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Current & Prospective Class Reflection: Spring 2011

Posted by kevinwolz on April 27, 2011

Just as I said last fall, “My favorite time of the semester (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’ve done in the past 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’m finishing up now:”

Structural Engineering  – I love building things! I’ve been doing it with my Dad for my whole life. So you would think that taking a class such as Structural Engineering would help me understand how to build better things right? Well that’s what I thought, but man was I wrong. After somewhat enjoying the material of its prerequisite last semester, I was actually looking forward to this class…and then the lectures started. I quickly realized that this class was going to be yet another example of an extremely “traditional” and UNinnovative class with a very boring teaching style. It’s the SAME OLD STORY: monotonous lectures accompanied by weekly homework sets. I find it very upseting that we have been studying BEAMS all semester and yet haven’t even SEEN a real-life beam ONCE! I’m supposed to understand all this stuff based on some squiggly lines that some guy came up with 60 years ago!

Regardless of the teaching style, the focus really didn’t fit me well either. When I build things with my Dad, we don’t determine moments of inertia and moduli (plural?) of elasticity. We go out to the garage and see what we have that looks like it will do the job. If we don’t find anything, then we go look in the neighbor’s garage. If that doesn’t work, then we may go to the store pick something out…but even then, we’re not reading off material specs. Our decisions are based on intuition and experience.

Okay, sure, some of these fancy numbers become more important with larger structures and more regulated scenarios. When we built our cottage, the beams were definitely sized by a structural engineer, but all he did was put some numbers than my Dad gave him into a computer! This is so typical. Half the things we learn in class are taught to us with the phrase: “This is how the computer does it.” Well then why the heck am I doing it!? Overall, I guess it was nice to have seen what this side of the engineering world is like, but it’s really not for me. The things I have built and will build in the future require creativity, a workbench, and a garage full of stuff (or a good relationship with neighbors/the guy at the local scrap yard), not moment diagrams, Cramer’s Rule, and FTOOL analysis. Hell, I would argue that the same goes for the things we need to build in order to…well, save the world.

Atmospheric Chemistry – While this class did reassure me that Atmospheric Chemistry is not a field I necessarily want to pursue whole-heartedly, it did fulfill exactly what I was hoping to get out of it: 1) a better understanding of the atmosphere’s inner workings, especially related to climate change, and 2) a closer relationship with Don Wuebbles, who has already helped me quite a bit in looking at my future goals.

Stream Ecology  – Last semester, I described this class and professor as being in philosophical harmony with me. And while I still agree with that, it turns our that philosophical harmony alone doesn’t necessarily make a good class. Several things contributed to this: 1) The lecture took place once per week, at night, for three hours straight, AND caused me to miss the most important track practice of the week. 2) The professor is retiring at the end of this semester, and, no matter how good anyone’s intentions are, senioritis affects the best of us. 3) The class’s focus on streams got a bit old after a while. Yeah, streams are cool, but I just wish I could have experienced this guy’s philosophy applied to wider range of issues and environments. 4) Once again, there was NO practical/hands-on/active part of the class. The class is all about streams, and yet we never even walked outside to LOOK at the stream that was three blocks from our classroom. Nevertheless, I learned some neat things, and I really shouldn’t complain because if it weren’t for this class I would have never hooked up with AES…the company that I kinda want to work for in a few years.

Organismal Biology – Yet another great semester in the Integrative Biology Honors (IBH) program. The program definitely has some areas where improvement is needed, and encouraging iFoundry-style initiative has been ramping up, but overall I’m still so glad that I’m in the program. It has also been really great to see my classmates and I grow closer as our time together progresses.

