How good is my course plan?

A little while ago, I made a blog post about choosing my E:C major. Now, I get to think about E:C majors in a whole new light.

Here at Insper, one of the projects that myself and Adam ('16) have taken on is evaluating and revising the Insper Computer Engineering curriculum. Insper is different from Olin in that, due to Brazilian bureaucracy requirements, they must have a defined course plan for a given major. That means that the students don't have too much choice in their core computing classes, but they also don't have much choice in when to take those classes. Each semester offers four to five pre-defined classes, sometimes with space for an AHS elective.

Although the students don't get a lot of choice in what classes they take, they still get autonomy within classes on choosing projects, so that's okay. But that gives Adam and me a unique chance to design a curriculum and be very deliberate about selecting which classes will go in which semesters and why. We can apply educational theories like spiral learning and theories of motivation to justify our proposed changes to the course plan, and it's a lot of fun.

But the whole thing has gotten me thinking about defining my own course plan at Olin. Adam and I have worked with Insper to identify eighteen "disciplines", or subsets of competencies that get developed through classes. They're either technical disciplines, like "human-computer interaction" or "programming", or non-technical disciplines like "teamwork", "written and oral communication", or "product development". We made a Python script to generate heatmaps for different course plans, to see where disciplines got developed across the semesters in order to make sure the curriculum was well-balanced.

So, while thinking about all this for Insper, I started wondering if my own course plan for Olin was well-balanced and met all the criteria we developed for a Good Curriculum.  Just for fun, I made a heatmap of my own planned courses through Olin. Everything past semester 5 is a total guess, but this will be the general layout of Anne's Journey Through E:C. (Before you ask, the empty 4th semester is the LOA!).  The darker the square, the more classes in that semester that cover that discipline.


Not bad.  The non-technical disciplines have a nice spread and don't fade away as semesters go on, which is good. Some of the Insper's technical disciplines, like "memory and storage" or "networks and connections" don't translate very well to Olin's curriculum and classes, so they don't look very strong in this diagram.

But the point of this post wasn't for you to look at my (mega-cool) course plan. Planning a curriculum for someone else made me think harder about my own classes. Since I have to pick the timing of classes for myself, I have to think for myself whether it will make sense in the context of classes I've previously taken, and and do all that for myself. Making the heatmap helped me see my own course plan and evaluate for myself.

So, that's the point - encouraging you to really think about the classes you plan to take and what you plan to learn in them. At Olin, we have a lot of really cool classes, but I never thought too much about how they fit together within or between semesters, beyond the required prerequisites and stuff, but it's never a bad time to consider which classes you take and why.

Maintaining the Balance


You've probably seen this diagram before if you live on the Internet as much as I do. I, however, think it's completely unfounded. If you do things right.

  1. Sleep. Honestly, that should always be your number 1 priority. If you need sleep, get sleep, no matter what is due tomorrow.
  2. Don't procrastinate. That is the biggest enemy of number 1. I'm not going to say that I've never started a paper on the day before it was due, but even then you start it at 9 in the morning, not 9 at night. That's an extra 12 hours of work time.
  3. Take breaks. You really can't do a solid 8 hours of work and still feel good about it. Taking breaks also helps you reboot your concentration.
  4. Make time for yourself. Do something that relaxes you. Honestly, I like organizing my room to de-stress. Or running around playing Frisbee. Whatever works for you.
  5. Smile. Laugh. It really helps (see science).
  6. Don't worry about everything all at once. It really helps to concentrate on going through things systematically. I have a list I write down every day of what I need to do, and just check them off as I get them done (what can I say, I'm old fashioned--still using paper lists)
  7. Don't sweat the little stuff. Really, no one cares if the color schemes of the lines of your graphs are coordinated. Just let Matlab decide and go. You will still get an A if you did the project as well as I know you did.
  8. Go outside. Do things. Whether "outside" for you just means outside your dorm room, or if it means take a trip into town or whatever.
  9. Be nice. Nice to your classmates, nice to your professors, nice to everybody you do things with. It feels good, and it will help them to like you back. +1 to Social Life.
  10. Have FUN! As much as possible, do things that you find fun and interesting. It will keep you motivated and you'll have a better time overall.


Obviously, all of these are just my opinion, but they've seemed to serve me well enough through three years of college so far. Good luck to all of you.



Spontaneous Projects

Olin students get very excited about things very fast. Our community service organization, SeRV, had been talking to students about a charity event hosted by Vecna Technologies, a robotics and technology company in Cambridge. Vecna was hosting a fundraiser involving a robot race and a 5K (human) run. SeRV offered funding to those who wanted to participate in the robot race. As many of you may have seen from a number of my previous blog posts, I love Doctor Who. So my ears immediately perked up when a friend suggested that we build K-9, the Doctor's robot dog companion from the 51st century. With this project coming in on top of a middle-of-semester 20 credit workload, I was immediately nervous. I didn't feel that I had the time to do the things that I wanted to do near the end. But I was motivated to make this project succeed, because I wanted to build K9. After a slow start, spring break, and a bit too many long nights for comfort, we finally managed to scrap together a rideable, talking K9 with only 4 students and a $200 budget.

11075076_10204141795330559_107054625950556416_n.jpgThe base frame of K9

I'm not going to go into too many specifics on how we actually did it, because I'm still trying to process it. We found two humongous wheelchair motors, laser cut a bunch of scrap wood, and threw together a bunch of different sensors and systems to make our electrical system. Strapping that all together, we had a robot.

