avatarWhen I was a baby freshman 🐣

14; 12022 H.E.

Being a senior in college is weird. I have to confess that I contracted senioritis big time. So much has changed since my first time coming to the University of Kansas. The change was very well expected, actually desired. But what I failed to predict was the number of things that not only will change but completely go away. Don’t forget about this whole pandemic situation that happened right in the middle, kind of pushing me off the grid.

With everything that happened and in my current state, I wanted to document my undergraduate career, while I still remember it and have the energy and passion to write about. This post is a retrospection into every single semester and every single course I have taken. I remember everything. To keep it focused, this essay will only concentrate on academic life, which is a smaller part of all my time, yet an important one as well. CHARGE!

My beautiful campus
My beautiful campus

Fall 2018

Welcome, everyone! My first semester at KU and university life in general. I was a starry-eyed young incoming computer science freshman. All I recall from the very beginning are emotions of excitement and curiosity. As the first time living away from my parents and family, I’m surprised how well I did. I haven’t gotten homesick for the first two years in college. Making your bed? Going to the laundry? Figuring out food? Spending however much time you want with your friends? My friend, I loved it! The freedom of acting on my own and living through their consequences is something I have desired for so long.

As an incoming freshman, we all had to talk to our advisors and get our first semester courses all scheduled up. I was very fortunate to be admitted into the Honors department at KU, which had the best advisory board in the entire institution. I got my classic freshman-level humanities classes, first programming class (even though I wasn’t new to coding, I had to take it), and a movie class! Thanks to Ed Healy for changing some random art history class on the other side of the campus for what turned out to be one of my favorite classes.

Programming I, Honors

The first programming course in our department is denoted as EECS 168. There is an Honors version that I took, which is just EECS 169. Have to say, there is not much difference between the two. Same lectures, same labs, and same exams. The only thing that sets it apart is an additional problem Honors students have to do with every homework/lab. Ironically enough, this doesn’t sound bad at all, but that single additional problem tended to be more difficult than all of the other problems combined.

The course was primarily taught in C++. This was the God-chosen language in our department. We all start by learning how to turn on a computer (this is a jape). This course is more oriented for people that have never done any computer programming before. You would learn the fundamentals, such as for-loops, if-statements, functions, switches, pointers, dynamic memory, and classes. I have done some projects before, so all of the material taught wasn’t new.

There is no way you can test out of this course. The department is pretty adamant about you taking this course, even if you had plenty of exposure to higher-level programming. I remember this was the first time I would skip classes, forget when midterms are, and just show up late. The hubris was building up. I met most of my closest friends now in that class, as we would work together on labs and just hang out. All in all, an amazing class taught by John Gibbons. He was the best choice for intro CS courses.

Honors Introduction to English

Everyone has to do what’s called the KU Core. Long story short, it’s a set of courses that every single student at KU has to take. Just the general education everyone has to go through. I think it is a really good way to promote your student to be more well-rounded individuals. As a part of the KU Core, every student has to take ENGL 102, which is your basic old English class. Somehow, I haven’t been able to test out of it with my IB score, so I got enrolled in it.

On the first day of classes, I show up and we start doing introductions. Dude, I didn’t like the professor and the vibe of the class the literal moment I walked into that sad basement classroom under the Classics department. The professor started swearing like a sailor, which I found pretty funny, but not for an instructor that is about to teach you some English. Right after, I went to my mentor and told him about the class. He introduced me to Mary Klayder, who is called by many the "Queen of KU". That holds.

She allowed me to switch from the regular English course into the Honors version that she teaches. My man, it was great! She is one of those rare professors that does care about you becoming more comfortable with the language, to be able to freely express whatever you need or want through it. We read great books, wrote papers, and went to her house for a pizza and fudge party. What more could I possibly ask for?

Barbarella! This was the poster of our class
Barbarella! This was the poster of our class

Now, this was one of the highlights of my semester. My first film class. It wasn’t some FILM 101 or intro to film composition, it was a sophomore-junior level topics course in the film department that focused on trash movies. It was one of my favorite classes and I still remember it very fondly. We only met once a week, every Monday from 6 pm to 9 pm or even 10-ish. The first hour of the time would be spent on lectures and quizzes and the last two-three on watching trash movies plus discussion.

My parents asked me, "What’s the point of watching bad movies? Why not just watch the good ones?". I can tell you now. By seeing and knowing where the absolute trash and garbage is, really sets your frame of reference straight. So many people would say "Oh my god dude, Twilight is the worst movie ever made!". I would disagree. Have you ever seen "Pink Flamingos" by John Waters? It made me appreciate regular movies for what they are. I have a small blog post written on this exact question of watching good and bad movies.