Plants and Global Change – Where did this one come from?! When reflecting last fall, this course was not on my list….heck, despite all the academic planning I do, this class wasn’t on ANY of my lists. Instead, I had two other classes listed: Field Ecology and UOCD. Field Ecology fell through because the trip to a national park ended up being scheduled for when I’m going to be in Costa Rica. Then, I dropped UOCD because it just wasn’t turning out to be what I was looking for. So, in came Plants and Global Change out of left field, and it hit me hard. I honestly have no idea why I ignored this class in all my previous planning…anyone that even remotely knows me would find it obvious that a class having anything to do with “plants” or “global change”, let alone both in same phrase, would be right up my alley. It took me a while to catch up on what I missed in the first few weeks, but I was instantly hooked. In its simplest sense, this class analyzes how the primary effects of climate change (increased atmospheric CO2 concentration, increased ozone concentration, increased surface temperature, and changing water availability) will affect plants at all scales (physiologically to ecologically). I LOVED this class, and it has really redirected my vision of what I want to study in the future. My only problem with the class is its focus on agricultural systems rather than just biological systems in general. The reason for this is that most of the funding for research in this area has focused on our main “food” crops. Fair enough, but the type of agriculture that we talk about is precisely the kind of agriculture that I would deem “inappropriate” to say the least. Nonetheless, this class is probably my favorite class that I’ve taken in college so far, and it certainly has changed around my goals/ vision quite a bit (more on that in a future post).


So I’m not sure if this semester quite fulfilled my predictions of being “the best one yet,” but certainly learned a lot regardless. Here’s the line up for next semester:

Systems Engineering & Economics – Oo! Systems Engineering! I talk about that all the time….but from what I’ve heard, this class is pretty lame. This is one of the classes that I tried to “delete” in my custom degree but was eventually convinced not to…supposedly I’ll learn about linear programming, which they tell me is important. Ironically, the class is taught by the very guy who signed off on my custom degree…

Intro to Computing (Computer Science 101) – This is a class that I used to dread but have since come to terms with after seeing how essential programming/coding skills are in practically everything that both biologists and engineers do. Despite the relatively simplicity of what we learn in the class (Matlab & C), I have practically no experience in this area. Good thing I have two electrical engineers as roommates…

Ecology and Evolution – This is the third and final “core” class of my biology major, and it is the one I have been looking forward to the most. We finally get to the “big” stuff! With the same great classmates, another set of awesome professors, and a fun field trip, I’m definitely more excited for this class than any of the others. Not to mention, after my experiences in Costa Rica and Panama this summer, I will undoubtedly return with a more comprehensive perspective on both ecology and evolution that I can build on in the class.

Introductory Biochemistry – Ecology is much more of my thing, but the small stuff is important too. One neat outcome would be to better understand some of the mechanisms underlying athletic performance…that is, if this department can even get beyond its reputation for having students memorize a bunch of miniscule names and reactions.

Biocomplexity  – Isn’t the name enough reason? Well, add on the facts that the professor is awesome, it’s my last Campus Honors Program (CHP) class, and the class includes a trip to Yellowstone over Thanksgiving break, and it sounds pretty darn good to me. My only worry is that it is a biology class taught to students (albeit honors students) who primarily aren’t biology majors…CHP classes typically don’t get boring, regardless of the topic, so I’m guessing that will hold through for this one as well.

Geotechnical Engineering – This class has to do with the physical properties of soil and its associated engineering. I really don’t know much about the field or the class, so we’ll see how it goes. However, this class may be replaced by Undergraduate Research…depending on how the summer research goes and if I can get myself to settle on an interest and in a lab.

It feels good to look ahead at next semester, but honestly, right now all I can think about is the summer. Now I just have to finish up finals and actually pass this semesters classes…


2 Responses to “Current & Prospective Class Reflection: Spring 2011”

  1. Beth Gehred said

    hey kev, as uszh, i like your attitude. soil, ecology, building stuff, complexity, travel, running. first time visitor to your blog (at least in recent memory.)plants and global change a dark horse contender. whod’a’thunk?

  2. Joan said

    I’m struck speechless at the names and descriptions of the classes you’re finishing this semester and the ones you have set up for next semester. I don’t know how you can handle so much and still do sports, etc. etc. etc. Keep up the good work, Kevin. I’m so proud of you as everyone who knows me hears all the time. I think Costa Rica and Panama will be a blast! Have a safe journey
    and enjoy the experience. I can’t wait to hear all about it and to see your photos and videos!! Love you!

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