Category Archives: Jonathan C.

Snow Falling at Penn

Author:  Jonathan Cousins, ENG’14, GEN’14

There’s nothing like waking up and seeing snow falling out the window.  Growing up in San Jose, CA, this was a rarity.  I only got to see snow during our family’s annual ski trip to Lake Tahoe in February.  Once I had made my decision to go to Penn, I was a little worried about the weather – especially the cold, snowy winters I had imagined on the East Coast.  But I just packed up my snow gear and carried it out to Philly, and figured I would be ok.

Upon arrival it became clear that I had other weather issues to worry about first.  Namely, humidity.  Moving into Hill House with no AC was quite the experience, and the first week was pretty rough.  But then it cooled off, and things were back to normal.  As the year went on, I really only saw snow once or twice, as I managed to be at home over break during most of the major snow.  This went on for the past few years, until I woke up this Sunday and saw the aforementioned snow out the window.

Snow in December has a magical quality to it, and just feels right.  Campus becomes beautiful as the snow creates a smooth white layer over everything.  There are less people out and about, and campus becomes quieter and much more peaceful.  But that aside, it becomes a hassle to get anywhere.  Out of my closet come boots, scarves, hats and gloves as I bundle up to get from one building to another, and as soon as I arrive the layers come off as all of the buildings are warm, and some excessively so.

I’m not sure where I will be in May after graduation, or where I will be come next winter.  But for now, there’s nothing like walking down Locust with snow falling.  This is one of my Penn memories that will stay with me.

Snowy_College_Green (2)


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A Homecoming in Transition

Author: Jonathan Cousins, ENG’14, GEN’14

            It was a fantastic sports weekend.  There were huge crowds at both Franklin Field and the Palestra, and even though both our football and basketball teams were defeated, both games were somewhat competitive and the energy was incredible.  Penn pride was all over campus, as students and Alums came together to bond over festivities and football.

I lost my voice on Saturday (I’m on the right in the picture), exemplified by the dramatic finish to the basketball game against Temple, as Penn pulled ahead with a minute and a half left, only to let the game slip away.  But in that moment where there was little time left and the game on the line, I heard the Palestra as loud as I can remember during my 3+ years here.  And that is something I will never forget.

As I reflect back on it, I had a great time.  There was a barbeque between football and basketball that was a success, we handed out hundreds of “Quaker Nation” shirts, and the basketball team even wore them during warm-ups.  After the game Bill Cosby spoke about family and putting a child through college, and provided a great end to a fun day.

This was my last homecoming as a Penn student.  Among other things this semester (last NSO, last “The Line”) I have been having trouble dealing with the idea that my time at Penn is coming to a close.  But homecoming is different.  This homecoming is a transition year for me, and while it may be my last as a student, I will be a Penn Alum for the rest of my life, and I hope that I will get to make the trip to Philadelphia many more times on November weekends.  This year I was already here, but next year will be my first real chance to come home to Penn.

I am on the right side of the yelling students in the #15 jersey

I am on the right side of the yelling students in the #15 jersey

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A Memorable Day at Franklin Field

Author: Jonathan C., ENG’14, GEN’14

One of the great things about sports is that on any given day, you can witness history.  When you walk into a stadium for a game you might see a blowout, a crazy play, overtime or even a record being broken.  This past Saturday was just another day at Franklin Field, a field that has seen its share of history.

Franklin Field


As I walked towards Franklin Field it was a good day for football, with clear skies and 88 degree temperatures that were unexpectedly warm for October.  Penn was opening up its Ivy Title defense at home against Dartmouth during Family Weekend.  As the families arrived at Franklin Field I admired the newly redesigned Penn home blue uniforms and meeting up with my fellow Red and Blue Crew board members in the front row.

The game began and it was back and forth, Penn led by 7 at the half, and as the game wound down it looked like it might come down to the final play.  When Penn got a crucial interception with 3:30 to play it looked good.  But our drive stalled and we missed a long field goal, giving Dartmouth the ball back with 1:30 to play.  They promptly drove down the field and had an opportunity to win the game with a last-second field goal from the 4 yard line.  As they lined up for the kick I sensed that Penn might not defend their Ivy title if they opened the campaign with a last-second loss.  As my anxiety built and Dartmouth lined up for the kick, I was worried.

