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Current & Prospective Class Reflection: Fall 2011

Posted by kevinwolz on December 12, 2011

As I’ve said at the end of the last few semesters, “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:”

Systems Engineering & Economics: Okay, I get it. Linear programming is important. Can I be done now? That’s how I felt all semester. After optimizing and re-optimizing every possible engineering scenario you could encounter, I became quite jaded with the whole idea of optimizing something from such a reductionist point of view. I think I can best sum this up by the following quote of Wes Jackson that I heard the other day: “When you break a problem down to a point where there’s no ambiguity, that’s where it becomes irrelevant.”

Intro to Computing  (Computer Science 101): Well, whadaya know,  programming isn’t so bad after all. I know it’s a 101 class, but for someone who has never really thought in the programming mindset before, coding can be a whole new world. Overall, I learned the basics, and they should come quite in handy as I begin modeling-based research next spring.

Ecology and Evolution: Finally!…a biology course focused on ecology, my scale of interest. Overall, this course was great. While the evolution half of the course was a bit dry and unorganized, the material still furthered my interest and understanding of evolution, in all its statistical glory. Not to mention, we took some pretty epic field trips that gave me a whole new respect for Illinois.

Introductory Biochemistry: I’ll be brief, and I’ll be blunt. This was undoubtedly the worst class that I’ve ever taken at U of I. Here’s what we were told (or could infer) on the first day of class: 1) Don’t buy the book because no material outside of the lectures slides will ever be discussed. 2) Lecture slides will be recited verbatim during class and then posted online. 3) Homework is not mandatory, but the posted problems are the same problems that will be on the tests. 4) The teacher is not a professor and has no teaching experience whatsoever. 5) We don’t have the “manpower” to make this course any better. WOW, sign me up! Suffice it to say that the only time I ever showed up to that class again was for our three exams, each of which I simply crammed for the night before by reading trough the lectures and doing the posted (test) problems.

Math in Music and Art: As can be expected from any class with as crazy of a name as this, MMA was my honors class for the semester (and my last required honors class at UofI!). A late add, MMA did not show up in last May’s preview, but it proved to be one of the better spontaneous decision I’ve made. Ever since I started playing in band, I’ve been curious to understand the math behind it all. I know…I’m such an engineer. Anyway, this class did just that! On the very first day, we mathematically proved why there are 12 notes to an octave  and 7 notes in a scale in Western music. It’s not just an arbitrary choice…It’s a centuries-long controversy rooted in fractions and irrational numbers! This class has added a whole new level of understanding to my musical background, and it has even prompted my to whip out my sax again. On top of all that, one of the most excited things I did all semester was the final project for this class. That’s a story for another post though.

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As opposed to the relatively general classes I took last semester, I’ll be diving deep into some focused topics this spring. The best part is that since I will be starting my extended commitment to research next semester (more on this soon), I’m only taking four classes! Furthermore, my daily schedule couldn’t have worked out any better…it’s the most regular and predictable schedule I’ve ever had.

Statistical Modeling: This one came out of nowhere. Since Statistical Modeling is actually a graduate level course, it never really even came up on my radar while planning my degrees out. However, the recent revelation that this course covers almost exactly what I will need to know in order to complete successful research next semester has convinced me that I simply cannot pass it up…for the sake of my career. It will certainly be hard, but I’m sure just as fascinating as well.

GIS for Planners: GIS stands for Geographic Information System. Basically, GIS is the intersection of maps, data, and statistics. Four good reasons went into my decision to take this course: 1) I love maps. 2) The job description for my dream job said that proficiency in GIS  was a requirement. 3) Urban planning is a discipline I would like to explore and understand, and this is the only course I’ll be able to take in that department. 4) My good friend Declan is taking the class with me.

Introductory Dynamics: Arranging class schedules that appease both of my majors as well as my interests has been quite challenging. To make everything fit, I had to start planning things before I even showed up on campus! Retiring professors, cancelled classes, changing requirements  and bad teachers have only added to this difficulty. Nevertheless, I’ve always been able to make everything work…except for this class. Dynamics has been the single hardest class to schedule. The class is typically taken by first semester sophomores, but I have had to push it back again and again due to conflicts. So, here I am, scheduling the second semester of my junior year and realizing that if I don’t make Dynamics fit now I won’t graduate on time. It’s a prerequisite for almost every civil engineering class that I have left to take! Okay, so no big deal right? Wrong. The time conflicts with the lab of Statistical Modeling. Of course. After freaking out a bit, I decided that, since I would probably end up ditching the Dynamic lecture half the time anyway, the conflict wasn’t terribly unreasonable. So, I pulled a few strings, sweet talked some secretaries, and got the override I needed. Take that Hermione. No time-turner needed.

Sustainable & Resilient Infrastructure Systems: To be quite honest, one of the main reasons I registered for this course was because the title had the word “resilient” in it…quite possibly my favorite word of all time. This is one of the classes that was randomly added to the civil engineering department last year as part of the push to make the curriculum better reflect sustainability issues in engineering. I really don’t know what spurred the development of this course…all I’ll say is that when I wrote up my engineering custom degree plan almost two years ago now, I used a quite similar phrase to describe my approach to civil engineering. So, while I’m excited for this unexpected opportunity, I’m actually quite skeptical about the material they will cover. Things may change once I see the syllabus…

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