Formal Education is for Skills, not Knowledge

When I started engineering school, there may have been some bragging about this major was the best and it’s so great and those damn liberal arts kids aren’t learning anything. That went away, pretty quickly. Mostly gone after the first year, it’s bothersome to hear that idea said now. A quote like “She studied psychology? She’ll never make any money!” Who cares? You go to school to study what you want to study. Learn what you want to learn. You’re paying for a service, you’re paying for exposure to people to teach you things. In the US, you’re paying for the ability to get hired, since a majority of jobs now require a Bachelor’s degree for employment.

That was more of tangent than I meant. A friend of mine, also in the tiny world that is the Earth Systems and Environmental Engineering program, was talking about how people often think majors define them. Or define what they’re doing. For example, they’ll take an introductory Mechanical Engineering course and say “Holy crap this is what mechanical engineers are gonna do? Ok this is what I’m gonna do.” And to quote him, “It’s not. It’s what the professor does.” The fluid mechanics professor? He studies the boundary layer of the atmosphere. Not how to build a piping system. The guy teaching Environmental Site Assessment? That’s what he does. That isn’t what you need to do.

It’s also easy to think that mechanical engineers study how to build small things. Environmental engineers must study municipal water treatment, which is the traditional definition of environmental engineering. Oh and those electrical guys? All they must do is build cool gadgets! What you major is not this narrow, restrictive set of rules and life opportunities. Environmental engineering students now study remote sensing, renewable energy, and climate change. A ton of mechanical engineers study fluid mechanics! Look at the guy teaching the course!

This brings up the idea of what going to school even means. You go to school, and get an “education.” Said education teaches you. I would argue that you go to school to learn how to learn. There is no way you’re going to remember every individual course and its information after you graduate. The majority of us do not have photographic memory. However, you will develop a skill set. What that skill set is up to you. Maybe you’ll learn how to read and analyse papers amazingly quickly. Maybe your writing style will become fine tuned. Maybe you’ll learn how to prove that irrotational flow is given by the curl being 0.

A college education is about developing yourself, and adding knowledge on the side. When someone says “I am a chemical engineering major! Chemical engineers make the most money.” It doesn’t make you’ll make the most money buddy. Especially if you piss everyone off.

So, go to school and think about how you can learn better. Make some friends. Learn how to derive complex principles, and how you can solve problems from the principles of physics and mathematics. Learn how to analyse, so that you can create. And stop talking about how your major is better anyone else’s!

Advertisements

Good customer service makes for good business

I had the saddening experience of learning today that my recently purchased Surface Pro 3’s battery is defective. By defective, it won’t work without being plugged in and resetting the battery drivers doesn’t fix it. This is an especially poor time for it to fail, since this is the first semester I’ve decided to integrate a laptop into my courses and it’s become an amazing resource to take notes on, program, and have reliable computer access anywhere. It’s also my only Windows install, with a Linux-Mint install on my increasingly older desktop at home. So this isn’t the end of the world, which is extremely lucky, and there’s pretty good computer access throughout the school, which is also amazing, so this is at worst a major inconvenience.

The SP3 was refurbished when purchased, and its warranty (from Microsoft) expired last month. So after doing the regular troubleshooting, called up MS today and found out after about 40 minutes of going through re-installing the battery drivers that the battery was defective. The service rep then checked on the warranty, and informed me that the MS 30 day grace period expires in 3 days, and there’s still coverage. Have to send in the laptop and it’ll get fully replaced. Crappiest part about the whole thing is that there’s no way to renew/extend the warranty, so if this happens again it’s gonna hit the wallet. Severely.
Similarly, a day or two ago, a good friend signed up for a free trial with Audible to get a book for class. She got it, started listening, and was suspicious of the total play time, 1 hour…which was due to it being the abridged version. She called them up, and told them what was wrong, and even though she had only 2 free books as part of the trial, they gave her the full copy of the book, and refunded the original. That was awesome!
Both of us hear Audible commercials all the time on podcasts, and honestly have not considered subscribing…until now. She’s considering signing up just because of how awesome they treated her.
The concept of amazing customer service from a faceless large entity is so pleasing because often, one is met with the complete opposite. Apathy from the person on the other end of the phone, and a total lack of empathy from anyone, allegedly human, from the entity. It doesn’t matter if it’s private or public, but is based more on the size of the entity.
The commitment to treat people using your service as humans and valued is working! This isn’t to excuse the people mistreated on the other end of the chain, especially the people making your products. This is to promote humanizing the trading of goods and services. Thanks MS. Thanks Audible. Y’all did awesome. We’ll be back.

Incredible opportunities come to those who try for them

About a year and a couple weeks ago, my great friend at the time sent me a site offering jobs “for the environment.” What are jobs for the environment I wondered? Fresh out of high school, I had spent at least the last 3 months in a heavily induced mental coma, bumming around while considering what I was gonna do in college. I had somehow slid into an engineering program at where I’m enrolled now, scoring 5’s and 4’s on AP exams I considered easy while barely getting away with a lot of things, and not getting away with some.

