Kwolz's Adventures in Saving the World

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Passionate Pursuits

Posted by kevinwolz on April 29, 2010

At the start of my freshman year, I joined a new organization in the College if Engineering called iFoundry: The Illinois Foundry for Innovation in Engineering Education. iFoundry’s primary goal is to revolutionize the out-dated, closed-minded engineering curriculum taught at the University of Illinois and most other institutions across the country. Similarly, iFoundry hopes to reinvent the structure of the academic community as a whole. My interactions with the group thus far have been extremely beneficial and enjoyable. I have learned many “soft” skills, met many people, and gained intellectual curiosity that would not have otherwise come to me until senior year.

As most of you have probably realized by now, I’m a man of many passions…that might even be an understatement. After meeting my fellow iFoundry classmates last semester I realized that everyone else is the same way! It may not always be immediately obvious, but engineers are a lot more than just math geeks. To prove and help you visualize this, here is a “word cloud” that I made with each iFoundry student’s passion(s) included:

As you can see, this is a quite diverse collage of passions! And that’s just this one sample of 100 freshmen! Over the last year I’ve also learned that professors and administrators also have passions outside their lecture slides and curriculum flowcharts (who would have thought)! For example, my dean races cars and my chemistry professor jumps out of helicopters to snowboard down mountains! No way!

After hearing about all these exiting topics, I was so excited to learn more about them and to also share my own passions with my peers. The problem? There was no forum where this could happen! Sure, professors can hold scholarly lectures at their will, and students can easily present their research in several ways. But if you wanted to hear about anything outside someone’s academic endeavors, you basically had to take them out for coffee or something.

I don’t like coffee, so I decided to create a forum where this could happen instead: Passionate Pursuits (I should mention that the name has been gratefully borrowed from a similar program at Olin College). Passionate Pursuits is a student-led lecture series where students and faculty can share their passions outside of their day-to-day education with their friends and colleagues (interesting promo video). Quite literally, anything goes! This spring has served as the trail run for developing and implementing the concept into the community…and it’s been great! We’ve had 18 successful lectures (attended by an average of 15-20 people) given by undergrads, grad students, and faculty on the following topics:

  • Horses
  • Poetry
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Nature of Time
  • Traveling
  • Railroads
  • Flying as a Hobby
  • Earthquakes
  • Roller Coasters
  • German Influence on the U.S.
  • Illinois Climate Action Plan
  • World of Warcraft
  • Directing a Children’s Choir
  • Building a Language
  • Running
  • Cooking
  • Story Telling

There was SO much interesting conversation and stimulating discussion! Not to mention, I made friends and got to know everyone so much better! The weekly get-together has been extremely enjoyable and eye-opening. It has created an entirely new realm of intellectual relationships in the engineering community. Currently, we are in the process of gathering feedback and planning for next semester’s expansion. Once we reach that critical mass, this idea should support itself. I can’t wait.

Last week, after holding back so everyone else could have a chance to go, I finally presented MY Passionate Pursuits Lecture: “Saving the World: My Philosophy, My Story, and My Summer.” It went really well, and I had a ton of fun. Stay tuned for a summary and video recording of the lecture!

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