Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Sophomore Slump or Sophomore Spark?

Everyone throws around the saying “Sophomore Slump” as a largely undefined phenomenon. Urban Dictionary gives the definition: “During a college student’s sophomore year, their GPA drops after having a high GPA from their freshman year.”Do we really not do as well in general coming from freshman year to sophomore year?

As a sophomore in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering (CBE) I have not yet reached the core of my major’s curriculum when I will take almost all of my classes in the CBE department. Thus far, I have had one class in my major each semester, along with all of the general math and sciences courses required across Engineering. I definitely had a rough adjustment in my first semester freshmen year when I dealt with curves, competition, and exams more challenging than I had never seen before. But I immediately realized why I was so driven to work that much harder: I love math, science, and Engineering courses and I strive to be good at what I’m passionate about.

I think this same motivation drives most everyone in the Engineering School at Penn; passion is at the core of the undergraduate experience here. So where does the Sophomore Slump come into play? It could just be a coincidence that we get a little bit more comfortable and relaxed in our day-to-day lives at school coming back the second year. But for me, it’s been the opposite. I think we are so excited, thrilled, and a little scared freshmen year that we feel the need to go above and beyond proving ourselves in our new academic world. Especially in Engineering, freshmen finally have the chance to explore new applications of their favorite fields.  So, I propose that we rename the “Sophomore Slump”,  the "Sophomore Spark."  Let's bring the academic energy in our second year that we had as excited new students in our first year.  Remind yourself why you're working hard to begin with and bring the "spark" to re-ignite that passion you had in the first year!

Questions for Rebecca?  Contact her at awe@seas.upenn.edu

Monday, October 14, 2013

NCWIT Aspirations in Computing

I once heard a very smart woman say that the best proof for recruiting more young women to be engineers was the fact that there's no good place to put your purse in a crowded car. It's a lighthearted example for a really broad phenomenon: engineers solve the problems they face. And if only one type of person becomes an engineer, then a lot of problems go unsolved. 

This very smart woman was Ruthe Farmer, the voice of the National Center for Women and Information Technology's Award for Aspirations in Computing. They give awards to young women, but it's not for being the top app developer in North America, or writing your own operating system by the age of twelve. As the name suggests, it's for showing potential and passion in the field of computing--and that can be almost anything. It's not a joke award designed to boost self-esteem; it's a carefully-selected talent search meant to expand the pipeline of women taking computer classes, pursuing STEM degrees, entering the workforce, and solving problems. 

When I applied, I was really excited about building a translator in Java and the club I started to teach my little sister and her friends about science and engineering. When I won the Ohio award my junior year, I was invited into an incredibly vibrant community. Girls across the country were talking about their robotics teams, their frustrating classes, their college applications, their summer internships, and most of all, their stories. Even though I was one of three girls in my AP Computer Science class, I didn't feel alone because so many girls experience that. 

When I won the National Award my senior year, I felt like the whole world opened up. I got to meet the most amazing people, including some of my future classmates and friends (shoutout to Marissa Halpert!). I got to tour the Bank of America R&D labs, which was like seeing the future six months in advance. I won a laptop and all kinds of corporate swag, and got to go on all-expenses-paid trips to Charlotte, NC, and Tucson, AZ for their National Summit after my freshman year of college. 

Everyone should apply for Aspirations. It's a quick application, but it unquestionably changed the direction of my undergraduate education, opened new horizons and opportunities to discover new interests, like computational biology or robotic exoskeletons... or robots based on biological inspiration. 

I wasn't a math whiz or a coding genius, but NCWIT saw the potential to use computers to change things in the medical field, in education, or in everyday life. All you need is the first tiny spark of great things to come. 

Apply for the Aspirations award here https://www.aspirations.org/participate/high-school

Questions for Kate?  contact her at awe@seas.upenn.edu

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

A different engineering path

Growing up, I always thought I wanted to be a doctor. I loved science and medicine and I wanted to help people overcome illnesses that science had found a cure for. That is why I applied to Penn as a bioengineering major, and decided to pursue the premed track once I got here.
Bioengineering lends itself to premed, if the student so chooses to pursue it. Almost all the premed classes are covered except for organic chemistry and an english class or two. So I decided to set down that path, as I thought it was the logical choice for my future.

