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


It has been approximately 3.006e+6 seconds since fellow Oliner, Brennan VandenHoek, and I pulled out of my driveway in Portland, Oregon and began the round-about sixteen-day cross-country trek (in a VW golf) from the great PNW to the long awaited destination of Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering.

A Road Trip in Pictures 

The very full car

Here is the Golf as a very full Golf in Washington. You can see how the back wheel wells are (nearly) resting on the back tires. This is after we took half of our things out of the car. 
Watching the road
The road in Montana. 
This is Brennan. 
The_View_Mountains.JPGWe spent 5 or so days hiking in Glacier National Park. It is so intensely beautiful there. 
The_View_Lake.jpgBanff National Park. 
The_Steps.JPGThis is in Ontario, on Lake Superior. And that is me. 
End of Road Trip

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