So, I think of how I need to get this resume together and get this pathetic excuse of a piece of paper that has my name and the fact I worked with my school’s Tech Squad on it, and my contact information. I get there…and this very excited guy with hair down to his shoulders yells for at least a half hour about fracking and the evils of it, much of which I had learned in an environmental science class. it uses a lot of waster, it can contaminate water, there’s methane leakage, it’s harvesting methane, issue on top of issue that actually make it out to be a really stupid process endorsed by some people who can’t seem past the next quarter. Which it is in all honesty.

Well, he let me go into the next room with this cute red haired woman, who had short hair with bangs and a few killer tats. She asked me her first question, why I wanted to work there. My response was about how I wanted to develop sustainable energy. Or something. Save the environment y’know? She asked me if I was comfortable fund raising. I asked her if it’s like petitioning in the street, to which said no it’s fundraising. I said yes, she told me to come in the next day. I sat down on the hot pavement outside, it being early July with no cloud cover out, and waited for my friend to come outside, who had also come in to do the interview without telling me.

He came out and said, “a hot blonde chicK” had told him they’d call him within the next day. I laughed a bit, callously telling him he’d gotten screwed. He didn’t believe me, but he did. It sucked to be him, and we ended up getting lunch with my dad. My dad didn’t buy this “Jobs for the environment” jazz either, but I still kind of did. 

A couple weeks later I was sitting in the bar next to this girl I had a crush on, telling her I wasn’t sure if I was going to keep working there – no money and constant rejection as a canvasser make for a depressing work environment. She told me to stick with it because it’d really mean something. After a game of Jeopardy in the office the guy who had briefed us on fracking that July morning asked me what I thought about some issues, and the staff gave me a few extra trial days to stay on board. I tried to get my friends to work there but none of them stuck around for long.

I moved out at the end of August after an awful fight with my family, and the first thing I did after my first class was find Morganne and talk to her and help her do anything she wanted. A couple months in a lot of stuff happened. i went to some of my first ever protests. I went to a lot of talks and seminars, meeting professionals and activists. I met a speaker who was the leading organizer for a New York based anti-fracking group and had her speak at my school. A girl I thought was cute organized a panel discussion by the political science department about the upcoming mayoral election, where the first Democrat would be elected to New York City Mayor in over 20 years. My new friends organized lots of little events and activities, everywhere. 

That cute girl and I started seeing each other around my birthday, when much to her happiness I became “legal.” I had gotten a 3.6 GPA my first semester, and survived college. That winter I dug in with my house mate Odin, smoked a ton of hookah and had that amazing girl over all the time. 

The next semester, I couldn’t dedicate nowhere as much time to NYPIRG I once had. I had registered the internship, but I was now taking harder classes and trying to set up my own club. I started tutoring someone via a program that was targeting students who were on the cusp of doing great and may need that extra kick in the behind to be A students. It was kind of crazy, and I found myself helping to organize new events while hopping into lectures and seminars and trying to become the president of a new club. 

One day there was an “engineering club fair” or something of the sort, where a lot of student chapters of professional organizations gave short presentations about what they did. One organization, the New York Water Environment Association, struck me as being exactly what I’d be interested in. I spoke with the girl who was president, and she offered to put me on the executive board next semester. I asked her where she’s working, and she helped me get a position at the lab where I now work.

At the same time as all this I ran for the board of directors of NYPIRG and came on board, for lack of a better phrase at the moment. When the summer started, I had about 3 or 4 days between my last final exam for the semester and the start of my new job as a research assistant. The next week, an office had me in it and I was studying the standard methods.  This entire time I considered myself extremely lucky and dedicated a lot of time to studying for my class and learning laboratory procedures. 

I went to the board meetings and learned a ton of financial information, especially about the budgetary process for a non-profit. I discovered great food by my school and how much I really loved the world and everything about it, even if it could be better. Also my girlfriend’s awesome.

In the past 24 hours, a lot of ridiculously awesome stuff has happened that has made me say “Holy crap I’m amazed by people.” The director of the tutoring program contacted me on Facebook to invite me to come to Washington DC for a 3 day trip, to go along with the fellowship program at my school. Meet non-profits and go to an orchestra? That sounds awesome. I spoke with my boss at work today and he said it’d be fine.

At work we were celebrating someone’s last day on the job and went out to a huge all you can eat sushi buffet. I don’t know how we moved, that was so much food. On the way to the place, I stopped off at a bank to get cash and got separated from the group. I walked into a random building looking for the restaurant and saw a Democratic congresswoman’s campaign office. Funnily enough I had spoken with her office before in disgust over her vote on a bill, one I can barely recall at the moment. They wanted to know where I was registered to vote, to which I replied, “I Know, I work for a non profit, registering voters.” The oldest man there asked me which one, to which I replied, “NYPIRG.”

