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Goodbye Fall, Hello Spring

Posted by kevinwolz on December 11, 2010

My favorite time of year (registering for classes–really, what is more empowering than choosing and taking action on your own education!?) has already come and gone. I want to continue what I sort of started last semester with a review/reflection on this semester’s classes and some prospective thoughts on the line up for spring. This really isn’t for anyone else’s benefit but mine. It’s an opportunity for me to reflect on past classes, redirect my academic interests, and scope out the next semester. A successful college education will only come if I continue to reevaluate where I’m at and make sure that I’m passionate about where I’m going. Here are the classes that I just finished up yesterday:

Creativity, Innovation, and Vision (CIV) – Yes, you can learn to be more creative, and I did. CIV taught me new ways to think and innovate, as well as to simply keep my mind open when working on projects or developing ideas. These skills will undoubtedly play a huge role in my future, wherever that may be. This was also my first time learning and working primarily with grad students, which was a very neat and rewarding experience.

Ecological Engineering – This is a class taught by my philosophical twin of a professor on a subject that is the foundation of approach to connect my majors and make a real impact. Enough said.

Solid Mechanics – Just like all Theoretical & Applied Mechanics (TAM) courses at UIUC, this class was taught horribly, with nothing but monotonous lecture. The core TAM courses are at the bowels of traditional engineering education – completely disconnected with the outside world. They are in desperate need of an iFoundry influence. Nevertheless, once you look past the educational approach, the content was actually pretty neat. I’ve never thought of structures and materials to really be my thing, but I have to admit that really did enjoy some of the topics.

Indigenous Governance – This class served as both my honors class for the semester and my Non-Western Culture GenEd requirement. It really wasn’t quite what I expected going in, but the discussions were pretty good, and I certainly gained a new perspective on many environmental and social issues.

Evolution of Molecules and Cells – This is the first of three “core” IBH classes. As my studies tend to focus on the more macro, or ecological, scope of things, this class wasn’t initially up my alley. But wow did it grow on me. We explored not only the machinery and process that make life possible, but also the deep “hows” and “whys” behind all of it. The best part was actually getting to design and carry out an experiment that tested a novel hypothesis of our own creation. As small as the scope may have been, this is really the first time that I’ve ever done science and not just learn about it.

BioMath –  I didn’t learn much biology, but I did learn a ton about modeling. Most of the semester had us working on developing and exploring a mathematical model of photosynthesis. Amazingly enough, this forced me to write code for the first time in my life. Now, I know Matlab might not be classified as true programming for some computer science elites out there, but for me, this was revolutionary. It was also fun…until the code didn’t work. Overall, it was a good first experience that has undoubtedly opened many new doors for me.

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Overall, this semester’s classes were great. I certainly learned a lot, particularly in the last three classes. Next semester, however, is looking to be one of the best yet. Here’s the line up:

Structural Engineering – This is one of my 5 “core” CEE classes and is a natural, more application-oriented follow-up to this semester’s more theoretical Solid Mechanics. Before this semester, I hadn’t really been looking forward to this class, but my unexpected interest in Solid Mechanics may have changed that. Nonetheless, this is still one of the most typical, traditional courses in the college…something that doesn’t sit right with me, but we’ll see…

Atmospheric Chemistry – Chemistry isn’t a particular focus of my studies, although I am getting a Chemistry minor more or less by default. There are two primary drivers for me to take this class: 1) Climate change is coming harder and faster than expected. If I plan on being a big part of the solution, I figure I should at least the basics of what’s going on in the atmosphere – physically (this part came more from other physics classes) and chemically. 2) Don Wuebbles is the professor. Don Wuebbles has too many accolades to list, but most impressive in my view is the fact that he shares the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as a lead author of their latest report. This guy IS the cutting edge of climate research. Not to mention, I’ve met him a few times, and he’s just a cool guy.

Stream Ecology – This one is a direct follow-up last semester’s Ecological Engineering and is an advanced elective for my CEE concentration of environmental engineering. The professor is the same, and it should go even further in depth…perfect. The best part? This class actually listed under and counts towards both my majors! Talk about philosophical harmony…

Organismal Biology – This is the second of three “core” IBH classes. It’s still not quite ecology, but it’s definitely a wider view than this semester. I don’t know the professors, but it’ll be the same 15 or so awesome IBH students from this semester.

Field Ecology – This one was a last-minute addition. It’s only worth one credit hour, and I was one credit hour under the max…so logic (at least my version of it) told me to register! The class only meets one hour per week, but then culminates in a trip to a national park over spring break, where we get to do a lot of hands-on field work. I could have pushed this class off to a later semester, but it’s taught by two of the most seasoned, interesting, and coolest biology professors on campus…and they may retire before I get another chance.

User Oriented Collaborative Design (UOCD) – I’m really not even sure how to describe this one. UOCD is a class piloted by the iFoundry program that is modeled off of a class taught at the young and innovative Olin College of Engineering – a beautiful example of the way engineering should be taught. The basic premise is that, in order to design something properly, whether as an engineer, architect or whatever, one must work in a truly collaborative manner to fully understand everything about the situation and users of the product. If Structural Engineering is one of the most typical, traditional courses at UIUC, then UOCD is definitely the most wild and innovative.

Whooo! All that almost makes me want to skip winter break and jump right in!

Okay…not really…but almost.

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4 Responses to “Goodbye Fall, Hello Spring”

  1. Joan said

    Kevin,
    I’m awed by everything you wrote; on classes you’ve already had and what you are going to get next semester.
    Your enthusiam is awesome, too. Don’t ever, ever lose it.
    GB

  2. grace mack said

    I enjoy your blog!! You are very passionate about your course’s.

  3. Karen Wolz said

    Great overview Kevin! Your passion and desire to learn is admirable! You make me interested in science….when I was on the outer edges of interest.

  4. Alyssa S. said

    You’re taking Stream Ecology?? That class looked neat. Would you let me know how it is?

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