Highlights: Fall 2012

Monday, December 31, 2012 by Ji Su

Fall 2012. I can only summarize this semester as a roller coaster ride, but so is every semester. But at the conclusion of a semester in which I fulfilled many of my new year’s goals (they’ll be mentioned many times throughout this post), and for my last blog post of 2012, I’d like to focus on the highlights.

And…I’m also aware that a certain deadline is approaching quickly for all of you high school seniors, so that’s another reason for me to focus on the happier end of things. To those of you finishing up your college applications – best of luck! If you still have essays left to write, work hard these next few days and don’t worry about the results until they come out.

So, in no particular order, here are my Best Moments of Fall 2012.

1. I-Place Open House, in which all sponsors dance their best Gangnam Style

Photo credit to the International Place of the Claremont Colleges

At the beginning of every year I-Place hosts a party on the first day of classes. It’s not just your regular dance party – we have music from all over the world and, even better, two tables full of snacks that the staff pick up from markets and stores specializing in food from specific countries/areas of the world. Not surprisingly, the lines for food are ridiculously long, but once everyone’s had their share of Want Want rice crackers, California rolls, and pan dulce,  Open House evolves into a crazy dance party.

This summer the global theme song was Gangnam Style, which was also our orientation theme song. When the most anticipated song of the night came on, everyone formed rows in front of the I-Place office and did their best horse trot and side shuffle, yelling ‘Oppan Gangnam Style’ at the appropriate moments and dragging confused freshmen into the mob of Psy imitators.

Open House was a great start to the year for me – nom-nom-ing on food from back home and hanging out with people I worked 12 hours a day with for a whole week. I’m already looking forward to Open House next year, and wondering what the theme song will be then.

ENGR82 (Chemical and Thermal Processes) trip to a nearby SEGS plant.

2. E82, in which I figure out my major

Over the past one and a half years, I’ve been thinking carefully through my major choice. Mudd allows you to declare latest by the end of your sophomore year, and my time is approaching. By the beginning of this semester, I was down to two options: engineering and computer science.

Thanks to E82 and Prof Lape, I will soon be declaring the former.

ENGR82, Chemical and Thermal Processes, is one of several E80′s: these engineering major requirements expose us to a variety of disciplines within the field: electrical, mechanical, chemical, and digital/computer. This semester I chose to take E82 to help me figure out if I would enjoy being an engineering major.

Much to my pleasant surprise, E82 was more than enough to persuade me. We not only became First/Second Law of Thermodynamics experts, but we also applied these rules to real-life applications. Through several challenge homework problems, we learned about different ways of producing and consuming power: rising solar bags, OTEC (Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion) power plants, production of hydrogen via SMR (steam methane reforming), but most notably the SEGS power plant that we actually visited (check out Tito’s post – he has lots of details about it ). Prof Lape also assigned us TIPs: Thermal Inquiry Projects where we apply class material to investigations of our own. For mine, I looked at the rate of heat transfer across Harvey Mudd dorm windows with and without curtains drawn, and the efficiency of alternative methods of heating up a swimming pool in the winter: using body heat from multiple swimmers versus absorbing the kinetic energy of people repeatedly jumping into the water.

It was in this class that I reaffirmed my wish to become an engineer that focused on immediate, practical impact on society. I had applied to Mudd with dreams of becoming a humanitarian engineer, inspired by simple, low cost products for use in the developing world. E82 TIPs and challenge problems reminded me of how much I enjoyed those direct applications of theory. After the class, I felt like I was better equipped to create technology that could help others lead easier, healthier lives. I’m confident that Mudd’s hands-on engineering curriculum will continue to push me towards that direction.

Spelling out YOSEmITE at the end of a long hike. Left to right: Jessica (Pitzer ’14), Alan (CMC ’13), Evelyn (Scripps ’13), Michelle (Pomona ’14), Sam Jo (Pomona ’13), myself (Mudd ’15), Ivan (Mudd ’15), and Rachit (CMC ’13)

3. Fall Break Yosemite trip, in which we successfully avoid hantavirus and witness sunrise from Glacier Point

In late August, while lounging around at I-Place, a few of us casually chatted about seeing Yosemite National Park and how cool it would be to take a trip there. After two months, lots of planning and a long road trip, we made it there.

The roster included eight 5C students – at least one from each college. Among many memories, we battled the potential of picking up hantavirus, obnoxiously yelling at each other whenever we placed snacks or water bottles near the ground. We gaped at the first sight of a star-studded sky (as well as a bear peeking out between the branches of a tree). We woke ourselves up at 5am to see the sunrise from Glacier Point, where you can most clearly see Half Dome. We played Taboo in our heated cabins late at night, unwilling to let our last night in Yosemite go to waste.

Those two days in Yosemite (and two on the road) were probably the best way I could’ve spent fall break this year. After a half semester of coding on Sunday afternoons and frantically finishing homework on Tuesday nights, a breath of mountain air was exactly what I needed.

4. Science Bus, in which I separate hundreds of gummy bears by color for adorable 4th/5th graders

Science Bus is a community outreach program at the 5C’s and based at Mudd – we send out 5C students as volunteers to the nearby Pomona school district’s 4th/5th grade classrooms, bringing fun science experiments covering topics like density, buoyancy, and electricity. Last year I participated as a volunteer teacher but this year I’m taking on an organizational role as Co-President. We got 17 classrooms total signed on for regular participation in Science Bus for the school year, which means we get to teach 500-550 kids every week. During Science Bus, we use gummy bears and marshmallows, connected with toothpicks, to talk about atoms and molecules. Another example lesson is to have the students make goo out of corn starch and Elmer’s glue to teach them about polymers. Simply put, Science Bus is all about engaging the students and showing them how fun science can be.

Many of my friends know of my last minute preparations and small panic attacks for Science Bus this past semester, and may be curious as to why it’s on my best of Fall 2012 list. Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures from Science Bus sessions (we would have to go through photo release forms at each school). But if I could show how much these kids wait for their weekly dose of Science Bus, it would be so much easier to explain why I don’t lose motivation. These students get genuinely excited about the experiments that we bring and ask a ton of great questions, the kind that only kids that age could ask (my favorite so far: “Is Science really everywhere?”). Their faces light up when they see the volunteers come to the door, and some say that Science Bus is always the highlight of their week. And I am so thankful to these young scientists for making Science Bus a highlight of my semester.

5. Too many to count

At a word count far surpassing 1000, I’m not even close to being done. I haven’t even talked about all the cool things I’ve programmed in CS60 (i.e. my own Snake game!), dinners with fellow Singaporeans at the 5C’s, or SCAMFEST, an a capella concert featuring all of the on-campus groups as well as a few others from UCLA and USC.

Sometimes the funnest times resulted from pure spontaneity: purchasing a pair of fluffy penguin slippers on a whim on Black Friday night, taking advantage of a free Thursday night ticket to the LA County Fair, or ordering Thai food in the middle of the night and running out in pajamas to grab my beloved Pad Thai. Although I don’t always endorse the use of the phrase YOLO, I believe it’s appropriate in describing these crazy times.

So there it is: a list of some of my most beloved memories from Fall 2012. I hope that your semester was just as exciting and fun-filled, and that the upcoming semester is your best yet. Happy new year, everyone, and I’ll be back in 2013 (which isn’t too far away!) As always, feel free to send me reviews of my blog posts or any questions about Mudd to my inbox (ji_su_lee@hmc.edu).

Ji Su