But after coming to Penn, I soon realized that there were so many different things I could do with my engineering degree. The possibilities were endless. I could go to medical school... or I could be an engineer at a medical device company, go to law school, get a pHD, work in the financial industry, work in a bioengineering lab with a professor, do business consulting in the health care industry. Penn had so many possibilities, and while I always had a passion for healthcare, I thought perhaps I could also incorporate that into a growing interest in business.

I decided to pursue the Engineering Entrepreneurship minor, a fantastic option for engineering students who want to learn how to start their own business from a high-tech invention or idea developed during their four years, or for students like me who just want a more substantial business base in between the physical chemistry and biomaterials courses that consumed our schedules.

And as many students at Penn have found, summer internships are the best way to experiment with potential futures. My first summer at Penn I tried the bioengineering industry route, working in the Quality Control department of a medical device company close to my hometown. While I learned a great deal from the experience, I didn't feel it was for me. The next summer, I worked at a bank, learning more about financial products and consumer sales. But it was this past summer where I found a future that I thought I could learn so much from while still pursuing a future in healthcare.

This past summer I interned at the Boston Consulting Group in Chicago where I was able to utilize the skills I had learned in engineering, analytical problem solving, team work, and perseverance, to help answer sometimes dense and poorly defined questions and solve those tough business problems. I loved the thrill of iterating on our approach and redefining our answer throughout the summer, eventually coming up with an impactful final answer that could greatly change the course of a struggling business or continue to grow a prospering one. I plan to return next year, and hope to work on case teams in the healthcare industry, working with hospitals, and pharmaceutical companies, medical device companies and social impact health causes. I am excited to dive deeper into how our healthcare system works and work to minimize important business hurdles so the science can prevail.

While this is far from what I thought I would do when I entered Penn a little over three years ago, I feel excited for the next few years and confident that my Penn Engineering education will help me make an impact in healthcare in my future, outside the laboratory.
Questions for Lauren?  Email her at awe@seas.upenn.edu

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Outside the classroom

There’s always something that gets you up in the morning and gets you through the next problem set. For me, that’s the feel of the streets of Philadelphia under my feet. 

I never thought I would be a runner, but now planning out my weekly mileage is just another Sunday night habit. After playing competitive, travel volleyball in high school for a few years, my parents decided that it might be time for me to try something different. So, I signed up for my first half-marathon November of my junior year of high school. I started out running my painful first mile straight and gradually added less walking and more running until I reached a steady six miles a day and the ability to complete a long run of ten plus miles once a week. I develop my own training plans for each race always tweaking them with the latest trends in running—more hills, less speed, longer daily runs, twice daily runs, and everything in between. I’ve ran in a half-marathon every year since then and truly enjoy the race day atmosphere. 

I don’t run to win the races—trust me I’m nowhere near a record breaking pace. I run because it makes me happy. It’s a break from the stress of school, the business of my Google calendar, and Penn’s campus (as much as I love it). Doing the same thing for an hour almost every day gives you a chance to think about anything and everything that comes to your mind because honestly, what else are you going to do while repeating the same movement over and over again. I’ve thought of the best project ideas and the tastiest meals while running. It’s more than thinking though, running also gives you a chance to process what is happening in life which we often don’t do when there are other commitments that fill your day. 

Running also lets me explore areas that I normally wouldn’t find. I’ve been able to discover the cutest streets in Philly (Delancy and Spruce past 8th), the secret alleyways (in between Spruce and Walnut along with my personal favorite in Old City), and my favorite spot in Philly (Race Street Pier). I keep adding to the list of restaurants (Mercato, Franklin’s Fountain, Morgan’s Pier) and places to visit in the city (farmers’ markets, Washington Square, Dock Street) all while getting to know the city a little better. Not only have I been able to explore the cities I live in through running, I also love running in new cities and especially when I travel. There’s nothing that quite beats running through the woods in Czech Republic to find a field of flowers in the middle of nowhere or running on the beach in Antigua before the tide comes in. It’s these experiences and opportunities that get me up in the morning—the opportunity to learn more about the world and myself. Running has become part of who I am and continues to motivate me to go just one more mile (or one more midterm) by developing my mental and physical strength

"The more I run, the more I want to run, and the more I live a life conditioned and influenced and fashioned by my running. And the more I run, the more certain I am that I am heading for my real goal: to become the person I am." --George Sheehan, M.D.,