After experiencing a mental and academic breakdown in Autumn 2020, I was left to pick up the pieces and try to put them back together in 2021. I was going to face harder struggles than just a tough class schedule in the future, so I needed to buckle up, put my head down, work my butt off, and get used to it, fast. Could I do it without sacrificing anything, let alone do it at all?
• CEE 220, the second in a series of three "engineering physics fundamentals" courses, dealing with mechanics of materials (the physics of things that don't move but bend, stretch, compress, and break)
• HONORS 211 A, Politics and Practice of Making, a combined art history + art studio class on the last 100 years of "maker culture"
• MATH 308, matrix algebra
• PHYS 123, the third (and last!!) quarter of weed-out calculus-based physics classes required for most STEM majors, this one introducing wave physics, optics, fluid dynamics, and heat transfer
February 10, 2021 | creative identity
I know living alone has its perks, but all I felt in the 4.5 months before creating this art piece were the downsides. I told myself at the beginning of winter quarter that I would do everything I could to not falter academically like I did last year, but, for one, I unknowingly sacrificed having an actual life outside of school. My 17-credit schedule resigned me to doing 5+ hours of prep work for my classes almost every day, in addition to spending 10+ hours a day attending classes and doing homework. As I would find out late in the quarter, this also forced me to sacrifice opportunities for a summer internship this year, because I missed two entire recruiting cycles as a result of being so busy in autumn 2020 and this quarter. I may have been learning in my classes, but was I really getting anywhere? Despite moving forward in my required classes, I felt like I was stuck in my career progression, skill progression, and even social progression, as I would spend many days not leaving my apartment building at all.
Much of the time in the HONORS class I took this quarter was spent exploring how textiles and sewing/embroidering techniques have been used for activism and spreading societal messages, not just for functional clothing. Part of that experience was that I got to learn how to sew for the first time in my life, and the midterm for the class was to create an art piece related to the experience of waiting fully or partially with textile making techniques.
From this, Waiting Room was born. I tried to capture the feeling of simultaneously moving through life and being stuck (physically, in my studio, and mentally) with a haphazardly-sown-together felt figure gradient on a crumpled ball of engineering paper, which I locked inside a glued-shut transparent acrylic box. I also taped a Spotify playlist code inside of the box (slide 4 of the presentation) that represents a cycle of feelings that I went through multiple times in the previous two quarters in my studio.
Communicating through art has never been my strong suit; I still remember getting a D on an art project in 7th grade English because my teacher was the only person who couldn't understand its point, and I also struggled with this in high school design class and DESIGN 166 in spring 2020. The universal positive reception of from the professor, my classmates, and others in my life gave me renewed faith in my ability to not only be an artist, but also someone who makes for social good.
February 11, 2021 | subverted perspectives
I split my childhood between the Holy Land and Seattle, so snow has consistently been a rarity in my life. My associations with snow so far have been related to innocent memories of making snowmen with my parents, sledding with my close friends drifting cars in cul-de-sacs, and cancelled school days.
However, I experienced a new side of snowfall during the first round of the President's Day weekend snowstorms. I spontaneously messaged a friend in the Greek system and we went on a walk on campus to see beautiful, snow-covered UW. On the way there, I noticed that instead of the streets buzzing excitedly with activity and filled with people gleefully playing in the slow, the U District was depressingly quiet. Freshly-accumulated white snow was already slushy and dirtied by passing cars and discarded cigarette butts. Snow fell less gracefully and more like a silent torrent of discomforting frozen water pellets. I felt really grown-up and self-aware on this walk, as this was my first time experiencing snowfall outside of the sterile suburban context which I grew up experiencing it in.
February 25, 2021 | academic excellence
Learning how to be a good student isn't a linear process, as evidenced by my entire Honors portfolio of my academic ups and downs. Introductory undergraduate-level classes in calculus-based physics are hard anywhere, but they are especially so at the UW. The PHYS 12x series is seemingly made specifically to "weed" people "out" of pursuing engineering and science majors, with one example of this being that exams are curved around an average of 65% (an exam grade that would make high school me consider dropping out if I got it). In my experiences taking PHYS 121 in Spring 2020 and PHYS 122 in Autumn 2020, I'd resigned to getting lower-than-average grades on exams, with my primary motivation in these classes being that I just needed to pass them and get to better, non-weed-out class pastures. However, I knew the whole time that I could rise to much higher standards than that — actually understanding the material, intensely and routinely studying it, and actually doing well on exams after proper preparation.
Despite attempting the above in the previous two classes, I realized that things seemed to be finally coming together for me after getting my score for the class's second midterm. Instead of neglecting to read the textbook and fast-forwarding through lectures like I'd done in previous quarters, I took meticulous notes on the textbook and made sure to pay attention to professor explanations of in-lecture practice problems, both of which paid off handily in open-note exams. My study group also reached new levels of efficiency, as we made sure to complete lecture homework and group homework every week together and days in advance. Furthermore, I attended a physics professor's office hours for the first time and benefited from concise explanations of problems that I could've spent hours researching to no avail. Finally, I went through every practice exam given to us with my study group with ample time to spare before each exam. These things have been told to me as advice ever since I stepped foot on campus, yet it took me 6 quarters to really internalize and heed said advice.
I was rewarded for my efforts with my first exam score over 70% in a PHYS 12x class, and yet again a few weeks later with a pre-curve final exam score of 81%. The rewards went beyond this class, as I was able to maintain decently high grades and stay on track in all of my four classes making up a 17-credit load, something that I was barely able to do with 14 graded credits in the previous quarter.
making a maker
March 15, 2021 | creative identity
At the same time that I undergo mental and academic transitions this year, the world around me has been growing stranger by the day. President Biden was inaugurated, but change hasn't been coming as quickly as we'd all hoped. Even though COVID spikes get worse, people seem to care less and less. Our problems clearly didn't end with the ousting of Trump, yet there's a clear cognitive dissonance at play. Yet, here I am, plopped down in the middle of this turbulent context graduating as an major, trying to find my footing as someone whose role is instrumental in some issues and seemingly completely irrelevant to others. What's my role as a maker?
I'm not the first to be a maker in a turbulent time. I explored my work in HONORS 211 A and my interdisciplinary work inside and outside of the UW in the context of the work and legacy of Marianne Brandt, a Bauhaus metalworker, photographer, visual artist, and industrial designer. Tap or click on the image of the excerpt attached to this reflection to read my chapter about this in the class's collaborative book. This chapter also features more images and links to full presentations of my creations from this class, including the aforementioned Waiting Room.