The other immense advantage of taking this course is to learn the art of enjoying art from all possible angles. For example, have you ever heard of a movie being so bad that it’s good? Just because of how bad it is? Yes, that is what we focused on. Definitions like Kitsch and Camp can be applied to the movies we watched: The Room, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Barbarella, Rose Hobart, Pink Flamingos, Sharknado, The Heart of the World, The Toxic Avenger, and Crash. Loved it. Big thanks to Ron Wilson for putting together such an amazing class. I wondered about declaring a film minor for a while.

First-Year Honors Seminar: Mathematics and Climate

Now, this was a hoot. Every new Honors student has to take the mandatory seminar, where each version of it revolves around topics of its Professor’s interests. Those seminars are small, with a maximum capacity of about 10-12 students. The appeal of the seminar is to introduce students to professors, bridge that gap of authority, and let students feel more confident when talking to faculty or even asking them for jobs and research positions.

This is how I found my first research experience. My seminar was taught by the amazing Erik Van Vleck on the topic of Mathematics and Climate. Basically, how can we build a mathematical model of weather and climate? It would allow us to better understand its highly chaotic behavior and predict future severe weather conditions. I believe out of 20-ish seminars that run every year, our seminar was the most intense one. We had to write essays, analysis, some MATLAB code, and write a big final project on a topic of our own choice.

My final project was titled "The Use of Neural Networks for Computing Observation Operator in Data Assimilation Applications". That’s a mouthful. It was that time of my life when I was super interested in neural networks and tech alike. I asked myself, can we apply this pattern recognition technique onto chaotic equations of Data Assimilation? Take it a year more or so, this would turn out into a research proposal that won the annual math research grant. I also assisted Professor Van Vleck with this same seminar for the next two years.

Calculus II

Speaking of classes that I could not test out of, I tested out of Calculus I! It was a big relief that I don’t have to relive the horrors of learning derivatives and integrals for the first time. I can’t say much about this course, as it mostly consisted of mastering series, sequences, calculus theorems, integration by parts, calculus+trigonometry, vectors, and such. It was that class, where you do a lot of homework and attendance is mandatory. The fun part of the class was the fact that it was taught by Professor Van Vleck!

One lecture he jumped on the table and almost fell badly. The other day he came to class wearing his shirt inside-out and people in class took the liberty to point that out to him, we all laughed together afterward. He showed us some Spinal Tap memes, fig man memes, and other stuff that I was too young to understand. From that class, I do remember I peer of mine. For his privacy, call him Roberto. Roberto was an interesting man, as almost every lecture, without a fail, he would ask the professor if he could go to the bathroom mid-lecture.

People have to understand that you don’t have to ask that, especially in college. You would just stand up and leave for some time. Roberto was set on asking the professor, not even as a joke. One time, Professor Van Vleck told him "You know, you don’t have to ask me, you can just go.". About a week or two later, during one of our lectures, I saw Roberto just rise up and quietly leave. The moment the door shut after him, the whole class started applauding. It was pretty funny, as the professor noted "You’re all funny."

There was one more incident with Roberto that in hindsight, was a little sad. During lectures, we used a thing called iClicker. An instructor would start a poll and students would press their remotes to cast their vote/answer. Just for giggles, our professor wanted to get a 100% in one of the questions and started polling over a very simple question, with the intention that everyone will get it right no matter what. That almost happened.

Poll closed, votes cast, aaaaaand... everyone got it right! Except just for one vote. I could hear Roberto raising his hand and asking in front of the whole lecture audience why was that answer the correct one. Professor looked at him, went to the blackboard, and uttered "So you have an equation here, and here is the answer you think that is right". This is how it looked

SOME EQUATION = (      ...      )
                (      ...      )  = YOUR ANSWER

"So a miracle occurs and you get your answer!"

                (     OCCURS    )  = YOUR ANSWER

The burn was real. Let’s end it here. It was fun

Spring 2019

The first semester is done! And to say the least, it was a blast. What freedom, what fun, and here is to the new friends with the new semester on the horizon. Let’s see what I remember from this semester. This is the time when I took an amazing math class that convinced me to declare and pursue a whole math major. In some parts, it was a little bit of a tough semester, compared to the first one. Let’s dive in!

Before that real quick, I went to a SAMSI workshop in 2019, where I met incredible people and statisticians from all over the nation. And there was me, a single KU student from Midwest.

Us taking a bus to the research triangle campus
Us taking a bus to the research triangle campus

Four folks on Duke campus
Four folks on Duke campus

Speaker-Audience Communication, Honors

Not a lot can be said here because this is simply an awesome course taught by one and only, Ryan Stangler. As he said, "not Strangler". I can’t find his website or anything about him on the internet, so I’ll link his 207 pages long thesis on The Agrarian Rhetoric of Richard M. Weaver. This class left a big imprint in my memory, all thanks to Ryan Stangler’s incredible charisma and life within him. I always like to quote Oscar Wilde, once he said

To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all. – Oscar Wilde

Out of all the people I have met during my lifetime and all across the world, I can confidently say that Ryan Stangler is one of those very few that truly lived, and still living! The class was about public speaking, so we would write speeches with various goals, such as an introductory speech, an informative one, and a persuasive one, where you try to persuade the audience on whatever topic you are doing. My persuasive speech on why we should use the Holocene calendar is published on my website.

