Sunday, October 24, 2010

College Reminisce: Imagine All the People

My class at RPI had about a thousand students, so I met a lot of people in college. It would have been hard not to. A handful of these classmates became very good friends, and I'm grateful. However, here are four RPI people who weren't my classmates, but who helped make my college experience that much more memorable.

Linda Strunk

Linda was the editor in chief of the school magazine ("The Engineer") when I joined that publication my freshman year. I was blown away by her amazing energy. She pushed people only as hard as she would push herself, but she really pushed herself hard. Not only was she hands-on, and detail-oriented, but she was an able manager and delegator. I learned that she had really good grades despite a demanding extra-curricular schedule. Her life outside of school was spent in pursuit of achievement, whether it was the classical guitar, or a coveted internship in Japan. To this day when I think about people with "drive", I think about Linda.

Randy Rumpf

During my work in the school magazine, I had the distinct pleasure of meeting and getting to know Randy, an in-house graphics illustrator for the school. He was part of a very small staff in a far off building from the main campus. My visits there were business oriented at first, but Randy's easy charm and welcoming manner made me stay. He had great stories about the school, and life beyond school. His artwork and illustrations graced many of RPI's brochures, posters and signs, and the pride he took from his work was a great example to me.

Trish Doyle

Trish was one of the counselors at RPI's Career Development Center. She was one of the people who helped me with getting into a co-op program, a short-term job (six months) that emphasizes classroom learning. When I returned to school, I joined a group that worked with Trish to promote the co-op program on-campus. Trish was a delightful person to know, and became one of my favorite RPI people. She was always great company and she made "the institute" a nicer place, especially in my junior and senior years.

Ephraim Glinert

Professor Glinert taught "Computer Fundamentals" my freshman year, and he has the distinction of introducing me to UNIX, a computer operating system that I have used professionally in every job since I graduated. I don't remember why I was visiting him at his office, but I do remember him turning to his terminal, and logging in to check on something. The system he used seemed so much faster and sleeker than the system we freshmen used. "This is UNIX," he said. "You'll be lucky once you get on this; it's nicer than MTS." He was right.

I'm attending my 20th college reunion this month, so I'm posting some college memories.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

College Reminisce: BOHICA

Rensselaer kicked my young academic ass.

I was a high-flying, straight-A student in high school. I took great pride in my grades. I was always on the honor roll. I did very well in math and science. My SATs were nothing to brag about (below 1200!), but I'm convinced my class rank (top five) coupled with the academic rigor of my high school got me into Rensselaer.

I remember how cocky I was that I had taken calculus my senior year of high school, but in the first week of math at RPI, the teaching assistant derived in one afternoon's recitation everything that I had learned in my entire year of high school calculus. I had one thought when that recitation finished: this was going to be hard.

I thought I had developed good study habits in high school. I thought I understood time management. I thought I worked hard. My grades in college said "there's room for improvement." Instead of A's and B's in my tests, I started receiving C's and D's. I was prone to procrastination. I didn't fail or drop out, but I felt under water nearly all the time.

My sharpest memory of the difficulty of our courses comes from my first finals week. The freshman dorms were quiet with nervous last-minute studying. Every now and then, someone would open their window and let out a primal scream, which would be answered by further screaming as people began to crack under the pressure of cramming a semester's worth of material in one evening. I discovered coffee during this period.

Even after feeling the relief from completing one final, you couldn't rest because another was scheduled the next day. In our dorm, someone bounded out of his room and announced "it's BOHICA time!" Here it comes again, indeed.

The rest of my college academic experience followed a similar arc. Difficult courses, precious few moments of relief, and the constant sense that I was always behind. By sophomore year, I began to accept that I wasn't going to make the Dean's List every semester. By junior year, I began to embrace the mantra that "D" stood for diploma. By senior year, I justified not finishing projects with the grim calculation that project work didn't "count as much" as the final exam.

I did eventually graduate. After a summer and an extra semester, I put together enough classes and passing grades to get a diploma. Just to be sure, however, I rummaged around my attic to find my college transcript. It turns out that I was on the Dean's List four times, and I only had 3 D's and one "incomplete" (for that class in which I skipped the project). My final GPA was a respectable 2.72.

Seeing the transcript makes me sigh with relief even now. I still drink coffee, but I haven't had to scream or think about BOHICA since graduating.

I'm attending my 20th college reunion this month, so I'm posting some college memories.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

College Reminisce: Deciding

When I think about what pushed me to attend college at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), I think about a brief conversation I had with Jack Raslowsky, who was my high school soccer coach. I wanted some of his advice on how to decide where to go to college. I had just received an acceptance letter from RPI, but I had already received an acceptance to Stevens Institute of Technology.

Stevens was a college I had been thinking about since freshman year in high school. Stevens was in Hoboken, right next door to where I lived in Jersey City, NJ. Stevens had a computer science program, and I thought it was cool that they required incoming freshmen to purchase a computer.

Both RPI and Stevens were technical schools, but the big difference to me was that one was close to home, and the other wasn't. One was the comfortable nearby choice, and the other was a far away unknown. I don't remember how it came out exactly, but Jack told me that you could learn more about yourself by going away, by leaving home. This advice rang around in my head for probably a few days. It had a certain appeal.

Eventually I asked my parents to take me up to RPI. It was a relatively short trip (three hours) up to Troy, New York. As we climbed up the hill through campus, I remember thinking how unique it looked. It didn't hurt that the weather was perfect. All around me were students, talking at the corner, carrying books, walking to class, lying on the wide lawn outside the student union. I marveled at the gorgeous buildings. I was energized being there, my mind expanding with the possibilities.

By the time we began the long drive home, I felt the sheer excitement of having made a decision. I was going to Rensselaer.

I'm attending my 20th college reunion this month, so I'm posting some college memories.