Well I just graduated this past week. That was weird. Now I’m a real person with a real job and I’m renting a house and everything. Anyways, I wanted to take this opportunity to share with the incoming class some of the valuable insights that you may not get on tours (unless you were on one of my tours and asked good questions :P) in the hopes that you may find some of this stuff useful to remember!
Olin’s newly graduated Class of 2016!
It’s Not Just About Engineering.
When I was in high school, I had to make a choice between the orchestra and the robotics team, and I chose robotics. As a result, my musical side dwindled out of existence and I was perfectly happy continuing to build robots all the time, having forgotten my passion for music. I was perfectly content continuing to do that as I arrived at Olin: as engineering degrees are the only things Olin has to offer, it made sense. But that’s also pretty intimidating: it’s like you’re signing away your life to become an engineer and only an engineer. But here’s a secret: you’re not. Sure, we only have engineering majors. But what we teach in our classes is applicable everywhere, which really shows the power of real world problem solving. During the spring of my first year, a student had arranged some music and needed a fiddle player to record a certain part. I used to play the fiddle and told him I could maybe do it, so of course he immediately put my name down. Because of him, my musical passions came back full force, and I was soon singing in our a cappella group and arranging my own pieces. Olin doesn’t just support its students as engineers, but as people, too. Olin’s nature and resources give students an opportunity to do what they want with their education. Some of my classmates are going into mathematics, another is going into teaching, and one of my classmates is going into acting even though he has a robotics engineering degree. Olin isn’t just about the engineering. Find something you find meaningful, and use Olin’s resources to pursue that.
One of the most amazing things about the Olin community is our passion for making changes where we see them needed, which I believe is the core message of the Do Something clause of our Honor Code. Because we each represent more than 1% of our class, each student contributes a lot to the community and can make a large impact upon the community if they want to. Olin is still an experimental school, so not everything is fully developed yet, and it is our responsibility as students to sustain and improve the community for the next set of students that come in. As one example (which I’ve talked about in previous posts), in my first year there were no easily-accessible prototyping resources on campus, and I worked with a few other students to develop our 3D printing space over the rest of my time at Olin. Now that the space is thriving in our Library; it is an essential resource for the student body and it is hard for people to visualize Olin without it. All around campus, students have ideas, take action, and make changes to improve our community. So if you see something that could be changed, remember that you can take action and do something about it.
Leave Time for Yourself.
Personal time doesn’t have a grade or a number of credits associated with it, and I’ve definitely both forgotten and seen others forget to leave time for themselves when planning out their semesters. I did just talk about how important taking action is, but Do Something does not mean Do Everything. Just because it is technically possible to take five classes and do all of the project teams, it doesn’t mean you should: remember that sleep is a thing that humans need to survive, and some people may need more of it than others. Classes, projects, etc. are fulfilling, but so is pursuing the things you are most passionate about on your own time; anything from watching movies with friends to horseback riding. Mental health is incredibly important: you shouldn’t feel ashamed that you have to go to bed earlier than others, or that you have fewer commitments to adhere to than others; you should be proud of that because it means you can get more out of the commitments you do have, you have more bandwidth for spontaneous adventures and get-togethers, and you’ll get a good night’s rest while you’re at it!
Reflect and Document.
One of the most critical skills I’ve developed at Olin is my ability to reflect on my work and experiences and develop them into a cohesive narrative. This is why leaving time for yourself is so important: it leaves you time to think. From social interactions to projects, reflection allows you to re-evaluate your choices and consider how you could have gone about them better. It broadens your perspective and allows you to think critically about yourself. I have found that actually writing things down, in either a private or public-facing format, really helps with this process, which is why documentation is so important! On top of that, writing things down allows you to review what you’ve done, remember it clearly, and remember your thought process when you made it. Additionally, documentation allows you to share your work in compelling ways. There are dozens of amazing student projects that get forgotten about or don’t get the publicity they deserve just because nobody thought to document them. Whether it’s a blog, a video, or a paper, on top of being a great way to showcase both your work and Olin’s, it shows you know what you did, and you can communicate it well. So keep a journal, keep a blog (here’s my 3D printing blog if you’re interested!), whatever you need to do to get down your thoughts. Reflection and documentation can really enhance your perspective.
You are Awesome.
There are going to be a lot of people from all sorts of different places and different backgrounds at Olin. They’re going to have done all of these awesome things. Because of our impressive, diverse community, imposter syndrome is a big thing here: the fear that you aren’t as accomplished as others around you. But you know what? You’ve done awesome things too. I’m sure you have; that’s why you’re at Olin, after all. When I was a first year, I was terrified of living up to the standards set by the rest of my class. Some of my peers had started their own companies in high school; some had traveled the world before I’d even completed World History. I didn’t know how I could begin to compare to them. But you know what? I didn’t need to. I had spent my high school summers hiking all through Maine and building lean-to shelters instead of getting technical internships. Even though my FIRST robotics team didn’t make it to championships, I still had a great time doing my best to help my team succeed, and we made an awesome robot that I couldn’t be more proud of. Each member of the Olin community enhances the environment in a different way, so no one student should have the same experiences or aspirations in the first place. Olin doesn’t look for just one type of person, we look for a community. So don’t compare yourself to the likes of your classmates. You are different than them, and as I said earlier, you will make up more than 1% of your class. That’s what makes you a great part of this community, and that’s what makes you awesome.