After Claremont-Mudd-Scripps won the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) Championships, Joe Zales, ’19, (far left) and some of his teammates pose with the trophy. (Photo courtesy of Zales)

FRESHMAN FOCUS: Joe Zales, ’19, helps design space-bound rocket at Harvey Mudd

Joe Zales, ’19, attends Harvey Mudd College in Claremont. He plans to major in engineering.

Q: Why did you decide to go to a technical college like Harvey Mudd?

A: Harvey Mudd is actually a liberal arts college with only STEM majors. We are required to take 10 HSA (humanities, social science and arts) classes, five across the different disciplines and five in-depth in one discipline. 

That being said, I am taking six classes and a lab, and only one of them is an HSA course — the rest are STEM courses. 

I wanted a school that was taught technically, but I also wanted a school that had well-rounded students.

Q: Has Harvey Mudd lived up to your expectations?

A: I love Mudd even more than I thought I would. Everyone here is exceptionally smart and helpful. The school as a whole is extremely collaborative.

In the first semester at Mudd, classes are graded as high pass, pass or no credit, which really relieves some stress and allows for an easier transition.

Q: What classes are you taking?

A: I am taking 20 credits this semester: Introduction to Biology; Chemistry in the Modern World II; Physics Mechanics and Wave Motion; Linear Algebra; Intro to Engineering Design; Critical Inquiry, my only HSA class; and Swim Team.

In the first three semesters at Mudd, everyone is required to take the same core classes. So this semester, my only elective is the Intro to Engineering class, and the rest are my freshman core classes. This allows everyone to help everyone else, from seniors to freshmen.

Q: What is your favorite and least favorite class? 

A: My favorite class is my Intro to Engineering class. It is a lot of work, but we are learning really interesting things. In the class, we make a hammer from scratch in the machine shop and work with a business in the Claremont area to design a solution to its problem. It also teaches us about collaboration and project management strategies.

My least favorite class was my first-semester writing course. It was only a half-semester class, but the entire class was working toward one paper that determined if we passed or not. It was stressful wondering if we were going to pass or not — I passed.

Q: How large are your classes?

A: About half of my classes are lecture hall classes with about 100 people. These big classes also have recitation sections of the class with about 20 people and a professor who helps with questions. 

My largest class so far was my Computer Science class that I took the first semester with 250 — it’s the most popular class across the Claremont Colleges.

 My smallest class is Critical Inquiry with only 16 students. 

At Joe Zales’, ’19, (second row, second from left) first dual meet, the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps swimming and diving team’s freshmen appear in a group photo. (Photo courtesy of Zales)

Q: What is the workload like?

A: Mudd is a lot of work. I manage my time pretty well, and I still have to work through most of the weekend and every weeknight. But I am also swimming, which takes up an additional 20 hours a week.

I knew there was going to be a lot of work, as I am overloading my classes. We are only supposed to take 18 credits, and with swimming, I am taking 20.

Q: How is swimming in college? 

A: College swimming is great! It is a lot of fun, and I’ve bonded really closely with the other swimmers. The swim team is made up of students from Claremont McKenna, Scripps and Mudd, so I’ve been able to make friends with students on other campuses as well.

Q: Are you a part of any clubs?

A: Besides swimming, I am a part of the Rocketry Club. We are designing a 15-foot-tall rocket that we are going to send to the edge of space. I am on the launch tower design team, and I have the title of launch tower engineer.

I am also part of the Chocolate Society and the Cheese Club. They get together once a month on a Sunday afternoon and taste their respective foods. The food is paid for by the student government.

Q: What is your housing situation like?

A: I am in a suite with seven guys and two bathrooms. (I) have one roommate, who is also a swimmer. We are pretty compatible. Our room opens up into a common room with five other rooms that share it. The suite is made up almost entirely of swimmers; there are four seniors, three sophomores and us two freshmen. We have bonded pretty closely with everyone, and we get homework help and other advice from the upperclassmen.

(From right to left) Joe Zales, ’19, his roommate and his suitemate don ugly Christmas sweaters at Harvey Mudd’s Christmas party. (Photo courtesy of Zales)

Q: Is it easy to travel to cities and places near Harvey Mudd?

A: We are within walking distance of downtown Claremont. There are some really good restaurants, little shops and a farmer’s market on Sunday. It is a nice little town.

There is also a train within walking distance from campus that can take you to Union Station in downtown LA. It is about an hour by train. I haven’t done this, but I am hoping to soon.

Q: How has the transition from high school to college been?

A: It has been surprisingly easy. I felt pretty prepared coming into Mudd. It didn’t hurt that the first semester was pass or no credit.

Q: Have you made any freshman mistakes?

A: I haven’t made many freshman mistakes. I am a third child, so I saw my brothers go off to college and saw what worked and didn’t work.

Q: Do you like the small-school environment?

A: Mudd is only sort of a small school. While there are only 850 students, there are 8,500 at the five Claremont colleges, which are all basically one campus. I enjoy being able to know most of the freshmen at Mudd, but I also really like being able to walk across campus and see new faces every day.

Q: Do you have any advice for the class of 2020?

A: Go to office hours!

Five-star or subpar?

Quality of classes:★★★★★

Food: ★★★★★

School spirit: ★★★★

Location: ★★★★

Clubs: ★★★★★

Student/teacher interaction: ★★★★★

Housing: ★★★★★

Social scene: ★★★★

—By Emily Asperger