From Cubicle to Studio

Cory Knox '23

Hi, I’m Cory, a brand-new first-year here at Olin College! I get a little lost at times, change is really scary, and I love Olin with my whole heart. I think it’s pretty fair to say that moving on from high school to college or going to college in general is a pretty intimidating thing. A new environment, new people, college food (which is a different discussion in itself), and most obviously for Olin, new class formats.

I mean really Olin is something else. We don’t have many tests, projects are our world, open studio (free time where you build, explore, design, and adventure under your own leadership) isn’t a thing you wish for because every day is open studio, and Pass No Record (aka, “hey, we understand that the high school-to-college transition is scary and often times difficult, so let’s base the first semester off of yourself: How far you push yourself. How much you learn about your ability. Forget the number grade, and focus on what you do and not others. This first semester is about you adjusting. If you work hard, you pass. If you put in absolutely no effort, you just have to redo the class” -Olin Academics) is your best friend in your first semester.

Coming from a highly technical, highly cubicle learning environment in high school, Olin was what I initially saw as my worst nightmare, with its free approach and self-motivational system that I was afraid I would be unable to maintain. What if I was unable to meet expectations? What if I wasn’t good enough? Now I see that this was irrational and of course unnecessary. Instead, I’ve found Olin and its learning format to be comforting, expansive, and the best kind of different.

My high school learning experience was very much formulaic and limited. We would spend every day repeating the same things over and over. Every day felt the same, and every day would get a little more boring. But then Olin happened. I took a risk, inspired by the amazing accomplishments that the Olin world has made, promising self-growth and success while keeping a warm, welcoming, and loving community. I came to a new school with a learning format that was more than foreign to me, and now I don’t want to leave. There’s an emphasis on self-exploration and learning. You set your own limits, goals, and aspirations. All of the decision-making is on you, but you aren’t alone. Not only are there amazing professors with awesome backgrounds here to give you advice and guide you in the right direction, but you also have peers, NINJAS (student “teachers” who are always here to help, similar to Teaching Assistants at other colleges), and expansive teaching hours and opportunities to learn more or get help. So, although you are technically in the driving seat, you have plenty of people here to aid you along.

I won’t lie. I found my first week of classes and honestly, first month of classes intimidating. I was in open studio instead of a classroom with silence and note-taking. My mind didn’t really know what to do with itself. At times it would feel as though I was falling behind, even though that wasn’t at all the case. I took time to self-reflect and realized why Olin is Olin and why I chose to come here. The main beauty of Olin is that your academic, professional, and personal goals are yours. You can push yourself to your next goal. You find your limitations. You are in charge of yourself. Vast flexibility is emphasized, allowing you to do whatever you put your mind to. Although it sounds cliché, that really is the foundation of Olin.

I had to learn flexibility, patience with myself and others, and how to look past the intimidation of asking for help, all challenges that I am still personally working on. But I know very well that I don’t miss the cubicle learning. I don’t miss the lectures, the constant repetition of “lesson-worksheet-lesson-worksheet-test-repeat.” I don’t miss being graded on a scale, viewing all of our individual skills as passive and the number grade as who we are. Olin looks at me for my skills, my values, my practices. From cubicle learning to individual growth, Olin has given me a promise for the future: that I will be in the driver’s seat.

Posted in: Cory '23, Class of 2023