And the kick was up, and blocked!  Penn had made a game-saving block that would send the game into overtime.  Our sideline was ecstatic, with many a high-five handed out.  In the first overtime Penn was stopped on a fourth and one, and Dartmouth had another opportunity to win the game with a field goal.  The anxiety returned, but they missed the kick!  And the game continued.

football block

In the second overtime Dartmouth went first, and scored a touchdown.  But Penn answered, with quarterback Billy Ragone scrambling for a touchdown on a crucial third and long.  In the third overtime both teams traded field goals, and the game entered a fourth overtime, making it the longest game in Ivy League History.  Dartmouth went first, and missed a field goal, leaving the door open for Penn.  Penn faced a third and long, when third-string running back Kyle Wilcox found some running room on the outside.  As he turned the corner and saw the daylight of the end zone, I couldn’t believe it as he scored the game winning touchdown!football 2

As I walked out of the Franklin Field, physically and emotionally exhausted, I could not believe it.  I had just witnessed the longest Ivy game ever, and we had won!  Even after facing the precipice of defeat multiple times, each time we were able to pull away from the ledge and keep fighting.  Many sports adages are relevant here, such as ‘It’s not over ‘til it’s over.’  That was definitely true in this case, just another game at Franklin Field.

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A Hometown Adventure

Author: Jonathan Cousins, C’14

I spent this summer at home, in San Jose, CA. I was working part-time at a robotics company in Menlo Park and also volunteering part-time at Stanford University working in sports marketing.  Needless to say, I’m not really sure what I want to do with my life yet. But I’ll save that discussion for another post. Today, I want to tell the story of one specific weekend over the summer.

I got a text from Chris, one of my friends from the Red and Blue Crew at Penn, who said that he was going to be in San Francisco for the day and wanted to know if we could meet up. It sounded like fun, so I drove up to San Francisco and met both Chris and his friend. Now, the relationship between Chris and his friend is something that could only come from a place like Penn. Chris’ friend is from Australia, and they had met when they were both studying abroad in France, and now they were both vacationing together in San Francisco.  It was a cool opportunity to see how far Penn connections can really stretch.

What I thought was going to be an evening in the city turned into more as another friend Chris had planned to meet up with that night got stuck in the Madrid airport. Communication was few and far between, and eventually, I offered to have them stay in my guest room. The next day came, and without a definitive word from their friend, we needed something to do. We ended up at the boardwalk in Santa Cruz, and had a blast walking around and going on rides. That evening, I took them back to San Francisco, where they planned to meet their friend who had finally made it to the U.S.

All in all, it was a really fun, unexpected weekend with friends who I never expected to see in San Francisco. Who knows how many of those experiences I can expect as I enter life as a Penn alumnus next year?


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A Roller Coaster Season

Author: Jonathan Cousins, SEAS’14

As I left the Palestra on Friday night, I was upset.  Penn had played a terrible game and lost to Dartmouth.  I had seen games like this before: a rough road loss to Columbia, a road game against Harvard, and home losses against Cornell and Yale.  But it has been a season of Ivy splits for Penn, as paired with each bad Ivy loss this season there has been a win.  If there was going to be a split this weekend, the money would have been on a victory over Dartmouth and a loss to Harvard.  So, as I left the Cathedral of College Basketball Friday night, I was dejected.

I had put off going home for spring break in order to see two more basketball games, but of course, when I bought the plane tickets, I hoped we might be in Ivy contention. As of Friday night, we were mathematically eliminated from the Ivy race. Friday’s crowd had been lackluster at best, and I knew that fewer students would show for Saturday than for Frid

ay, due to travel during the break.

As Chair of the Red and Blue Crew,  I had met with Penn Traditions to discuss possible collaborations a few days before any of this happened, At that meeting, I learned about the Volunteer Thank You event happening right before the Saturday game.  I volunteered to help, and had a great time hanging out with alumni and their families.  With that event, each person received two tickets to the basketball game, and because of this, the Palestra was packed; as full of Penn fans as I have ever seen it. And, as Penn opened the game against Harvard with tough defense and effective offense, the crowd got into it!

Penn led by 12 entering the half, and held on down the stretch to win by 3, 75-72.  It was exciting, as always, to throw streamers, but especially in a game nobody expected us to win.  And just like that, it was another Ivy split.

On Tuesday, Penn plays Princeton in the final Ivy game of the season.  We lost badly at Princeton in January, but we have a large group of students that we hope will turn out in force at the Palestra tomorrow.  And, if these past few months have given us any indication of patterns, we will probably beat them and continue the season of splits

Junior guard Miles Cartwright (left) and freshman guard Tony Hicks walk off victorious after combining for 36 points in a 75-72 upset over Harvard Saturday. From the DP. Photo credit: Andrew Dierkes

Junior guard Miles Cartwright (left) and freshman guard Tony Hicks walk off victorious after combining for 36 points in a 75-72 upset over Harvard Saturday. From the DP. Photo credit: Andrew Dierkes

It has been an up and down ride, and one that will hopefully give the team the necessary experience and confidence to compete for the Ivy title next season.

