michael ('09).

Software Design was fun, and I learned a lot, but it generally failed to demand much of my attention. The US and the Muslim World required a lot of reading, which I think I mostly did, but I tended to zone off during lectures, and took to playing flash games as a result (this was a decidedly bad idea).

Saki in Class

Saki ('09) in The US and The Muslim World. Chris ('08) writes on the board behind him.

Fall semester, junior year (2007)

  1. Computer Architecture (CompArch; also known as "The Mark Chang Variety Hour")
  2. Fundamentals of Machine Shop Operations (FuMSO)
  3. Foundations in Business and Entrepreneurship (FBE)
  4. Comparative Politics (at Wellesley)

I relatively enjoyed this semester. CompArch was a good excuse to learn about how computers work, and also listen to Mark Chang talk about his favorite things--often related to computers, but also occasionally about lasers, food, sleeping, and so on. My final project also worked stupendously well. We created a cat-and-mouse game in Verilog to run on an FPGA. There was no way to win--the cat always caught the mouse eventually--but it was fun and interesting nevertheless. Machine Shop was somewhat useful (I made lots of random things out of metal), and also not terribly much work (except that one time when I had to file a piece of aluminum rod into a cube using only a hand file... It was really more of a quasi-rectangular prism when I gave up, but the instructor didn't seem to mind). FBE was mostly an assortment of not-especially-interesting lectures and presentations, and a project in which I was, again, not terribly interested.

FBE Calendar Shot

Me posing for a photo for my FBE project: personalized calendars.

My Wellesley class was quite lovely (until winter when the roads iced over and my car slid into a snow bank, but that's another story)--I enjoyed having a class full of people I didn't already know.

Spring semester, junior year (at John Cabot University, Rome, Italy) (2008)

  1. Intensive Italian I (8 credits)
  2. Digital Photography (3 credits)
  3. Political Development in the Third World (3 credits)

I spent much of this semester not studying. I ate a lot, and traveled a lot. There were many trains involved. I did take lots of pictures and learn lots of Italian, and I did some reading for my political science class, but studying wasn't really the point of the "study away" (it should really be "'study' away") experience, so I didn't focus on it overly much.

Friends in Zurich

Me with Michael, Russell, and Kevin ('09) by the river in Zurich, Switzerland.

Fall semester, senior year (2008)

  1. Senior Consulting Program for Engineering (SCOPE)
  2. Systems Design
  3. Product Design and Development (at both Babson College and the Rhode Island School of Design) (PDD)
  4. Ethnopolitical Conflict (at Babson)

I'm really busy (as you might have noticed by my lack of posting). My SCOPE project involves a team of myself and three others, one faculty advisor (Mark Chang), and one corporate sponsor (The MITRE Corporation). Our work is related to intelligent physical spaces--sort of like "Minority Report," but less creepy.


My SCOPE team (Jona, Dan, me, and Kelly '09) on election day. We were going to get free coffee at Starbucks. (Photo courtesy of Dan '09.)

In Systems, we are currently responding (well, pretending to respond) to an SBIR solicitation about a deep sea live specimen container (for safely taking fish and the like from 2000 meters below the surface to a shipboard lab for experimentation). We wrote a Phase I proposal and are currently refining and evaluating the feasibility of our design. My PDD project is to re-design a carry-on suitcase. I am one of a team of six--two students each from Olin, Babson, and the Rhode Island School of Design. We spend a lot of time driving down to Providence and discussing the costs and benefits of shoulder straps and the like. (You can read an article about the class--and see photos of me and my team members--here.) My Ethnopolitical Conflict class is simultaneously highly interesting and highly depressing (which I suppose I should have expected, but, oh well).

Spring semester, senior year (2009)

Although it hasn't arrived yet, I am registered for:

  1. SCOPE (it's a year-long project, really)
  2. Olin Self-Study (OSS) in Mathematics: Nonlinear Partial Differential Equations
  3. Human Factors in Interface Design (HFID)
  4. Controls (I plan to take this pass/no credit, if at all, for better senior year slacking)

Sunday, May 17th, 2009:


And there you have it. Feel free to leave questions--I'm happy to talk about any course or project in more depth, as it interests you.



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