He laughed and said no shit, and told me about how he had worked there for a while. He had been on the board as vice-president, representing Queens College, and had been program staff for a while. I told him I was currently a board rep at City College, and he said no shit again. Offered me a job on the spot, to which I immediately declined since I currently have an amazing job at a research lab. I was kind of amazed.

That’s what inspired me to sit down and write a little history of my time with this amazing group, that has afforded me so many opportunities and  at the same time allowed me to impact change onto the people around me. It’s some important for everybody out there to remember that people take you as seriously as you take yourself. Give it your best and someone will recognize it. Give up your time to do work you think is crappy, it can pay off. I’m not one to speak definitively on it, but try your best.

The best kind of people understand others the most and themselves the least.

Projectz

Yo, I realised today how this internship is just a really awesome class. Go hang out with cool people, learn how to do useful stuff for any job like give speeches, organize events, lead groups, how to negotiate a bureaucracy. So I’m taking 6 classes and managing to do pretty well, it’s fucking awesome. I also found i may have 3 lab classes, a comp sci class, and a math class next semester, which would suck a lot. like a lot. College is mad work. I’m gonna bitch about it, man up and do it, while bitching a little bit about it. whatever.

Philip K Dick’s VALIS trilogy is off the fucking rocker. I tried reading VALIS first and was seriously very very very confused, I got 50 pages in and kinda lost it. I went back and read Radio Free Albemuth, which was pretty cool. The role of the FBI and intelligence services in this country have grown larger and larger and it’s really sad. Freedom is something..that’s hoped for at least. Sad state of affairs, especially with the recent events in the national government.

To counter the crazy, proto-religiousness of that I’m looking at The Divine Invasion, which doesn’t promise to be any better. The Gnostics seem really cool, but as someone with no background in the Christian faith I’m not even sure how to begin. There’s just so much out there to learn, I barely understand the Gnostics or really anything out there. They say the more you know, the more you realise how little you truly know. It would be incredible if we didn’t have to sleep, just read and study and learn all night. Become infinite machines of knowledge.

Several books need to be read by the other people working on the environmental campaign, especially Ecotopia…and maybe the EAS 101 textbook.  I dunno, everyone should just read stuff. I might just bring in an article for people to listen to at the next Enviro meeting. That would be really cool. Inform the group, get them to write LTE’s, and do events. That would be awesome.

Alright, i’m gonna go to sleep so i have time to chill out on the roof in the am. 

Starting off college

Starting classes was really odd to begin with. There was the whole thing with me moving out, seeing some random girl, not working, having 5 classes and an internship. It’s a really odd time for me, and I’m becoming more and more idealistic while learning more and more about the real world. The classes, the girl, moving out, everything is making me understand things I never could comprehend. Life’s kind of awesome, but I have a bummed out feeling about it. it’s for a bunch of reasons.

All the classes are making me look down on college, especially a commuter school, immensely. The knowledge could easily be learned from peer to peer or tutoring, or straight up reading out of the textbook. So what’s the point of class? Listening and networking and socializing, except no one does that because everyone just wants to go back home after class. No one hangs out, everyone just drops in for their class. Everyone’s working. No one makes friends at school, it’s pretty sad. 

The work in the classes is also pretty ridiculous. In calc we’re computing derivatives for ridiculous trig functions that have no real life application…by hand. My math skills are getting a serious overhaul here. The other classes have weird busywork that are so pointless…like writing out a sentence outline for a speech when you can’t use the outline itself.  but it’s making me realize in my situation I should have a fucking 4.0. Everything should be done perfectly, no excuses. I left a stress filled environment for one that is mildly stressful. This semester should be stellar and I should figure out what’s coming next afterwards, but all my work should be fucking awesome. This week there’s 2 papers and a few labs do, they should cranked out tomorrow and tonight. Got to cut the bullshit, seriously.

Between classes I’m also working on the environmental campaign with the non profit at school, which is pretty awesome. We’re just..raising awareness about the issue, which is honestly enough to get something done SOMETIMES. Political saliency of fracking might actually do something, not to mention greater awareness and pushes for recycling and composting. The tangent about getting the majority of people to recycle is interesting but a totally different topic 

We have three meetings a week now, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. It’s getting pretty ridiculous, but it’s easy internship hours I guess. Also having stuff for people to do is super awesome. We’re screening The Sky Is Pink on Thursday, which should be fun. I want to get at least 1 Gasland II screening done this semester, it’s gonna be sweet. I need to get an agenda of stuff for the semester out, need to consult with my PC on that. 

This is a weird sort of ranty journal entry, with random thoughts strewn about. Don’t wanna scare away random people. 

also textbooks are fucking overpriced to hell. The ones I bought set me back a huge amount, it’s insane. PDF’s, Torrents, Buying used/renting is the only way to go. Also scholarships are gonna be so necessary. Even getting a $1000 scholarship would mean paying off a huge part of my tuition for nothing. A sweet $10,000 scholarship would make me sustainable for the year. I need to check on which ones I’m gonna do, hopefully all of them. 

I’m gonna go spend another 15 hours in bed sleeping off this fever and reading, and gonna crank out work tomorrow.