Feb 172014
 

I’ve found that engineering conjures up a different picture for just about everyone I’ve talked to, from the Dilbert-esque cubicle dweller staring at a computer screen, to Tony Stark welding together some awesome new robot suit to save the world.  In my experience as a engineering major at Dartmouth, it’s a mix between the two extremes.  Sometimes it’s long hours trying to find a misplaced semicolon in my Matlab code, sometimes it’s high-fives and hugs as an hare-brained experiment held together by duct tape and desperation finally works, and sometimes it’s even a little bit of world-saving.

First things first – the coursework part of the major can be confusing.  There are two undergrad degree programs at Dartmouth: you start with the Bachelor of Arts in Engineering Sciences, which is a standard 4-year Liberal Arts degree.  Then, about two thirds of these ‘AB’ students go on to pursue a Bachelor of Engineering degree, which traditionally takes a fifth year.  The AB as a solo degree is usually geared toward students who aren’t planning on becoming professional engineers (consulting, medicine, etc.), while the BE is geared at students who are interested in professional engineering or advanced degrees in their field.  The AB has been an awesome experience thus far, especially since it requires you to explore a variety of different engineering disciplines rather than specializing early.  You start with intro classes in math, chem, physics, and computer science, then move on to core engineering classes, usually in sophomore year.  These core classes are really cool, since you get to see how a lot of problems in seemingly different scientific areas can be modeled and tackled with the same set of problem-solving tools.  There’s also plenty of lab and project experience, even that early on.  After the core classes, you move on to distributive and gateway classes, choosing from a few different disciplines.  A lot of these classes have useful applications regardless of what you eventually want your career to be.  In my case, I’m a chemical engineer hoping to go into energy, but I still took materials science and environmental engineering classes along with the standard chemical engineering and thermodynamics courses.  From there, it’s on to higher-level specialized classes and a thesis or capstone design project.  If you plan on the BE, it’s an extra year or so of advanced classes in a concentration of your choosing (mechanical, electrical, etc.).  You can finish the BE at the same time as your AB and graduate in four years, but it’s tough.  I’m taking two extra terms next year and I’m really glad I have the chance to take more electives and liberal arts classes while I’m at Dartmouth.

This year, I’ve been spending a lot of my time working on my capstone design project:  a cheap, home-scale device to remove arsenic from drinking water in rural areas.  Like almost every other project in the engineering program, it’s in a small group, which is great because it’s a way to share ideas and learn from each other as you learn more from your own research.  These senior design projects are always in collaboration with another company or organization who is interested in bringing Dartmouth students in on the project.  We’ve been working with VillageTech Solutions, a non-profit out of California, and it’s been really incredible to do engineering work this in-depth and important this early in my career.  One of our group members even travelled to Nepal over winter break for a field study!  I still haven’t really processed the fact that this project has the potential to legitimately improve or even save lives when it’s eventually deployed, but it’s easily been my most personally rewarding academic experience of that last four years.  Hopefully I’ll post a picture in the next couple weeks when we get our full-size prototype working.

My capstone project team with the dean of the engineering school and Skip Stritter from VillageTech

My capstone project team with the dean of the engineering school and Skip Stritter from VillageTech

Another great thing about a Dartmouth education is how much the professors care about undergraduates.  I’ve had several undergraduate research experiences already, either working as a Presidential Scholars research intern (not as pompous as it sounds) building a device to measure the permeability of snow using sound waves instead of digging core samples.

My permeability sensor (remember that experiment held together by duct tape and desperation?...)

My permeability sensor (remember that experiment held together by duct tape and desperation?…)

I also spent my off-term junior year on campus doing full-time research on ice samples (I just couldn’t get enough of the Hanover winter, so I decided to spend it working in a literal freezer) and I surprisingly learned a lot about theoretical science even while a lot of the job was building things and working with my hands.

It turns out ice is really pretty when you shine some polarized light through it.

It turns out ice is really pretty when you shine some polarized light through it.

Even though engineering has been a lot of work, I’m really glad I chose to stick with it.  The opportunity to learn from amazing faculty, give back to the community, and build some really cool stuff has been completely worthwhile.  It’s also a really collaborative environment, where nobody is terrifyingly competitive or overly concerned with a few hundreths of a point on their GPA (oh hey pre-med).  It’s a real community, doing really awesome things.

