Non-class/non-club Olin Activities

Hey Everyone!

I am back and here to talk about what I am up to this semester!

I ended up only enrolling in three courses instead of four, which may partly be due to the not fun time I had last semester taking five courses (Check out my old post about that), and this extra time has allowed me to really explore things that happen on and around campus and get involved in those things.

Over the summer, I worked with another student and Professor Aaron Hoover and redesigned the Principles of Engineering room. It was really awesome because we got to go through the design process from research to deployable prototype.  It has been absolutely amazing to get to see my classmates interact with the room layout and furniture that we designed specifically for them, and to get feedback and see ways that we can continue to improve the space. In a similar vein, this semester, we are continuing to improve the POE room while also shifting focus to improve other areas of campus. The library is a big focus right now because it is severely underutilized by students, and under Jeff Goldenson, our new Library Director, we are aiming to change the library space to fit more needs and attract more students. 

Along with that, I am working two part-time jobs. The first one, on campus, is with the Admissions office. I am in charge of coordinating overnight visits for prospective students. This job has been really great because I have gotten to interact with a lot of prospies passionate about Olin, and connect them with Olin Hosts that share this passion and aim to show the prospies how awesome of a place Olin is. 

The other job I am doing this semester is off campus, in Needham. Another Oliner worked for a workout facility in Needham over the summer and helped them create a webapp that creates a custom workout for its users when they cannot make it to the facility. The company then hired me this semester to help them 'gamify' their app, to keep the users motivated to use the app over the course of months. I will be implementing gaming concepts such as levels, badges, and awards to keep users engaged. This has been a very fun design challenge and it has been great to see what it is like to work in a professional setting. It is pretty awesome to find a job that I was recommended for because I had experience with both athletics and video games.

Moving back to campus, I am doing research in the Intelligent Vehicles Lab. I am working with a small group of students on a Wall-E robot. This robot is primarily a platform to test and research human-robot interaction algorithms, but I am helping to improve the mechanical aspects of the bot. It has been a challenge to come onto a project in the middle, but it has been a great learning experience and I am working under some very smart students that are helping me get in the swing of things. I am hoping to continue to do design and robo research on campus in the future.

Thanks for reading! Feel free to contact me at with any questions you have! I would love to chat!

Enjoy life (in the bubble)

Hi there!

     My name is Xiaozheng Judy Xu and I'm a new freshman blogger! I can't believe I'm half way through my first semester at Olin already. Not long before this I was looking at this blog and getting fascinated and excited by what Oliners do. Now, sitting in my comfortable chair, submerged in the sunshine through my dorm's window, I look like this seal below:


     I saw him during Orientation at the Boston Aquarium when we had a Boston Scavenger hunt ;). We also saw the beautiful Boston Public Library and just missed Mike's Pastry which provided delicious canollis. Orientation passed by in a whiz, ending in the glory of our team pie-ing (throwing pies on to the face of) the R2 (Resident Resource)s, because we won the egg-drop competition!


     The campfire above was lit when I went camping with the Olin Outing Club at Mt. Madison/Mt.Washington, a three-hour drive away. Despite the rain, s'mores on a campfire and sleeping in a huge tent with 10 other freshman was awesome!


Navigating a new school year

Hi all!

Welcome to a new school year! It's as awesome as I imagined it would be, as well as busier than I ever imagined it could be. Here's a general list of the stuff I do:


  • Discrete Math - Just completed a midterm (phew)
  • Linearity II - Project in Optimizing Vaccine Distribution Systems
  • Computational Robotics - Programmed three robots to play a game of Marco Polo with each other
  • POE (Principles of Engineering) - On a project team building a piano-playing robot that can read sheet music


