Semester’s End

My final fall semester at Olin has drawn to a snowy close. In retrospect, I think experience held me aloft in the sprint to the finish. The little details of taking care of yourself pay back like crazy: maintaining some minimum of sleep and getting in regular workouts were the key ones for me. There's never enough time to do as much as one would like, but I've realized I reside squarely in the camp of those who will always have an overflow of things to do. It's sometimes hard to remember that a different pace of life exists outside of Olin, but moving into winter break offers at least a chance to think about it.

Here's a brief recap of my semester projects. Each one merits a post, and I'll hope to reserve some reflection time on each over the upcoming weeks of respite and write as the spirit moves. This includes the courses of: SCOPE, Product Design and Development (PDD), my Olin Self Study in environmental impact analysis, Systems, and Intellectual Property.

By the tracks

Somewhere in Massachusetts, a blizzard meets a Commuter Rail Station.


SCOPE- For my Senior COnsulting Project in Engineering, I've been working with a team of seniors and a Babson MBA candidate on product development in the field of electronics waste recycling. My apologies for being intentionally vague about the project until I clear a project description with our sponsor for the SCOPE website. The semester wrapped up as SCOPE projects do with a big presentation to our sponsor and the writing of a hefty bound report. (The test of adequate heft is whether or not the net physical presence of the report suggests that its worth the approx. $25K which a sponsor might contribute to that semester's work.) Our team managed to dodge a slew of final exam scheduling conflicts, and 3/5 of the team having some degree of illness, to pitch our final ideas to our sponsor and left them with something substantial to chew on. Now, we wait to see what they liked well enough to have us build for them next semester. All in all, a strong finish with more to come.

PDD-Product Design and Development was an advanced Design course which included a triple threat of Olin, Babson, and RISD students. My team of students from engineering, business, and industrial design turned on the afterburners to finish out the course with a beautiful prototype of our product and complete pitch of how it works/how we got there. My team had surprisingly good chemistry, and the positive feedback from professors, peers, and professionals at our final presentation made our last all nighter worthwhile. Our product is a device which elegantly eliminates the vampire power wasted by electronic devices in their standby mode. This power wasted by devices when they're not even being used accounts for something around 10% of residential electricity, serving next to no purpose at all. Now the team is talking about taking the project forward and seeing where this product could go if we kept our momentum rolling.

OSS- Every Olin student has a requirement that deliberately breaks their usual teamwork study vibe. It's called the Olin Self Study. An upper level student picks any topic they'd like to study more, builds some sort of research project around it, and takes off on 4 credits of independant research. It tends to be most challenging for the need to self-schedule and self-motivate, and it seems that this is largely the point of the exercise. I completed my OSS this semester with a paper about the fastest wayst to analyze the environmental impacts of a making a product. The point of doing this analysis quickly is to know what aspects of your creations cause the most pollution or toxic waste as you are designing them. The sooner designers know how they're product will cause damage to the environment, the more efficiently they can work around it. My OSS, like many, was primarily a triumph of the latter half of the semester, and only overran the closing of the dorms by a day and half before it was finally submitted. My only regret? Not narrowing down my topic sooner and leaving time to explore the fascinating questions which came up in research.

Systems - I also took an upper level Engineering course called Systems this semester. In this course, we pondered the meaning of Systems Engineering, studied systems dynamics modeling, learned about managing "large scale, complex, technologically enabled" projects, and took a rushed attempt at one of our own. The class covered some interesting points of discussion, but the final project came too late in the semester to rally the full devotion of many team members. In the end, I'm glad for the late night bonding of seniors at the end of their collective wits, delirious but in full conscience of how little we were working with to produce a substantial result.

IP- For a 2 credit AHS/E! course I didn't think I would need to take, Intellectual Property for Scientists and Engineers was one of the most practical courses I took this semester. Just having a clue about types of IP, how to go about getting them, and how to devise IP strategy is already starting to be useful in a big way. See "PDD," above, for example.

With all this work satisfyingly complete, I made for the hills as an epic storm bore down on Boston on the night the dorms closed for winter break. Olin students being from about everywhere in the U.S. and quite a few places abroad, the havoc being wrought upon the nation's air transportation system was definitely cause for some scrambling here in Needham. Since I needed only drive a few hours north, I thought I had it easy. But it turned out that a 2 hour drive became an 8 hour trip after trying to coordinate pickup with a passing friend who was herself caught in snow and traffic. Now safely back in Maine, I can enjoy the long awaited arrival of real winter in proper style.


My gear and I sheltered here a while, waiting to hop a very long ride north.


Somehow, it's reassuring that nature still makes us pause in the winter.

Merry winter-


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