Anyway, sorry for the long post, I’ll be back next week.  Happy Presidents’ Day!

 

 

Sep 112012
 

Every Fall at Dartmouth, I’m reminded just how old I am.  As I walk around the beautiful Green, I hear the classic flair, loud music blasting and seemingly clueless ’16s wandering around!  And that’s when it hits me – I’m a junior!  In a way, Fall symbolizes a period of renewal.  It’s an exciting time to be sure — everybody coming back to campus after a lengthy break (except for the sophomores over summer!) and life at the Big Green continues.

Not for me, though. For me, Fall 2012 is something new, something exciting. With three other guys and a vision, I am finally taking the Fall off to launch a start-up with $16,500 in capital raised from the Dartmouth Entrepreneurship Competition (if you’re curious, see here http://thedartmouth.com/2012/04/06/news/des). With an early prototype engineered and our value hypotheses validated, we’re currently pursuing different techniques to tighten the validated learning feedback loop between customers and our start-up. Ultimately, whether the start-up succeeds or fails by conventional metrics of valuation is personally irrelevant. In my mind, success stems from personal growth and evolution. What really finalized this decision to pursue the start-up path was the realization that as someone with a vision and capital, I really had nothing to lose and everything to gain!

So Fall still, to me, is a renewal in some senses.

Aug 162012
 

I promise I’ll keep this one short and sweet.

With the summer quarter almost over and finals beyond the horizon, the pace of Dartmouth life has been swift with great impact. Looking back, it surprises me just how much the classes here have engaged and taught me how to look at life from another perspective. Take astronomy: we learned everything from basic physics to supernovae to the big questions like: How big is the universe and how did life begin?

These big questions always throw me in for a loop. I take a step back and remember how amazing life is and how small the human race’s timeline is relative to the astronomical age of the universe. It seems to me that even if we had an iota of an impact on the universe, compared to the vast expanses of the galaxy and beyond, we still remain infinitesimally small. These humbling thoughts are both exciting and frightening to me at the same time. They further propel my belief that given the grand scheme of the universe, we should aim to make a dent on the universe in our lives.

Beyond this philosophizing about the universe, it’s interesting to witness just how much what you study influences your ideas and thought patterns. When I took accounting last winter quarter, I thought in a very rigorous, systematic way, always analyzing the smallest details and making sure each step of it was correct. When I took computer science, I sought to implement the optimized teachings and algorithms into my own life. And as an econ major, I realize that knowledge has increasing returns to scale.

 

Jul 312012
 

It’s always fascinating to take a breather and look back at just how far we’ve come.  Even more compelling though is to see how much we’ve learned. Indeed, time flies. Looking forward, I believe there’s plenty of growth and development ahead of us. And personally, I believe it’s valuable to dig deep into the minds of those who have already ventured the beaten path for gems of insight. Luckily, Dartmouth’s tightly knit alumni community is perfect for this.

To that end, a week ago, I began reaching out to the Dartmouth Entrepreneurial Network, asking for advice from Dartmouth entrepreneurs more experienced than me. Most were eager to help out our startup, Memeja. After a few phone calls and email exchanges, I met up with Dartmouth alumni, Nader Aknoukh, who graciously agreed to meet up at Dirt Cowboy for a cup of coffee. My objective was to dig his brain as much as possible. Questions  like “What do you wish you had known while founding your startup” and “What was your biggest mistake” yielded insightful answers about the nature of venture capital and communicating with the market. We walk away thirty minutes later with pearls of wisdom rolling around in my mind.

What I’ve realized is that the Dartmouth alums really want to help you — especially when it’s obvious that you’re funneling tons of time and effort into something you love. They’re friendly, responsive, extend invaluable insights and love to reminisce about their adventures in the startup world. And hey, I don’t mind hearing what Dartmouth was like way back when, either! (apparently there were many more public computer terminals back then).

Feb 272012
 

Hairspray Stage Performance

Yesterday, I went to see the finale of Hairspray, the Theatre Department’s winter production.  I hadn’t heard of the play before, but I can now say I love it.  The cast was simply stunning, and they had such a bubbly energy even after two hours of jumping, hopping, dancing, and singing, and so much practice leading up to their final performance.  Personally, I find it amazing that people can be so talented at singing, dancing and acting all at the same time, especially since I find each one in itself such a challenge.  It was great to see that students of all years, even freshman, were featured so prominently in the show.  If I had any talent at all, I would definitely audition because it seems like the cast had such a great time working together.  My friends and I were all in a euphoric state after experiencing such a heartwarming story.