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A Drop to Remember

Author: Jonathan Cousins, SEAS’14

As I looked down three stories to a staircase in the Skirkanich building, I was worried.We were about to drop a GI Joe down attached to nothing except a bungee cord made of rubber bands, and only the prediction of our computer program telling us that he would not hit the ground.Our professor turned on the accelerometer, counted down – 3, 2, 1, go!  I let go of the GI Joe, and…

Let me back up for a minute.  This is a class project for MEAM 348, the second semester junior year lab for Mechanical Engineers.The goal was, given a height and mass of a GI Joe, design a bungee cord that would give him the most free fall time while not hitting the ground and not exceeding 5 Gs in acceleration.My team started out testing individual rubber bands with different masses to see how they stretched.The difficulty with using rubber is that it does not stretch linearly.A spring will deform an amount that is proportional to the force put on it, but rubber bands do not do this.We created a graph of how they changed from our experiments, and used this to try to predict how the rubber bands would behave when grouped together.

After many hours of testing, thinking, and coming up with a model, we finally had something that could predict how far our GI Joe would fall, and how many G forces he would endure.We then started doing drops where we made bungee cords and checked to see that they performed as our model said that they would.There were a few mishaps – strings coming untied, masses flying – but the tests we ran suggested that our model was pretty good. 

Then came the demo day.We were given a height much larger than anything we had tested, and we did not know how well our model would do.We had an hour or so to figure out a good configuration and put the rubber bands together – we ended up using 7 strands of 46 rubber bands each.  During this process other teams that tested before us kept coming back into the lab, and many of them had stories of their GI Joes hitting the ground, sometimes with a lot of force.  We watched a drop right before ours where the GI Joe hit the ground so hard, the accelerometer came off!

Finally, it was our turn.We set up our cord, and attached the GI Joe.The count went, we dropped the doll, and it didn’t hit the ground!We were excited, but we would not know how well it had gone until we looked at the accelerometer data.We checked it, and the G forces were close, but just under 5 Gs.We had done it!  But almost immediately our attention turned to the next lab: trying to build and model a cooler that could cool drinks to a specified temperature after a specified amount of time – another daunting task.  But for that short time, we knew we had truly accomplished what we set out to do.

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Mechatronics: A Class to Remember

Author: Jonathan Cousins, SEAS’14

I have taken a lot of classes at Penn to this point, but none of them have been like Mechatronics.  I have written about this class before, first before it started in “Junior Year is Here” and again in the middle of the “MEAMpocalypse 2012.”   Last Tuesday, the class came to an end, with our final project culminating in the public tournament of Robockey.  There was a nice Philly Inquirer article about that night.  Sadly, our team was on the losing end of the “bloodbath” described in the article, but by the end of the project our team had done pretty well, making it into the Champions bracket (top 10 out of 17 teams).  But what set this class apart was what I experienced when it was over.

Coming back into the Engineering Quad a few days later, I was confronted with the sight of an empty space where the practice rink had been for the past month.  And instantly, I was hit with a flood of emotion.  It then dawned on me how much of my life I had spent sitting around that rink, working on our robots.  And that event, which had been the majority of my life for such a long time, was finally gone.  Behind that space is the GM Lab, where we did the majority of the circuit work and fabrication of the robots, and I had the same emotional rush facing that room.  I had spent so much time there, and yet it was over.  It was like a piece of me had been torn out, a piece that I will never forget, but also a piece that will never be quite the same again.

But the emotional response did not end there.  For a few nights after the conclusion of the project, I had trouble getting to sleep, because my brain was thinking about Mechatronics.  I wanted to go back and keep working on Robockey.  Perhaps my brain was used to this behavior, as after long nights in the lab I would often think about roadblocks I had encountered as I dozed off to sleep, and managed to solve a large number of problems during those uninhibited thinking periods.  But now it was all for naught, as there was nothing more I could do to work on these robots.  There was no more rink, no more pucks, no more crowds and late nights.

Needless to say, no other class has ever made me feel this way before.  I have never put as much heart and soul into anything before, and now the fact that it has been taken away from me is painful.  I am sure that as I move forward with my Penn career, this hole will begin to heal.  I will look back on the class fondly, as even with its late nights and tough problems, this class made an impact on my life.  From now on, every time I pass the GM lab I will think of Mechatronics.  I have signed up to potentially be a TA for this course next year, and I am sure that if I am selected, I will experience these emotions again when the class starts up again next fall.  And next December, when the practice rink returns to its home outside the GM lab and teams start occupying it 24/7 again, I will be reminded of all the memories and all of the work I put in.  Mechatronics has changed me, and I am interested to see if any other class has that kind of power in the future.