  • Research - We're going to Spain to present at a conference in Madrid in less than 4 days!
  • HPV - I'm a subteam leader on a team designing a system for automatic shifting
  • Curriculum Innovation - in a co-curricular as well as a student rep on a faculty committee (I want to do my AHS concentration in this!)
  • Fourth Grade Math - Fellow sophomore Gabrielle Ewall and I volunteer to co-teach an extracurricular math class for fourth graders at a local elementary school once a week
  • Work - I work in OSL (Office of Student Life) as well as being a ModSim NINJA for the first-years, which so far has been amazing. I really enjoy teaching in that space.
  • Machine Learning - a Co-Curricular learning about making computers learn for you
  • hack/reduce - I just got accepted to a role as a Campus Ambassador for this organization that seeks to involve more college students in the Big Data networks around Cambridge and Boston


  • Glass Club, Olin Dance Project, Computing Conversations, OFAC, Game Dev (and more)

But what I really wanted to talk about is the question I've been thinking about for the past few weeks is a little more far-reaching. It's a decision that's due for us sophomores in less than a week. What should my major be?

It started when I met with my advisor last week to discuss what I wanted. Should I follow the Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) route I had originally imagined for myself, or should I take the trail of Engineering with Computing (E:C)? It's a common choice I'm not alone in stressing out over.

As my advisor helped me see, what I really want in my heart is to be an E:C major. I'm really interested in software. I love learning new languages and designing new code structures, and it's what really fascinates me and draws my work and attention in projects. It's what I want to do.

Shouldn't the choice be clear, then? Not quite. I never felt a particular intense draw to electrical engineering, but I don't dislike it. I always thought that doing the ECE major would just be a few extra classes that would result in my being deeply skilled in two fields instead of one. Plus, every college recruiter knows what Electrical and Computer Engineering is. E:C majors always get the "so, what exactly is your major?" question.

It took that talk to realize that I didn't really WANT to do the ECE major requirements. I'm a big proponent of personalized education, and jumping through tons of hoops to fulfill the extensive ECE requirements wasn't something I really wanted to do with my education. I wanted to take classes because I was really interested in their content. This was true of a few of the ECE classes - most notably, Computer Architechure, which I'll take next fall - but not all of them. How could having more degrees of freedom within the E:C major be a bad thing?

Well, it depends who you ask. Some say E:C is a cop-out because of the more flexible requirements. Some say it makes it harder to pass through resume-sorting algorithms. And some say having a "General Engineering" diploma (the concentration isn't listed on you actual piece of paper) just isn't as remarkable.

I say, do what you love. Do what you think will service you best for whatever path you choose after graduation. Even though E:C is a pretty well-defined concentration, I'm really excited about the idea of defining my own path through Olin. This relates to my somewhat unusual views that all Olin majors should be self-designed, so that all students are really pushed to engage with their education and define it. But I won't go into that. The takeaway is, do what will make you happy. Also, don't stress out about majors too much, you can change it at literally any point!

Anything but Sophomoric

 Greetings Olinsider friends!

As things are getting into a groove here at Olin, I'm already noticing some definite changes upon becoming a sophomore:

  • Specialization! Continuing to get more choice in what classes we take, and for me, that means more bio. :)
  • Connections! I'm noticing my work is tying together more and more.  For instance: my project for Linearity II (math) is actually optimizing the output of the bacterial communities from my research.
  • New people! Meeting the current first years has been amazing, and seeing them go through some of the same things we did (oh sharks, rays, and scallops) always causes a little pang of nostalgia.  My first year was fantastic, and I hope theirs is even more so.
  • Last but not least: Leadership! Power, responsibility, complete and unbridled control over my own little sub-Olin domains.

Kidding, kidding.

As of this semester I am now the Co-President of the Olin Christian Fellowship (OCF) and Glass Club, as well as a NINJA (course assistant) for Six Microbes That Changed the World.  So far all three positions have given me unique and spectacular growing experiences.

For OCF, we've been doing lots of planning so far: weekly events, special events, budget, content, and more, and making sure everything is seen through to its best.  My Co-President and I are completely new to this, and luckily we have some amazing upperclass folks to guide us along and show us the ropes.  Last year it was pretty much just show up to events and enjoy. This year, I really get to see what goes into making sure things happen, interested people can make it to them, and fostering a great community in the club.