After the show, I went back to my dorm to work on my math paper.  I’m currently taking Math 17, a topics course called Math Beyond Calculus, which focuses on number theory and its applications in cryptography this year.  The professor does an amazing job tying together many areas of math into a coherent course in an interesting field while giving us a taste of what math is like after the calculus sequence.  In the final week, all the students in the class have to study something not directly covered in class.  Not only is it a chance to explore anything that interests us outside the curriculum, but it also exposes us to mathematical texts and papers, encouraging us to piece together an understanding the way mathematicians and scientists do when they learn about new topics.  We are soon going to start giving presentations to the class, which trains us in conveying difficult mathematical concepts clearly and succinctly, a skill that will definitely come in handy in the future.  I had never taken a math class quite like this before, and I love it.  I’m so glad that Dartmouth has classes like this, and I plan to seek them out in future terms as well.  I’ve been rubbing Warney Bently’s nose every time I pass through the Hop – hopefully that will give me good luck for my presentation.

Jan 182012
 

Coming back to Dartmouth after a wonderful Christmas was bittersweet. It’s amazing to be back and I missed everyone but it is never easy leaving home. What I’ve found most challenging about this term though has been getting organised. Last term was all about settling down at Dartmouth and getting to know the place a little better. But coming back for Winter term a whole new set of problems are thrown at you: MAJORS, DPLANS, INTERNSHIPS, SUMMER PLANS, APPLICATIONS!!!! Etc. It never ends.

I’ve been struggling to sort out my d-plan. It may seem like I am doing this pre-maturely but, as an international student, there are a whole lot of visa requirements which take a little bit of thinking about. Luckily, this week I’ve really been able to find out about and use the resources that are available to help students figure this all out.

You will hear all about them during orientation and – maybe, like me – you might forget about them completely during fall term which is a silly, silly thing to do. The undergraduate deans. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the most helpful office on campus. I went to go see my assigned Dean (deans are assigned to different freshman clusters and they send out newsletters and important notices that you should not delete from your blitz!). I don’t know what I was expecting as I ventured to the 2nd floor of Baker Library and tentatively stepped into the Undergraduate Dean office. Dean Hoyt turned out to be the friendliest person and she was so attentive and helpful – it truly brightened up my day. This may sound a little exaggerated but you might have picked up that I was getting a little overwhelmed by everything Dartmouth. Dean Hoyt really helped me sort out thoughts in my own head, but also answered questions I had about majors/dplans/applications. It was really great to be able to talk through my academic life and what – at this stage – I want to achieve at Dartmouth and how I can go about doing that.

The result of my meeting was that I came out a lot happier and I just felt more on top of my already crammed to-do list.

Jan 162012
 

The beauty of 10 week terms is that each week is a challenge. It’s like you’re on a reality show in which you’re given a list of tasks. You work super hard to complete task after task and get through that list. While doing that, somehow you also find moments to laugh, have fun and just breathe. Eventually, after days of working hard, you complete all your tasks. You feel proud, and happy and motivated. You go ahead and submit your list with a check mark against all the tasks with a huge smile on your face. And before you can even celebrate you’re given a new list and you have to start all over again. Each week at Dartmouth is a new list of tasks. Every Sunday night we try to make sure we’ve completed our list for the week. Monday morning, a new week starts and, with that, a new list.

Weeks and terms at Dartmouth go by really fast. Often we find loads of work piled up. Often we have to go by a day with less than 4 hours of sleep. But somehow, in some weird way, being at Dartmouth makes it completely manageable. Not only do we manage to make sure to get all our work done, but we end up making sure we have time for activities, for sports, for just having fun. And then every Sunday night when we’ve conquered one more week, we realize the beauty of this place and are ready to start the next week filled with motivation and excitement. Having said that, the magic, however, is that each week is an adventure yet no two weeks are the same. Each week brings us a new lesson, a new challenge, a new perspective, just something new. Each week adds to our personalities at least one more positive attribute. Each week makes us a better and stronger person. In this way we continue our journey at Dartmouth, becoming better individuals, and achieving something remarkable, one week at a time.