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MEAMpocalypse 2012

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?”


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Discs of Glory: My Experience on an Intramural Frisbee Team

Author: Jonathan Cousins, SEAS’14

Being on an intramural sports team at Penn is a unique experience. Last semester, I played intramural basketball, and while it was fun, we lost most of our games. It was also stressful to be the captain, and be responsible for a $100 performance bond if your team decided to not show up one day (this almost happened).  But this fall I found a new group and a new sport – Ultimate Frisbee.

Ultimate Frisbee is interesting in its own right. There are no referees, and the game is completely self-policed by the two teams. The only outside intervention is from a Penn Rec employee calling out the end of each half. The objective is simple – catch the Frisbee in the end zone. But as the game plays out the intricacies present themselves – making a quick step to get open, diving to knock away a Frisbee and defending one side of the person throwing the Frisbee all become clear.

But this is not professional Frisbee, in fact far from it. We are a group of friends trying to have some fun. This attitude produces some memorable moments. Like the time we were winning by five points, and my roommate Surya called a time-out to set up a victory celebration. When we next scored, our team lined up like bowling pins and I “bowled” the Frisbee and knocked everyone down. Even the other team thought it was funny. We also have a pre-game chant involving group circle and much loud chanting of the word “WORK!” and our team name’s acronym (Discs of Glory – so DOG).

While much of the game is fun, there is a lot of intensity also. We have had multiple last-second catches to end either a half or the game, lots of diving, and even some more serious collisions.  Last week, Surya and another teammate slid to the ground in the corner where there was dirt and came up bloody. A few weeks prior, Surya was hit with a shoulder the head on a contested catch that looked like a football highlight hit (he was ok).

Through all of this, we have had a great time and have grown closer as friends. We have out last regular season game on Tuesday, and then it is off to the playoffs. The season has been full of ups and downs so far, and I am sure that will continue. The game on Monday is a rematch against the only team we have lost to so far, and it is sure to be another close one. The first time we played this particular team, they won on a last-second catch in the end zone, and neither of us has lost since.

It seems only fitting that I end this piece the same way we end our pre-game chants. No matter what happens, at the end of the day, DOGS WORK!

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Junior Year is Here

Author: Jonathan Cousins, C’14

It’s hard to believe that half my time at Penn is already over, but I feel that these next two years will be even better than the first two.

When I applied to Penn, I visited in December and witnessed the final project of MEAM 410/510, Mechatronics.  The last class project was Robocky, an autonomous, 3-on-3 robot hockey tournament.  The final presentation involved a packed Wu and Chen Auditorium and cheering, loud music, and a festive atmosphere.  When asked “Why Penn?” on my admissions essay, I used this tournament as the perfect fusion between school and sports, my two passions.  Now, after two years, I am taking Mechatronics. And it is hard! We are currently running through a electronics/mechanical design crash course, soon to be followed I am sure by a low-level component programming crash course.  But even as this class begins to consume my time, I have my eyes on the prize – the hockey tournament at the end that is sure to be a blast.

The rest of my classes pose a less daunting task, but by no means a negligible one. I am engrossed in the study of Fluid Mechanics and Vibrations, in addition to working in parallel on the MEAM lab course. I am also concurrently writing a paper on my summer research through the Rachleff Scholars program.

And, if that wasn’t enough to keep me busy, I am incredible active in the Red and Blue Crew, the student spirit organization on campus and the student section at Penn Athletic contests. We did a lot during NSO – including a late night ice cream social with the basketball team where we gave out ice cream and t-shirts, and tried to prompt student interest in Penn Athletics.  We also gave away our cool new shirts at the Penn Athletics picnic and the Activities Fair.  It is already starting to pay off, as the number of people on campus with either Red and Blue Crew or Penn Athletics shirts has gone up dramatically.  Now if our football team can give a good showing on Saturday, we may have them hooked.

Also during NSO, I was an Orientation Peer Adviser (OPA!) for incoming MEAM freshman.  Over the summer, I  communicated with them via email about how to prepare for Penn and which classes to register for, and then I met with them twice during NSO to show them the Engineering buildings and lead them around on their academic NSO day.

And so it goes – I am incredibly busy, but everything I am doing I am enthusiastic about and can’t wait for what I am sure will be a memorable semester.

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