This semester has been nothing short of surprising; starting off my senior year with a host of online classes and a lack of in person activities was definitely not what I expected, but given the almost continuous rhetoric of how everything this year has undermined our expectations, today I wanted to write a little less about how crazy this semester was and a little more about my classes, most of which developed in a way that I did in fact expect.
1. Expectation: upper division engineering classes would be tough
This semester I was enrolled in three upper division chemical engineering courses: CHE 460 (Process Dynamics and Control), CHE 485 (Computer Aided Process Design), and CHE 444c (Chemical Engineering laboratory). Not only was I therefore expecting it to be a heavy course load, but given the shift to online learning and the fact that 2 out of these 3 classes had lab components, I figured it would be even harder than usual for me to keep up with the classes this semester.
And boy, was I right. While my friends and I tried to keep up with our classes in a way that was reminiscent of in-person classes, it was difficult to both keep up with concentration in online lectures and translate the in person collaborative lab experience to doing simulation and MATLAB or Excel based labs over Zoom. However, for my non-lab based class, I found that the online setting made for in some ways, a more streamlined class experience!
CHE 485 was a project based class where I got to combine all my previous coursework on thermodynamics, separations, and chemical reactors in order to design simulated process plants including geothermal power plants, chemical separation processes, and energy production facilities. As a result, there was a LOT of theory covered in each project. Being able to go back and access lecture slides and lecture recordings due to Zoom classes was a godsend, and allowed me to check my work every step of the process – something I would not have been able to easily do if classes had been perhaps functioning as normal.
2. Expectation: taking my first graduate level course would be fascinating
This semester I also had the opportunity to take a graduate level course in the environmental engineering department, focused on Energy and the Environment. This was my first graduate course ever – and I was grateful for the opportunity to take it despite not being enrolled in the PDP programme – and one I had been looking forward to for a while! As a chemical engineering major interested in environmental policy, taking classes outside of my major department is my favorite way to explore my professional interests (I’ve taken classes in both environmental politics and environmental law in earlier semesters!) and this class was yet another one to add to the list. Not only did I love learning about energy and environmental issues from the perspective of a new major, but it was also great to make (online) friends and connections with professors and students in a department I had not had a chance to interact with much before.
3. Expectation: having one general education class would be a great counterbalance to my course load
During my time in college, I’ve had one hard and fast rule that I have tried to stick to when it comes to the confusing and sometimes daunting challenge of registering for classes: always have one non-STEM class each semester. For me, that has sometimes been a general education requirement, and it has sometimes simply been a minor class. For example, last spring I took three engineering classes and two political science classes – they were all upper division courses though, meaning that the ‘break’ I thought I would have from my minor classes never really materialized. As a result, this semester since I was in not three but four Viterbi classes, I decided to take a more seemingly simple ‘balance’ class – a lower level philosophy general education class. And it was perhaps one of my favorite classes of the semester.
We discussed current social and moral issues and their philosophical implications, from misinformation and disinformation in the COVID-19 pandemic to the morality of stay-at-home orders, from racial profiling to affected ignorance, and from echo chambers to the legitimacy of democratic processes, providing in many ways a space for and an academic lens within which I was able to reflect on the occurrences of the year.