Engineering Is a Performing Art.

Helen Lyons '15

Chicago, Illinois
I have known for most of my life that I was going to be an engineer, since fifth grade actually. It was that summer that I attended my first engineering camp and every summer after that, I attended an engineering summer camp of some kind.
Next thing I knew I had joined a robotics team, and on my free weekends was attending design workshops. So senior year it came as no surprise that I was among a small handful of students, in the more than one hundred year history of my liberal arts high school, to apply exclusively to engineering programs.
I went through the college application process with my heart set on one school--Harvey Mudd. Though I knew without a shred of doubt what school I would be at come fall, I still went through the motions of applying to other colleges, and my application to Olin was no different. I thought it was an excellent school, and its size stood out for obvious reasons, so I applied. It was not until I was invited to Candidates' Weekend that I took more of an interest in Olin.
I was pretty sure that any school that flies its students to visit them for an interview and a design build had to amazing, so it was with high expectations that I prepared myself to experience Olin.

An hour into Candidates' Weekend I decided that Olin was not for me. I liked my fellow Candidates, and the academics were undeniably excellent, but I could not see myself fitting in. Swimming had been a big part of my life since middle school, and I could not imagine attending a school without a swim team or even a pool. I also intended to take Chinese while in college, and that seemed a little difficult seeing as Olin didn't offer it. Lastly, the students seemed a little too nerdy for me. So, I spent the weekend hanging out with candidates, and I decided that while I would speak highly of Olin to every budding engineer I met, I would be better off somewhere else.

A few weeks after arriving home, I received an invitation to visit Olin again. I was reluctant at first, but after some encouragement from my parents, I was once again on my way to Olin College. My hopes for the weekend, however, were much lower than they had been for my first visit. After all, this time there would only be Oliners to talk to, and I could already see myself spending the majority of the time in my room.
When I arrived on campus, I met my host, Janaki Perea, and over the next day and a half she corrected every misconception I had formed about Olin while at Candidates' Weekend. I found out that both Babson and Wellesley had pools, swim teams, and water polo teams that I was more than welcome to join, or I could just swim on my own at Babson whenever the pool was open. Wellesley, I learned, has an excellent language program, and lots of Oliners take language classes there. But the most important thing I learned was about Olin's most valuable resource--its students.
What I initially mistook for nerdiness was a genuine passion for their work. Students at Olin were not just taking classes to get good grades; they were taking them because they were actually excited about the subject matter. In addition, the projects they were working on were projects that, in most cases, they had chosen themselves, because the subject matter was something that they were passionate about. Not to mention that I was among the most friendly and accepting student bodies I had seen at any school.
Leaving Olin was much harder this time. I wanted to stay longer, see more, and meet more people. After all, if this was to be my last time at Olin I wanted to make the most of every moment.
I can vividly recall when I learned that I got into Olin. I was on a school trip in South Africa waiting impatiently for my mother to respond to my emails asking if I had been accepted to Olin (and Harvey Mudd for that matter). Finally, I borrowed a classmate's phone to make the most expensive call of my life.
My mother assured me I had gotten into both schools, and I spent the rest of the week in a mix between elation and confusion. I was, of course, overjoyed to have been accepted into both of my top choice schools, but now I had to pick. I was no longer confident that Harvey Mudd was the school for me, instead I had the nagging suspicion that I liked Olin a little bit better.
I met my mother at the airport, and we were walking away from baggage claim when she said to me, "Helen, I have to tell you something." Instantly I felt my stomach drop. "I didn't want to tell you on the phone because it would ruin your trip, but you didn't get into Olin."
I was speechless. I stopped walking and just stood there looking at her. I can only imagine the look of horror on my face at that moment. In my head, I was dissecting Candidates' Weekend, trying to find the mistake I must have made to result in my rejection. After what felt like years of agony, my mother assured me that she had just been joking and that I had indeed been accepted.
I continued to say that I was undecided up until the end of April, but deep down I knew Olin had won. Since my second visit I had been more concerned over getting into Olin than Harvey Mudd, and I knew that if my mother had told me that it was Harvey Mudd I hadn't got into I would have been OK with the news.
Now that I am at Olin, I cannot imagine being anywhere else. Never have I been so excited about the classes I plan to take. In high school, every student would look forward to what we called Project Week, and we would make every effort to get into the trip of our dreams. At Olin, I have found myself in the same type of competition with my peers. However, instead of exotic trips, the prize is a spot in one of the plethora of interesting classes. Even now in the middle of summer, I am counting down the days until classes begin, and I can once again surround myself with the people that make Olin the amazing place that it is. I have made friendships that will last a lifetime, and I have learned just as much from them as I have from my classes.
Posted in: Life @ Olin