Marigot Fackenthal, '17, and her two best friends: Matthew (left), an applied engineering major, and Kevin (right), a material science major.

FRESHMAN FOCUS: Marigot Fackenthal, ’17, readjusts to self-studying in Cornell University’s engineering program

(Photo used by permission of Fackenthal)
Marigot Fackenthal, ’17, (far left) and fellow fencing team members at the fencing team formal.

Marigot Fackenthal, ‘17, attends Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. She is majoring in mechanical engineering.


Q: How was the transition from high school to college?

A: Everything up until college was very easy. I breezed through everything with straight A’s without putting in that much effort.

 Then I got to college, and my classes were extremely hard. I’m in Cornell engineering, (which is) notoriously hard. I wasn’t prepared for how hard my prelims (midterms) would be.

(The) first round of prelims (came) around (in October), and I did terribly – that was a wake-up call (that) I (needed) to start trying and actually study. (Prelims were) the first time in my life that I have actually had to put effort into what I was studying.     

 The transition academically was pretty tough. I had never tried so hard before. The social transition was extremely easy. I  blended in quite well.


Q: Did SCDS prepare you?

A: In some ways it did, (but) in other ways I wish I could have been more prepared.

I transferred from Mira Loma (High School) (to Country Day) in my sophomore year.  (I switched because) the teachers at Mira Loma weren’t very good, but (Mira Loma) forced you to learn on your own. The classes were hard, but the teachers didn’t teach you anything, You had to learn how to crack open your books and study your material because you couldn’t expect to learn anything in classes. That was frustrating because you wanted to have someone lecturing you so you could understand it better.

 I came here, and that’s what I received. We have super-good teachers here, and I was able to learn the material very quickly because of that.

In terms of content, I was prepared (for Cornell), but because I had been at (SCDS) for the past three years, I had gotten un-used to studying on my own.


Q: Do you live in the dorms?
A: My living situation is strange. At Cornell, you can live in either residential halls, which are dorms, or program houses, which are similar to (fraternity) houses. (And they can have) individual rooms.

 You can (also choose to) live in a townhouse. I (live) in a townhouse, which is like an apartment. (It has) a downstairs with a kitchen, a living room and a dining room. Upstairs we have two bedrooms, each of which houses two girls and a bathroom. (It’s)  a full decked-out apartment, which is pretty nice.


Q: Are you doing any clubs or extracurriculars ?

A: I’m on the varsity fencing team, which is a big commitment. We practice about two hours every day , including Saturdays, and we have tournaments on the weekend when we are in season (winter and spring).

It’s worth it. I really like fencing, and it keeps me in shape.


Q: Has being on the fencing team helped your transition?
A: It’s nice having the social network of the team. People are always willing to help you out (by) getting you connections if you need help in a class.

We have social get-togethers, which are always fun. The team captains are always planning activities for us to do (too). It’s not the only way to get to know people though. Outside of fencing I’ve met many people and made friends.


Q: What classes are you taking?
A: At the beginning of the year, I was taking Lasers and Photonics, chemistry, Multivariable Calculus and Matlab, which is a CS (computer science) course. (Matlab is a computer programing language.)

I had (completed) the (course) credit minimum (for the semester, so)  I dropped Lasers and Photonics as I was spending way too much time on it and it wasn’t worth that many credits.

Later in the semester I had to withdraw from chemistry because I got a concussion (when a) kid accidentally  whacked me in the head with the edge of a metal water bottle. I was out of classes for a month and  wasn’t able to do any work during that time.

In an engineering school that’s very disruptive. The semesters are only three or four months, and I missed an entire month of classes. I talked to a lot of advisers (who) said the best move for (me was) to drop chemistry so I could focus on my other two classes. I think that was a really good move.


(Photo used by permission of Marigot Fackenthal)
The view of Ithaca, New York, that some Cornell University students see when walking to class.


Q: What are your favorite and least favorite classes?
A: My favorite was math.  Multivariable Calculus for engineers at Cornell is notoriously hard. Despite that, I really enjoyed the class. I think a lot of the content is super interesting.

My least favorite class was chemistry, but I withdrew from it. ( I submitted the withdrawal papers on Nov 17.) I hate chemistry in general.


Q: What is your easiest class?
A: Matlab. I had to take a computer science course as a requirement  because I didn’t get a 5 on the AP (Computer Science A) exam, (but) I already knew computer science because I took the class last year. (AP computer science teacher) Ms. (Elissa) Thomas prepared me really well. (Matlab is) a different language (too). In AP (computer science A) we learned Java, (but in this class) we learned Matlab.  Since it’s a intro class, they taught the kids a lot of basic computer science logic, and I already understood that. It was just applying those concepts to a new set of syntax.


Q: How does Cornell’s environment differ from SCDS’s?

A: SCDS is a tiny school; Cornell is an enormous school – that in itself is a huge difference. You don’t get to know your professors like you do (at Country Day). I don’t think that’s a bad thing though. You still get to know your teaching assistants.


Q: How has living on the East Coast been?

A: I don’t have homesickness. The distance wasn’t a problem for me. The only transitional issue there might have been was the weather. (Cornell’s in) upstate New York; it’s cold, and there’s snow. (And) I’ve lived in the Central Valley all my life – I don’t even know what snow is!


Q: How has the food been?

A: Cornell dining is top-notch. The food is amazing. (Some) people come here just for the dining program. My favorite food item is the tortellini.


Q: What advice would you give to current SCDS seniors for college?
A: Try hard – and study from the very beginning.


Five-star or subpar?

Food: ☆☆☆☆☆

Location: ☆☆☆☆☆

School Spirit: ☆☆☆

Clubs: ☆☆☆☆☆

Student-teacher interaction: ☆☆☆


—By Kristine Schmitz

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