In a physics class I took in my senior year of high school, the teacher piloted a system of online lectures that were assigned as homework and designated class time as group work and homework time, something often referred to as a "flipped classroom" in pedagogy-speak. Not many were happy with the system because of how impersonal lectures and demos felt; however, none of us could have known that the teacher was preparing us for the grandest flipped classroom of them all: spring quarter 2020.
Faster than one could say "go Huskies," the deadly respiratory virus SARS-CoV-2 found a foothold in western Washington state. As cases started popping up in larger numbers in and around the U District, I left my dorm friends and fled campus to live with my parents again. This entirely-online quarter brought unique challenges, among them having to play my part in keeping my at-risk parents and others safe and making peace with doing work in the place I hated doing work the most (my room).
• DESIGN 166, the weed-out class for prospective design majors (and masochists like me) that teaches fundamentals of formal composition in graphics design and package design
• MATH 126, the third and final quarter of weed-out calculus classes required for most STEM majors, this one being focused on multivariable calculus
• PHYS 121, the first quarter of weed-out calculus-based physics classes required for most STEM majors, this one being focused on motion and mechanics
April 21, 2020
I came into spring quarter with a lack of confidence in my calculus skills, resulting from my low grade in MATH 125 in winter quarter. I told myself this quarter would be different. Now that I was at home, I had less distractions, which meant more time to focus on math homework and practice tests, where I had the opportunity to focus on perfecting multivariable calculus problem solving strategies instead of Chegging everything in a rush. While I made positive changes to my work ethic and time management strategies in the first few weeks of the quarter, the fact that my MATH 126 prof was fantastic (shoutout to Dr. Loveless) certainly helped as well. I ended up acing the first chapter exam of the quarter, evidence that my changes paid off after a dismal performance in MATH 125. This gave me renewed confidence in my calculus skills that I carried with me throughout the online quarter, even when the next few tests didn't always go as planned.
April 24, 2020
The first project in DESIGN 166 this quarter was a study of how to communicate ideas and stories without words—that is, entirely through photographs. I began work on three photographs related thematically to the California Sunday Magazine's "The Way Home" issue around the time when Washington governor Jay Inslee instituted his "Stay Home, Stay Healthy" order in response to the rapid spread of the coronavirus through the state.
Like many others around the world, my parents and I were beginning to feel the effects of self-isolation at this time. We used to pride ourselves on having a place in the house to receive and comfort guests, yet there were no guests to be had now. Our gyms, workplaces, college campuses, hangouts, and extracurriculars moved inside, and none of us are homebodies. In the early days of the virus, since both of my parents were at risk, I couldn't even hug them and had to institute a form of social distancing inside the house. I used this project as an opportunity to reflect on what life with my family was like in this pandemic and what changes in lifestyle it brought for my parents. To me, the three photos that I created (showcased on my Instagram page) are a time capsule of sorts, capturing moments changed by the pandemic.
May 29, 2020
When registration for spring quarter came around in February, UW's automated registration system didn't even let me register for DESIGN 166 because I wasn't a freshman by credits. The design adviser reluctantly added me to the class after trying to convince me that taking two STEM courses in addition to DESIGN 166 was a bad idea. I could have taken these as signs that I shouldn't be taking on the schedule that I took on this quarter; yet, I stubbornly persisted.
By Week 9, the workload was getting to me. My midterm grades in PHYS 121 and MATH 126 were sliding downwards, I had failed to keep up with demands from DESIGN 166, and I was getting very little sleep. The morning of Friday, May 29, I got four hours of sleep before waking up early to hastily create one prototype (instead of the two required) of a personal emergency kit package before a live critique session for DESIGN 166, for which I received half-points. That week, I had also taken a MATH 126 midterm, and the week before, I had taken a PHYS 121 midterm. At the same time, pandemic conditions were worsening around the country, George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis police, and Black Lives Matter protests were just beginning to rev up in Seattle and around the country. Needing a break after finishing my work for that day, I went for a joyride and spent some amount of time standing at Kerry Park, taking in a Seattle view that I had sorely missed in the months I spent cooped up at home.
On the way back home, the windows and sunroof in my car were all the way open. I was listening to Childish Gambino's 3.15.20 album, doing what the cool kids nowadays call "vibing." I decided to take a longer route, over the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge instead of I-5 through North Seattle. As I drove over the bridge, "12.38" hit its climax and I sped up to 75 mph.
I felt blissful in a way I hadn't in a long time.
This pure bliss quickly faded into a sensation of vertigo and a partial loss of vision after I exited the bridge, and in the span of 30 minutes, spiraled into a migraine with aura where I dissociated from reality and my entire left arm went numb, finger by finger. Since then (I am writing this three weeks since the migraine), I have struggled with decreased tolerance of stress, more emotional volatility, frequent painful headaches, and panic attacks while driving (among other things) from what a neurologist told me was caused by too much anxiety.
I had reached my limit.
tough experiences come in paper packages
June 9, 2020
One of the main reasons I took DESIGN 166 this quarter was that I wanted this class for Honors credit. However, after taking IB Design Technology HL in high school and HCDE 210 in fall quarter, I was especially interested in DESIGN 166 as I saw it as an opportunity to work on my industrial design and fabrication skills. This opportunity finally came with the third and final project in the class, which involved making a Bristol board package for a few small items that could serve as a personal kit in an emergency situation.
I had already done a similar version of this project in the second year (my senior year) of the IB Design Tech class, where I had to use a limited amount of E-flute cardboard to create a package to store ping pong paddles and balls (which features in the portfolio I created for the class). Both then and now, I had trouble getting ideas out of my head and into physical form. Prototyping designs is hard enough when they're digital and rapidly creatable (as was the case for the first and second projects for the DESIGN 166 class), yet it's even harder when the manufacturing of each prototype takes hours. Between other classes, dealing with the aftermath of the migraine I experienced at the end of Week 9, and dealing with the fallouts of the pandemic and George Floyd's death, I found it very difficult to focus on design in the last two weeks of class, even losing points in critique one week. However, I ended up finishing the project, executing an idea that I had trouble putting into drawings and prototypes for the three weeks of the project. To me, this shows that I've learned how to persevere over the course of this quarter and this year. I'm proud of what I've been able to create in this class, part of which is the video that is shown here.
Spring 2020 was my first quarter on the UW Seattle Dean's List. I proved that my MATH 125 grade was just a fluke. I proved that my design skills are up to snuff. I proved that I can succeed in physical science classes. I proved all of this while taking care of the house in a pandemic, taking an unusually hard class schedule entirely online, doing my newspaper job remotely, and maintaining healthy eating and exercising habits. I proved that I belong in college.
At what cost?