Glass Club has been much more on the instructorial side thus far: although it was up to the two of us to figure out what materials we need, times to meet, and how to organize meetings, being a leader here has really been about attempting to convey what we've learned in flameworking to the new members.  Doing demonstrations and watching the first years make glass beads for the first time was really exciting, and their curiousity has really made me want to learn more to continue teaching them.

glassclub.JPGTip #1: Don't touch hot glass.

Although it's less of a 'leadership' role, being a Six Microbes NINJA has definitely helped me grow in similar ways, and let me see how much I've progressed after spending the summer in the lab.  Other students ask me questions, and hey, sometimes I even have answers!  Being able to help people find their way around the lab has been one of my favorite things this semester, and I look forward to helping new people in the lab for semesters to come.

Which means I actually know what to do with some of this!

Which brings me to one of my favorite things about the world: the more you learn, the more you realize you don't know. Teaching and leading really help you see more clearly what you don't know, and propel you forward in new and exciting directions with every interaction. With each of my new hats this semester, I've gained new responsibilities, and amazing new opportunities to improve as a leader and as a student.  I can't wait to see what's next!

Until next time,

Michael, c/o '17

P.S. Prospies!  Visiting season is here, and the Fall Open House is coming!  The leaves are just starting to turn their amazing New England reds, oranges, and yellows, and it's the perfect time for a visit.  Come check out all the amazing things going on, you won't be disappointed!

Junior Year? What?

I'm designing a robotic puffer fish, 3D printing functional dynamic assemblies, making E. Coli glow in the dark, and hopefully sending out an autonomous robotic sailboat to cross the Atlantic Ocean by the end of this school year. I don't think there is any way to phrase how absurd this semester has been so far. What does all this stuff even mean? I don't even know where to start.

Robotic PufferfishThe robotic pufferfish I am designing for my Mechanical Design class

       I guess I'll start with freshman year at Olin. While I was a first year, graduation was a long way off. I didn't really know much, and I knew I didn't really know much. All of these really cool upperclassmen were running around doing insane things like building calligraphy writing robots, leading project teams, and creating massive, school wide events like Build Day. All of these things were so out of this world, so inspiring, and so exciting, and as a first year I didn't think I'd be doing anything like that in the near future.

       I can't really wrap my head around the idea that I may have become one of those people that I looked up to my freshman year. Do I really know what I'm doing? The answer is yes and no. There will always be room to learn more, and there will always be areas of study that I'm not too sure about. I may feel like some of my classes are a struggle because I'm not quite sure what is going on. However, those classes are tricky for the same reason that I'm taking them; because I haven't learned the material yet. Have I really learned that much? Well, that's where Olin's project based learning structure comes into play. Parents are always looking for toys for their children that are secretly educational. Toys that will help children learn, without letting the kid in on the secret that there is some educational experience in the game they are playing. Things like ant farms, that not only are cool to look at, but also teach kids about ecology, or Scrabble, which is secretly a test of spelling, vocabulary, and geometry (if this one isn't quite clear, I find Scrabble to be a very interesting space-packing problem; i.e. how can you fit the most amount of tiles in one turn the least amount of space?). I have found Olin to be an incredibly amazing, lifelong, secretly educational toy.


The Olin Robotic Sailing team's most recent boat, Damn Yankee, on display at Expo last semester. This semester we will be working to design and manufacture a boat that has the potential to cross the Atlantic Ocean.

             So somehow, I've learned all of these new things without realizing it, and as I look back on all of the projects I've worked on and I'm currently working on, I am constantly surprised at how much I have evolved, and how much I really have learned just working on them. By focusing on project based learning, Olin has really helped me learn how to tackle real world projects through my excitement for the school and for the projects that I have worked on. Even though I know I haven't learned everything about every type of system, through these projects I can see that I've learned how to teach myself what I need to know in order to tackle a difficult problem.

-Alex, c/o 2016

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