Conquering the Common Core with Academic Excellence

Thursday, September 19, 2013 by Maury Quijada

Greetings!

Like Emma who posted before me, I am also a new face to the Admissions blog. My name is Maury Quijada, and I’m a sophomore computer science major living in Atwood dorm. My interests outside of academia include bicycling around campus and the 5Cs, catching up on Breaking Bad episodes (I’m only on season 3!), and building Android applications.

That's me!
That’s me!

Of course, I’m thrilled to be given the opportunity to offer others a new perspective into life here at Harvey Mudd College. And in my inaugural blog post, I touch upon my personal experience with Academic Excellence, an initiative run by Mudd that has bolstered my confidence in Core courses, given my weak high school background in the sciences.

As many of you might know, Mudd requires all of its students to complete the Common Core, a series of classes that allow students to dabble in the many available STEM fields, including biology, chemistry, computer science, engineering, mathematics and physics. Given the touted academically rigorous reputation at Mudd, one might see how classes could become

Prof. Wendy Menefee-Libey's office is a matter of seconds away from the Academic Excellence office.
Prof. Wendy Menefee-Libey’s office is a matter of seconds away from the Academic Excellence classroom.
Shanahan 1840, the classroom typically used for Academic Excellence, in its unoccupied state.
Shanahan 1840, the newly-built classroom typically used for AE, in its unoccupied state. On most weeknights, AE meets here for two hours.

challenging, especially if your academic background isn’t as strong in particular subjects. Enter Academic Excellence (AE), an initiative–now led by Professor Wendy Menefee-Libey–that connects upperclassmen who are familiar with the materials in Core classes to the underclassmen who need help with problem sets or who want to discuss high-level ideas in Core courses. It’s important to note that, like Sam mentioned in his post on how to ask for help at Mudd, Academic Excellence isn’t remedial; it’s simply meant to get you on your feet when you’ve stumbled while doing a homework problem or thinking through that concept which others knew about but you had no idea existed.

Christian Mason, an AE tutor for Discrete Math, explains a problem to me merely hours after writing this post. Thank you, Casey Chu, for the picture!
Christian Mason, an AE tutor for Discrete Math, explains a problem to me merely hours after writing this post. Thank you, Casey Chu, for the picture!

Especially throughout my first year at Harvey Mudd, I personally felt many times when concepts in Core classes (read: Physics 24 Mechanics and Chemistry 23E Energetics) were tested, either in lecture or in problem sets, that others understood with little effort but I had some difficulty understanding. Academic Excellence tutors, as willing to help as any Mudder, were there week in and week out to hear out my occasional conceptual question, critique my approach as I worked problems on the whiteboard, and motivate me to keep trying harder. Most importantly, the AE tutors instilled in me the confidence to attack the occasional daunting physics or chemistry problem without any help. And the countless hours I’ve spent in AE have paid and will pay off.

A special word to prospective students: Don’t be intimidated by the academic rigor you may have heard Harvey Mudd expects of its students. Professors–with their office hours and immense amounts of patience–combined with fellow students–AE tutors and the upperclassmen living in the dorms alike–will help you as long as you seek it.

Maury Quijada