Author: Jonathan Cousins
I had heard the stories. Everyone said junior year in Engineering was when everything ramped up. But on the surface it was hard to believe. In Mechanical Engineering we only needed to take 3 required courses, Fluid Mechanics (Fluids), Mechanics of Vibrating Systems (Vibrations) and MEAM Lab. It didn’t look so bad. Even with all of the horror stories from prior years whispering around me, I decided that this semester would also be when I took Mechatronics, a course that takes the most work of all the MEAM courses. I also enrolled in a half-credit Rachleff Scholars Seminar in which we discussed the work we each did over the summer and wrote a paper for submission to journals or conferences about the research. As I looked at the semester, I was only taking 4.5 credits, the fewest I had ever done in a semester. I rationalized that Mechatronics would more than compensate for the missing half-credit, and that it would be a tough, but not impossible semester.
And for a long time, it was. Fluids assigned a problem set each week, and Vibrations did so every two weeks. The homework due dates were nicely offset by a few days. MEAM lab started off pretty slow, and was easy to fit in with everything else. Mechatronics took up the majority of my time, but it was ok and for the most part easy to balance with everything else. There were a few days which foreshadowed what was to come, though. October 15-17 were really tough. Monday we had a Fluids exam, and Wednesday we had a Vibrations exam. And of course in the middle of it there was a tough Mechatronics project. I ended up getting through it ok, but my mind was scarred from the experience.
As the next few weeks went by my wounds healed. I got more sleep, caught up on my other work, and got back into a groove with classes. And just as I started to feel in control again, trouble started brewing. Mechatronics started the final project, Robockey (Robots playing hockey), which was going to take up the rest of the semester. To give you an idea of how complicated this assignment is, here is a video of the Robockey Tournament from the Spring of 2012.
There were significant deliverables due November 14th and 21st, a week apart. I knew this would be a rough stretch, but I had no idea just how bad it would be. MEAM lab switched to the most time intensive project, building a vertical-axis wind turbine, a project that had two deliverables per week, and a demo Monday night the 19th. The first draft of my Rachleff Scholars paper was scheduled for Wednesday the 14th. Fluids had their typical homework set due on Friday the 17th, but also added a Midterm on Monday the 19th, complete with a take-home question due Wednesday the 21st. And finally Vibrations decided to assign a project due Monday the 19th, and just for fun added a homework assignment due Wednesday the 21st.
When this scheduling nightmare became public knowledge, it quickly became dubbed the “MEAMpocalypse.” And there it was, the reason junior year was so painful. There were going to be times like this. Reporting now, most of the way through it, it has gone ok. I have yet to not turn an assignment in, which is a good start. I struggled through a difficult Fluids exam along with the rest of the class, and figured out the Vibrations project. And by Wednesday night it will be over. Thanksgiving will provide a much-needed break from school, and officially bring an end to the MEAMpocalypse.
As I look forward this semester, things will be hard, but nothing like this week. Mechatronics will be a challenge, but it was expected to be. We are making autonomous, hockey-playing robots after all. There is another Vibrations exam the week after Thanksgiving, and the MEAM Lab demo has also been pushed back. So there will be more struggles, but it would be hard to crush as much stuff into as short a time as happened the past 10 days. People say college has ups and downs, and this was a tough few days, for sure. But I think it brought the MEAM community together, and when we come back for our 5 or 10 year reunion, we will look back and say “Do you remember surviving the MEAMpocalypse?”