Nate Leavy, ‘21, attends Santa Clara University and is majoring in mechanical engineering,
Q: Why did you choose to attend Santa Clara University?
A: The pull for me was that it’s in Silicon Valley. I want to be a mechanical engineer; that’s what I’m majoring in. I know they have a lot of good internship programs here, especially because Silicon Valley is a great place for computers and stuff. I love electronics, like Arduino and all that jazz. Another big reason for me was that they use the quarter system. I’m not interested in learning about just one thing, so having the opportunity to take 30% more classes was a really big pull for me.
Q: How has the pandemic affected you?
A: Santa Clara has been able to do in-person learning. Fortunately, they have some pretty strict mask rules, which I 100% support. Everyone on campus is vaccinated. That’s a requirement to attend on-campus lectures, which I think is a great idea. It’s been a little weird with pandemic stuff, but not as weird as you might think, which has been a relief.
Q: What classes are you taking?
A: I’m taking two separate engineering labs and one engineering lecture. I’m also taking calculus and political science too, which I wasn’t expecting to take, but I’m enjoying it.
Santa Clara University has a separate school of engineering that has separate core requirements from the rest of the undergraduate programs. Through the school of engineering, I had fewer humanities requirements. I’m taking political science to get my social sciences requirement.
Q: Which class is your favorite?
A: My favorite class would probably be Mechanical Engineering 10. I don’t know what the 10 means. The lectures are a lot of fun, and then the lab we’ve been working with uses CAD systems a lot. Specifically, we’ve been working with SolidWorks, which is the industry CAD system. It feels like it’s legitimately helpful stuff that I will be using for the next 40 years of my life.
Before college, I did a couple of things like Tinkercad that barely did anything right. But the projects that we’re working on in the lab at Santa Clara are different. We’ve created an entire mountain board: a skateboard with suspension and bigger wheels for going down mountains. We did that using instructions on how to individually design each piece.
Q: What made you decide to major in mechanical engineering?
A: I’ve known that I wanted to be an engineer since I was like 9. What really solidified that decision as “yes, this is what I’m doing” was the Advanced Topics in Applied Science course that I took in my junior year. That was just being able to work with electronics and coding, making things and using a 3D printer to actually create something that wasn’t just a simple Squirtle. It was really inspiring to have a project where I actually made something tangible.
Q: How has the transition from Country Day been?
A: To be honest it hasn’t been the smoothest of transitions. It’s been really hard to maintain the go-get-them attitude because when you’re in high school, you have everyone all the time telling you that you got to go to your classes, you got to do your homework, right? It’s so constrained. But as a result, you get stuff done. I don’t know if this is a problem that a lot of other people have, but for me, with the amount of freedom that I’ve gained by being in college, it’s gotten a lot harder for me to motivate myself.
I’m still getting my feet under me, but it is an upward trend. I’ve been on campus for nine weeks. It’s been a super interesting transition for me because I’ve been going to Country Day since I was literally 5 years old. The biggest thing that has been helpful has probably been the math classes that I took. Because I’m in a class that is the equivalent of Calculus BC, I’ve seen all this stuff before. But, I’m still learning an entire year’s worth of high school math in 10 weeks, so that’s kind of insane. I’m really glad that I’ve seen all this stuff before in BC.
Also, writing. Everybody says this, but the writing at Country Day is great. It’s been really nice to not have to think about how to make a paragraph sound good. That’s just a skill that you get ingrained into you.
Q: What’s your housing situation like?
A: I’m living in a dorm, and it’s weird having my entire house be one room. That’s just something that I didn’t think about until literally this morning when I couldn’t find my wallet. It’s so much easier to find when it’s one room. That’s just kind of weird, existentially. It doesn’t feel weird though because it’s just how you do it.
Honestly, being in a dorm has been pretty solid. You have neighbors who are cool and a common area to hang out, so overall I’ve been liking the setup. It’s not perfect of course, but it’s pretty close. I don’t know if this is just my building, but maintenance issues take forever to get fixed. Even if they’re super simple, which is weird because the rest of the campus looks pristine. One of the side doors has been broken for like four weeks, and it just stays broken. That’s the only bad thing I would say.
Q: Have you made any freshman mistakes?
A: If you are at a school that uses the quarter system, do not fall behind—you will not be able to catch up. It just moves so fast. You have 10 weeks to learn an entire subject, at least at my institution. So if you’re on the quarter system, just stay on top of stuff. Don’t ever fall into the trap of “Oh, I’ll finish that this weekend.” No, just do it. You might be able to finish on the weekend, but something might come up. And then you fall one assignment behind, then two assignments behind until suddenly you’re 10 assignments behind. It happens so quickly. I’m very much enjoying the fact that we’re on the quarter system, but I regret that I have let myself fall behind. I think it’s a system that is definitely very fruitful if you do it right, and I did not do it right at first.
Q: Do you have any advice for the class of 2022?
A: It’s tough because I’m giving advice about a situation that I’ve only been involved with for a couple months. I would say don’t try to create too many habits at once. If you get there and you’re like, “I’m going to exercise, I’m going to eat better now and I’m going to completely change the way I live my life,” it’s not going to work for any of them. So, I would instead say just choose small habits to create over time.
I don’t know if this is something that a lot of people experienced, but I had this illusion that once I got to college since I was in a new place I would become a whole new person. I thought I would be a blank slate, where I would be able to completely overwrite and create the habits that I wanted. And that is not possible. I would definitely advise people to be realistic and to create habits that are good but do them one at a time.