10985206_10204138308123381_6436695746935841984_n.jpgDavid Elkan ('15), Mitch Cieminski ('16), Celina Bekins ('17), and myself

The day of the competition made it all worth it. After so many long hours working on it, we were finally at the end, and even though not everything ended up working the way we wanted to, we met our design goals. Number one: It looked like K9. Number two: It could complete the race. Number three: it was rideable. The best part was, by bringing it to a public event, we were able to validate our success and the work we put into it. Not only was our robot a robot, like any of the others at the Robot Race, but it was K9! A stream of parents who watched Doctor Who when they were younger insisted they get pictures of their children riding our robot. Even people who weren't fans of Doctor Who loved what we did, because our robot had character, which made it loads of fun. Multiple media outlets came and talked to us about what inspired us to participate. "We really just wanted to build K9" was the usual response.

10441037_10204138290522941_645217041143012906_n.jpgK9 during the race, being ridden by Celina Bekins ('17)

I am addicted to projects. If I am inspired, I will start a project surrounding my inspiration. There are lots of awesome things that happen here, just because students get inspired to do fun things. If someone mentions something interesting to me, I will be dying to help them. It's a big problem, because I know sometimes that I can't take on all the things that I want to do. If Oliners don't have the time to do something they are passionate about, then they will physically make that time available, and that's exactly what I did. What comes out of that time is amazing, but it definitely comes with a cost. I definitely got less sleep that I've wanted to, but I know that I've made something really cool. Taking on this project was definitely pushing my time and stress limit this semester, but it was definitely worth it, because I now have a new pet robotic dog in my room, and I've made one more thing that has made me feel like I've accomplished something awesome.


Tell me about your dream

Hey there, 

     This is the last day (actually last five minutes) of Spring Break... I went to North Carolina on a Habitat for Humanity trip with an Olin group of 8 people. Other than learning how to hammer nails into wood, I got two days of summer sun, went to the beach, met a cool NC high school girl, and had fun roof climbing and playing Euchre (Card games with tricks and trumps are the best!) 

     Before the break, my team proudly created our first project for mechanical prototyping: Aluminum Tide, a kinetic sculpture of a rolling metallic wave with two steel spheres that orbit synchronously in a perpetual dance of intrigue and mystery. Three years of hard work (actually, one month of intense machining) led us to produce a machine that operates at a speed directly proportional to the rotation of the earth and which emits a sound reminiscent of Rachmaninoff's prelude in G major." 


My 1st project for Mech Proto: Aluminum Tide  

     Since the last post I also discovered the best Japanese Ramen place in Cambridge! The first time you go there, you have to talk about your dream. Jong, who joined my class after serving in military in Korea, said his dream was to "unite North Korea and South Korea". I got the blue sign so I had to talk about 3 dreams, and here they are:

1. Open a dessert shop (preferably on a small plane)

2. Become an Aerospace Engineer

3. Do the above two so I can eat Ramen whenever I want


"Talk about your dream", Cambridge


yumeramen.jpg     Em... It's not just a bowl of ramen; it's your DREAM

      So dear candidates, remember that College is just a mean for discovering, changing and living your dreams. This week as you get your decisions from Olin, be as excited as I was if you get in! There are plenty of opportunites here. Otherwise, don't be too sad because the true gold will shine no matter where it is. After all, it's up to you to cherish and nourish your dreams. 

      Goodnight Sunday, 

      Judy XZ 


How Going to College is a Bit Like Driving in Massachusetts

I first have to start this post by apologizing for how egregiously late it is. At first, I just postponed it by a day and suddenly, the next thing I knew, it was 2 and a half weeks later. I'm sure many of you know that feeling.

Cheezburger animated GIF

But on to the topic at hand. Around the time I was actually supposed to post this, I had to go drive into Needham in order to do some shopping. For those of you who don't know, Massachusetts drivers are completely insane. This particular quality is not helped much by the fact that most of the roads don't bother being straight and that there are 5 and 6 way non-right angle intersections everywhere. So in the approximately mile and half stretch of road that I drove between leaving Olin and returning, I managed to witness the following traffic shenanigans.

  1. Someone parking in the middle of an intersection. They had a green light, they pulled out looking like they were going somewhere, and then they just stopped. And then, when my side had a green light and I drove across, they decided to honk at me, as if I was the one at fault.

  2. An intersection that has a "right turn" light, but, in fact, has two "right turn" roads that lead away from it, and have lights at different times. It was quite fun to try and figure out when I got to go.

  3. A road entirely full of potholes from the ridiculous amount of snow that we've had here this winter.

  4. And, of course, the obligatory person trying to go 20 miles above the 30 mph speed limit right behind me.

driving animated GIF

All of this got me to thinking about how college is a bit like my driving experience. Sometimes (but not often) there's people who decided to park in your way, and all you can do is either find ways to help them, or just go around them. You also may not know the exact way you want to go when you start out--there may be two right turns which both look correct and you just have to guess which one is really the one you want. If it's not right, well, then you just come back and go at it again. And sometimes there will be people who are encouraging you to do things you may not want to do (tailgating you) and you just have to keep to your convictions and continue on.

Overall, the road through college is a little bumpy and full of potholes at times, but at the end you'll be feeling pleased that you made it through, and you'll have some good stories to tell about it.

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