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!

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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.

Life at the moment

It’s very strange to sit down and write about who you are, and what you’re doing. Or at least what you think you are and what your actions are accomplishing, or how they’re influencing other people. It’s a bit ego stroking, but as an individual…maybe it’s necessary to stroke one’s own ego. Jack London wrote about the fatal flaws of being an individualist, but maybe some of us are built to be individuals. It could be fate for that person, or it could be what they’ve trapped themselves in. An individual is a canvas of other individuals splattering their influence on him, his caretakers and then his friends, and the varied and incredible life he may live. It’s important, at least to me, to keep in perspective that you are the product of that, and not simply what you have done. I don’t know if I consider myself an individualist, but I can say, in a sad, deprecating fashion, I find myself considering myself better than some, and it is not something I am proud of. And pride is another ego boosting mechanism, accomplishing that same action – thinking you are better than someone. Really, I just want to talk about some stuff I’m doing and how I’m involved and to organize it for myself and not find myself in a pit going crazy in projects and responsibility I don’t find myself ready for. 

It would be to do this in some sort of order, so I think I’ll start with school work and go into environmental work, which is where I see myself going as a person interacting with other people and somehow living, so that’s kind of a mix of both. School…is such a weird thing. I never found myself being really interested in school but knowing it would be a huge part of my life, especially going into academia for a bit, at least to go to Grad School and get a PhD in the sciences or mathematics. I’m gonna do it! One day, I’ll wake up and be in Grad School and say holy crap, I’m still a human being doing things.

So now I’m entering my second year at The City College of New York. My parents went here! Eric and Odin’s dads both went here, as well as Michael Vulis…and Tara’s parents. It’s such a scary small world, knowing we’re part of some web that is constantly updating and renewing itself and building. So, studying environmental engineering. Not sure what it is yet, but apparently the American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists are primarily focused on water. Water! It’s a big deal. I don’t know if I want to deal with water. It’s a lot of chemistry. It’s a big goddamn deal, but it’s…I don’t find my heart in it. It’s like a fun experiment. I’m gonna be taking an Earth Hazards class, Physics II, Calculus III, and Earth Systems Analysis. I guess it’s all in the same vein so it’ll be alright. I’m nervous about Physics because of the professor, and I’m afraid I’m going to do really bad. That really sucks. I don’t like being nervous about that. Not the content of the class, but the fact that the professor sucks. What a lame reality. Dr. Kreminska is going to have to hear me out on this. I think I’m on track to graduate in 4 years, maybe if I take summer courses in mathematics or liberal arts. That’d be cool, but this current 10 hours a week of crazy ridiculous physics is getting to me. That and work makes me feel like my days don’t exist anymore. They almost do! The future seems so full of possibilities, but it’s the present that matters a lot more. You have to exist in it.  This needs to be sorted out. I’m considering dropping to 3 classes for the semester, but that seems like I’ll be falling behind so hard. I’d rather not do a side project then not graduate – I don’t want to be in school for the rest of my 20’s, but I don’t want to kill myself getting through it. I did some math, and it’s gonna be 15 hours a week of class time. Following the general guideline of 2 hours of study time per class hour…45 hours a week? I think I can do it. I CAN DO IT. It’ll be crazy, but I CAN DO IT. But I have to switch my professor. Rant. Class. ended. More stuff below.

i’m working at a waste water engineering laboratory at school, which is kind of awesome. It’s great because the hours aren’t bad, yet, and there’s income. There’s amazing opportunity to learn and discover the world and the very real urban society we, or at least myself and the majority of people i know, exist in. We’ve been studying the removal of nitrogen species from the release of the plant, and it’s expensive as hell. The carriers we use are interesting, but they’re weird to use and require specific conditions. This could be very promising for existing plants, but you know, bureaucracy. I’ve learned so much about applied chemistry and physics, and how to function inside of a lab. I think that’s the best part, so I can bring my skills to the real world. It’s gonna be fun. This is a big deal, but the real big deal is the projects going on. 

The first big project is being on the board of directors of NYPIRG. I’m on the board of a not for profit. What even?! I don’t know how seriously I should take it, but I”m taking it pretty damn seriously. We’re doing some work, I don’t know if I’d call it great work. At least they’re not supporting fracking. I think combining this with the other thing that’s going on, fossil fuel divestment, would be way more fruitful. NYPIRG has the power to facilitate change across New York State, and they should be trying. Their resources would be crucial for organizing students all over the state, so the divestment movement can grow. They also have the ability to  unite students from everywhere in a common goal. Between them and the existing CUNY Divest group and the support of the REC, real change can happen. And not Obama change, but tangible consequences that my generation and future generations will feel. Word!

So Divestment is also a thing. It refers to the removal of funding from companies, in this case the top 200 fossil fuel companies. These funds are currently invested by the university endowment, the fund that is built by alumni donations. The CUNY endowment is somewhere in the $200 million range, and the divestment of the approximately 5% of its holdings in the industry would mean removing $10 million from some companies that really don’t need it. Well, they will. But we’re gonna take it away. YEAH! This effort is being contribute dot by a weird group of people that have a lot of potential, but need some organizing skills and ego cuts. The divestment movement has such potential, such incredible backing. We’re going to be working getting a website up among other ideas, which is going to be crucial to reaching out for 

The next thing going on is the e-waste drive. Electronic waste (ewaste) is full of useful materials, including rare earth materials. Also a ton of toxins. I want to start collecting them on campus and have them dealt with, reducing our footprint at school but also preventing a ton of junk from ending up in a land fill. NYPIRG, NYWEA, the Civil Engineering dept. and pretty much every department should be on top of this, and I’d like to see what can be done. yeah!

So a quick recap: Working at a waste water treatment lab, taking some science classes, doing e waste, doing divestment. 

This…is a lot for me. A lot of stuff is going on. I want to be a human being in between it and experience human emotions and have fun and interact and develop interpersonal relationships that aren’t solely based on our work in an area. I really appreciate Kira right now, because honestly she’s just awesome. She has a great perspective on life and her support is just…great. It’s just great. I think I had more stuff to say, I’m gonna stuff it or come back and say more stuff later. I would like everybody to try to be a better human.

Do stuff! When you think something’s a problem, fix it! Make your bed, clean your garden, make your town more friendly for the Earth, but go out there and DO SOMETHING.