Find out what the members of the class of 2015 are up to in their first year of college. A college freshman is featured in the Freshman Focus every week.
Erin Reddy, ‘15, is a freshman at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y.
Q: Why did you choose Rensselaer?
A: Rensselaer is a technical school, so we don’t really have English teachers. I myself am a very math-science-logic kind of person, so it’s exciting for me to be around other people with whom I can talk about my classes and my interests because we’re so like-minded. Everyone here is really smart, and we’re all sort of similar in a geeky, nerdy way.
We actually have a giant convention here called Genericon, where you can cosplay anime, science fiction, and fantasy-related characters. I’m really looking forward to it.
Q: What makes Rensselaer different from other colleges, besides the fact that it’s a technical school?
A: I don’t have to take another English or history class ever again, which is really nice. But it’s also the culture of the people around you that makes it amazing.
Before the new Star Wars movie came out, we all hung out in the lounge and watched the old ones together. If you’re interested in the same kinds of things that everyone else is here, it’s really fun.
Q: Is there anything about Rensselaer you didn’t know before you got there that has disappointed you or surprised you?
A: I was kind of disappointed that art classes are restricted to people who have majors that involve art. So if I want to take one of those classes, I have to go through a bunch of paperwork.
I was surprised, though, that when I got here everyone was so friendly and eager. I wasn’t really expecting that. I didn’t really need to feel self-conscious around others, because they were so open and happy to hang out with you.
Q: What classes are you currently taking?
A: I’m taking Computer Aided Design (CAD), where we make models of parts on computers. CAD is sort of strange because it’s a small elective course that hundreds of people have to take. We watch videos online to learn and make our parts or sketches for the week as homework. Then in class we turn those in, and we can ask any questions we have.
I also take a multivariable calculus and matrix algebra math class.
Materials Science for Engineers is taking chemistry a step farther. We look at types of bonds and structures and how they affect the physical properties of materials. Then we look at how that changes what kind of material you want to select for a specific job. We normally have a lab every week or every other week.
Basic Drawing is a prerequisite for all art courses. It’s kind of difficult to explain, but it’s essentially about ignoring conventional thinking about how to draw and instead focusing on what you can actually see and the rules of nature.
Embedded control is a super-cool class. It’s sets up in a couple circles around a middle area, and we have monitors on our desks instead of one big projector to look at. The class is three hours long, and the first hour or two will be a lecture or a quiz, but then after that it’s just a workshop. We fill out worksheets, write pseudocode and code, design and wire circuits, and then put that all together to try and make it work. We learn basic circuitry, how to program a version of C that microcontrollers use, and how to configure our microcontroller (using binary) to do what we want.
Q: Which is your favorite?
A: Embedded Control. It’s more of an upper-level class; most of the people in it are juniors. But you can take it if you’ve taken Computer Science. You have these little cars that have a proto-board on top – which is what you poke little wires into if you’re working on an Arduino.
In our class, we design circuits to make our cars do certain things; then we hook the cars up to our computers and we write code. Buttons we push and the levers we push on the switches send signals through wires to the car, and the code we write on the computer processes it and creates an effect. It’s a lot of fun.
Q: Your least favorite?
A: I’m not a huge fan of my multivariable class. Last semester, my math teacher was great and super engaging, but this semester, my teacher speaks like a textbook. Maybe 10 percent of what we learn is important, and the other 90 percent is nonsense.
Q: Have you declared your major yet?
A: Yes. My major is currently mechanical engineering, but I’m considering dual majoring with electrical engineering and then minoring in studio art.
Q: What is your dorm like?
A: My dorm set-up is awesome. My hall is one of the ones that has just been converted to a freshman residence, so I have a really big room with a wall in the middle. It’s almost a single but not quite. It is quite large, though.
My floor is coed, which is very fun. We have a lounge in the middle of the floor, where everyone goes and hangs out.
Q: Are you enjoying the food?
A: During my senior year, I lived off things in the pantry that I could cook in the microwave, so I’m in heaven. But most people here complain about it because it’s dorm food. We have 10 different options every day of fresh food that someone else prepared for you. I think it’s amazing.
Q: What extracurricular activities are you participating in?
A: Club volleyball. We don’t have a varsity team, but we’re working on getting our club team recognized as varsity. But bureaucracy takes a while.
I’m also in an emerging leaders’ program, and I’m joining a club called We Are. It’s a community-service kind of thing. We just do nice things to make people happy, like picking out pumpkins on Halloween.
Q: How are you adjusting to college life and the campus?
A: I think it’s awesome. You’re able to set your own schedule, you don’t have to drive anywhere, and there are people your age all around to hang out with.
Q: Have you ever gotten lost trying to navigate the campus?
A: Not terribly. Rensselaer has an app where you can put in the name of the building you’re trying to get to, and it shows on Google Maps where you are and where the building is. Sometimes I get confused with the technical building names and the abbreviations we use for them, though.
Q: What is the most embarrassing freshman mistake you’ve made?
A: Because I live far away, I had orientation right before school started. The first day of orientation, we stayed up late making our hypothetical class schedule, and we were supposed to register for classes the next morning. A really quick, click-the-button-before-everyone-else kind of thing. We weren’t supposed to have our computers; we were doing it in the computer lab, which is across the campus from my dorm. I ended up sleeping through my alarm and woke up 10 minutes before I was supposed to register for classes. Luckily, I was still able to register. I found someone who looked official, and they walked me across campus because I had no idea where I was going. I got there one or two minutes before the site unlocked.
Q: What advice would you give the class of 2016?
A: I would tell them not to stress too much about everyone else’s opinions on which is the perfect college for you. Every college is really fun and awesome in its own way, and you’re going to have a great time.
—By Sahej Claire