Nihal Gulati, ’22, and his team build a rocket at the Friends of Amateur Rocketry site in Southern California. (Photo courtesy of Gulati)

FRESHMAN FOCUS: Nihal Gulati, ’22, enjoys Berkeley engineering program

Nihal Gulati, ’22, attends University of California, Berkeley. He is majoring in mechanical engineering but is hoping to transfer to the aerospace engineering major next school year.

Q: Why do you want to switch your major?

A: I’m majoring in mechanical engineering, but I’m thinking of transferring to aerospace engineering after my freshman year.

I thought about applying to aerospace engineering when I first applied to Berkeley, but it was a new major, so I thought it would probably just be better to apply more general engineering.

But I know a lot of aerospace engineering students, and what they’re doing with the major is pretty cool. 

I’m also thinking that I might try to minor or double major in electrical engineering or computer science.

Q: Why did you choose to go to Berkeley?

A: When I got my decisions back, my original reaction to Berkeley was like, ‘Alright, definitely. This is an awesome college that I would love to go to.’

I also got into Georgia Tech, though. So, my final decision was between those two because Georgia Tech has a very good aerospace program.

In the end, I chose Berkeley because it’s closer than Georgia Tech, which is a lot more convenient, but far enough away that it’s not too close to home.

Also, Berkeley’s general engineering reputation is probably a little better than Georgia Tech’s.

Q: What classes are you taking this semester?

A: I am taking Aerospace Engineering 10, which is a new class that just started this semester. It’s sort of a wide spread of topics. We’ve done airfoil physics, a little bit of rocket propulsion, some orbital mechanics, some astrobiology and some drone control. It’s a very fun class.

I’m also taking Electrical Engineering & Computer Sciences 16A. I’m taking that one because I want to possibly minor or double major in that. It’s circuits and linear algebra, which you would think is sort of an unusual combo, but they managed to make them work together.

I am taking Engineering 26 — that’s 3D modeling or CAD software. That’s a requirement for mechanical engineers.

I’m also taking MCBC 61, which is brain, mind and behavior. That’s a psych class. That class is interesting; we go reasonably in-depth into a lot of different biology aspects of the brain.

The last class I have is Physics 7B, which is heat magnetism. A lot of it overlaps with AP Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism, and I’d say taking that prepared me pretty well for this class.

Q: Have you joined any clubs?

A: The club that I’m in, Space Enterprises at Berkeley, SEB, is honestly a large portion of my college experience. I do way more work for SEB than I do for any of my classes.

Every Saturday, we have a work session at Richmond Field Station, which is 20 to 30 minutes away from Berkeley. Berkeley dumps all of their engineering teams there so we can hammer away and not bug anyone.

Currently, for SEB, we’re working on launching our revision of E1, E2, which has bigger tanks and a custom pressurant flow controller, and which we hope will double our altitude of E1.

We went twice in April to “hotfire” out in the Mojave desert, meaning we just mounted it and fired the engines at full thrust without it moving. 

I mainly contributed to firmware and electronics debugging for things like reading sensors and opening the valves. I actually did a fair portion of all the firmware and basically became the go-to person for that when we needed to mess with it. 

Over the summer, we’ll be starting the engine design for E3, which we hope will hit space. So that’s a lot of simulations and design work. 

Q: How has Berkeley’s location been working out for you so far?

A: What’s interesting about all the colleges is that they all have very different vibes, and you don’t really realize this until you go and visit them.

Berkeley is very much in the city. The dorms are kind of off-campus and among the streets of downtown Berkeley, which makes for a different college experience compared to other colleges.

So, you just have to be a lot more safe about things. Things are going to get stolen if you’re not careful. 

But it also means that you have a bunch of cool restaurants right next to you that are open pretty late at night. So, there’s always late-night food that you can go and get just a block away.

It’s also a very condensed campus, so everything is pretty nearby. Everything is walkable; bikes would be practically impossible to use because it’s too hilly. 

Q: What are your favorite places to go to nearby?

A: I’ve been to this music shop a couple of times called Rasputin Music. I got a record player from there, and Dylan, ’22, (Margolis) and I have been checking out records from the Berkeley Music Library and just listening to them.

There are also three boba places every block.

Q: How is the housing situation?

A: Triple with three beds. The room is not very large, but you get used to that. It’s tight, but it’s just Dylan and me now, so it’s fine.

Dylan is awesome. It’s really nice, especially because now, shortly after winter break ended, our third roommate also moved out. So now I’ve had three roommates that have each sequentially not stayed.

Now it’s me and Dylan in a triple, which is really nice because then some of our friends can stay the night if they need to. Since it’s just Dylan and me, everyone can hang out there. We call our room the “Hotel California.”

Q: Academically, how was the transition from Country Day to Berkeley?

A: All courses will pretty much just do once-a-week homework assignments, so you have a lot more freedom to do the homework when you want to do it instead of having to do it every day.

That means you have a lot more freedom to either procrastinate or get things done early, depending on what kind of person you are.

I’ve just sort of adapted; it’s not been that difficult.

Q: Socially, how was the transition?

A: Because of Dylan, I feel like I had a very smooth transition. So thanks, Dylan.

Dylan is a charismatic person; he magnetized a group of people. We have eight people in our friend group, and we all hang out. It hasn’t been too different from Country Day.

Q: What is a freshman mistake that you made?
A: Sometimes I just forget to submit assignments. 

I’ll complete an assignment and then forget to actually submit it in our portal. Don’t do that; it’s a pain.

You just want to keep track of things and run through a checklist in your head of all the classes that you have. Make sure you’re not missing anything important for any of them.

Q: What advice do you have for the class of 2023?

A: Maybe don’t do this during your first semester, but for your second, try and push your limits as to how many classes you think you can take because you might be able to manage it. In that case, you can get a lot more done.

My other advice is to look for clubs that you’re interested in. If you’re going to be an engineering student, I especially advise engineering clubs because they — at least the ones at Berkeley — don’t have strict applications. 

You learn a lot, and you do really cool stuff in engineering clubs. A lot of clubs are going to be the same way.

College gives you the opportunity to rise to new levels, essentially.

— By Ava Eberhart

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