Life is Good.

So around 3000 miles ago, life was good.  Now, 3000 miles and 6 weeks later, life is even more awesome.  I'm William, a first year from sunny San Diego, California and I cannot begin to explain how awesome Olin is (even though the west coast is still the best coast).

Well, actually, I can begin to explain, but I don't think I could ever hope to finish.  (read: prepare for the cliche but oh so true statements) The moment I stepped onto campus, it already felt like everyone here was a part of my family: it's only been 6 weeks, but it feels like I've known people here for years.  I can just walk into the dining hall and sit down at any table and have a conversation with whoever is sitting there (this includes professors!) and I can send out an email about a pickup game of Ultimate and people will show up ready to play.

The other day I was walking out of class and I told Mark Somerville, who has written several books and has a PhD from MIT, "Bye Mark, have a great weekend!"  It felt so weird, but it also felt so great, and it gives you a good idea about how the student-faculty dynamic works here.  Most faculty at Olin prefer to be called by their first name and are not just our professors, but also our colleagues, mentors, and friends.  Just this past weekend, I went out with my faculty advisor (Jessica Townsend) and our group of advising students to Sky Zone, an indoor trampoline park, and had a great time jumping around and playing trampoline dodgeball.

Other than being friends with all the faculty and staff, we all are nuts about group work.  Before I came to Olin, I was accustomed to just locking myself in my room and studying until the job was done.  Now, it's harder for me to do work alone in my room because, well, you need help from others and you want to also help others.  Just this past week, I was sitting in a lounge late at night (or early morning depending on how you look at it) and working on a lab for Introduction to Sensors, Instrumentation, and Measurement (Olin's version of an Intro to Circuits class) and whenever I needed help, there always seemed to be a person awake and willing to help me.  Our labs for ISIM (our awesome acronym for that class) are due the day we have the lab section for that class, and the next day, I spent a good deal of time running around helping people who had the same lab due the next day.  The tips and tricks I learned the previous day helped several people complete their lab at not-post-midnight, and it made me feel great.

michaelsinging.JPGMichael Costello, also a freshman, singing to other freshmen as they try to beat Solidworks into submission for a Design Nature assignment.

Outside of Expectations

Technically published a day early. Oh well.

Hello out there! This is actually my first post for this school year, so let me introduce myself: I am Jennifer, the invisible blogger (look under the list of bloggers; I'm not there), and a Junior this year. Pleased to meet you!

There's something about Olin that I have been thinking about for some time now, and the rapid approach of November has made this even more evident (I'll explain why in a moment). Specifically, the way that Olin kind of makes everyone who comes here into the same person. Or, perhaps, we are all extremely similar even before we arrive. Olin's size means that is actually possible: Oliners self-select to be similar. However, that's not always a good thing, because by becoming part of Olin, you have a tendency to forget aspects of yourself. Among people who are constantly working on engineering, staying up until all hours of the night to perfect that last little piece of a project, and generally being perfectionists you become those people.

That was basically what happened to me Freshman year, but I have attempted very hard to change that. I don't particularly want to be a stereotypical engineer--obsessed with perfection, constantly at work on code or in the machine shop working on some new part--because there are so many other things to do in the world. A great example of this is the fact that I do NaNoWriMo.

NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, and occurs every year in November (see why I mentioned it earlier?). I have participated in NaNoWriMo for the past 5 years, and won the past 4, which means that I have completed a 50,000 word novel in the 30 days of November every year for 4 years. At Olin, people are constantly surprised at this: however for me even the thought of not writing a novel a year is depressing. It gives me a solid object that is completely unrelated to engineering that I can point to and say "I did that." Not to mention, writing 1,667 words every day is really a lovely break from engineering projects. It's just so different, and working through words rather than numbers and programming languages (admittedly still words, but of a different sort) means that you can see the world in a completely new way. It lets me exercise creative muscles that I don't typically use in STEM related fields.

Another example of doing something completely un-Olin/engineering related is what I spent this last summer dong. While literally every other single person I knew from Olin was doing an internship, research project, or studying in some brand of engineering (more than half of them staying at Olin to do so) I worked as a horse wrangler at a ranch in the Rocky Mountains. This entailed working with and interacting with people who were very different from what I was used to at Olin. Most of my coworkers had majored in something horse-related or hadn't gone to college at all. As for the guests...I was basically working a service industry job. And I must say: Never Again. Dealing with people who expected everything to be perfect, and not being able to deliver was extremely stressful, and I swear I will never get mad at people working in that industry for being stressed or slow EVER AGAIN. But that being said, it was a fantastic experience. I got to see a view of the world that I feel is often never seen by Oliners. Far away from civilization, a minimum of modern technology, and living every day with 120 horses. Which, when they're this cute, is just the best thing ever.

This is Joey.

And this is Joker. They're two of my favorites.

So, you might be asking, what is the point of this long explanation of non-engineering things? Well, I'll tell you. Basically, don't tie yourself to forever doing only engineering-related things. There's a whole lot more out in the world to experience.

Also, although I didn't actually end up discussing this a lot, but I still feel that it is important to say, don't feel like everything you do has to be perfect. At Olin, you are surrounded by AMAZING people, who can do PHENOMENAL things, and sometimes it feels impossible to do anything that can compare. But you will always have something that is essentially you, and it's very important that you keep that spark of individuality. That's what will make you stand out as an interesting person, not only at Olin, but also to job interviewers, and in life.

PS. Do NaNoWriMo. It's awesome. And I know this cool app that helps you arrange your characters and plots:

Check it out.

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!

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