One day, he had a bet with his fellow professor. That professor told him that if he gives us the extremely controversial Flight 93 Election, then he would get fired. We had to write a paper analyzing the article and expressing our critical views on it. The courage on that man. On some days, he would just ditch any plans and give us some readings for our soul and read it out loud with fiery passion during the class. Love that man.

Programming II

EECS 268 is a direct continuation of EECS 168, which was the first programming course, also taught by John Gibbons. This class has a bit of a reputation for being the "beast class" of our computer science curriculum. The pass-rate of this class, meaning any students graduating (getting at least C-) is about 40%. Many people fear this class, yet every single EECS student has to go through it. I don’t think it’s that bad, let me explain.

This class is of course harder than EECS 168, you start doing some interesting data structures and algorithms, like linked lists, binary trees, hash tables, recursion, backtracking, permutations, etc. This is the first real taste of what programming entails and that’s long hours sitting in front of the computer screen, reading stack traces and compiler errors, wasting yourself away debugging your code, and hunting down every possible memory leak in your orthodox C++ code.

This is an important material that every CS student has to know and master, however, many people that are pursuing computer science realize that this major and field might not be in their best interests. Simply put, they have talents and aspirations in something different. Going into the tech industry is driven mainly by chasing the bag or chasing the bag. Think of Programming II as a trial by fire for the ones that are not meant for this kind of life. They should realize that and have the courage to properly act on it.

I should also note that if someone passes the course, it does not mean the rest of the curriculum will be easy or they are great computer scientists. It just means you did well enough on foundational data structures, wrapped your head around recursion, or maybe allegedly cheated your way through by collaborating on individual projects. I enjoyed the class. My friends and I were in a frenzy, where we would try to write "smartest" and "smallest" code possible for our exercises. Just for fun, of course.

Freshman-Sophomore Honors Proses: Ways of Seeing, Honors

ENGL 205 is a direct sequel to ENGL 105, which I took last semester. The big difference is that this one is completely optional. I enrolled in Mary Klayder’s English course just because I wanted to. We read books and wrote papers. The part of the class I remember the most is that time we all went to her house again to have some pizzas and fudge. She has a small cinema theater in her basement, where we would sit down and give small presentations about ourselves.

I feel this is the time when I fell in love with interacting with professors and my classmates outside of class, even more so than when we were in the classroom. It helps you to get over the fear and shyness of talking to faculty just because you enjoy talking to them. In her house, I did a small standup-like bit while sitting a small wooden stool. Shamelessly ripped it off from my public speaking course’s intro speech.

Calculus III, Honors

Estela Gavosto, one of my favorite math professors. I enrolled in her Honors version of Calculus III, there were only nine of us there. Instead of sitting in boring 200+ person lecture halls, we had more of a classroom environment, where we all became good friends. Professor Gavosto would run fun lectures, bring candies to exams, treat everyone with some pumpkin bread to teach triple integrals, and have some cookies with milk for our final. She was called the mom of the class.

Do not let that fool you though. MATH 147 is a hard class, one of the hardest classes on that level, I daresay. In the Honors version, we cover about double the amount of material of what the main course does and we also did projects throughout the semester. For example, for the first project, Professor gave each one of us a noodle, like the ones you like to eat, all in different shapes and we had to come up with mathematical equations and sets to plot it.

The original noodle I got
The original noodle I got

I got an Orecchiette pasta, which you can see above. I thought of some ways I can plot it. Maybe a half of a sphere with lifted wings? Not Cartesian. I settled on making it work with Cylindrical coordinates because it is more doable to add those ridges on the pasta’s surface. The result is as follows

My faithful representation of it
My faithful representation of it

Assume that the surface \(S\) of this pasta is parametrized by the equations

\(\vec{r}(t,a)=\begin{cases}x(t,a)=0.9 t \cos (a)\\y(t,a) = t \sin (a)\\z(t,a) = 0.06\sqrt{t} (1.21\, -t) \sin (22.5 t \cos (a))\\\qquad\qquad-0.08 t^2 \sin (2 a)+\frac{1}{2} t^6-t^4-0.1 t^2+1\end{cases}\)

for \(0\leq t \leq 1.21, 0 \leq a \leq 2\pi\)

Then we started working altogether in teams of four. My pasta was chosen as the team’s pasta, so we went on to running analysis on my small noodle, like finding the vector field of it, and more! Finally, Professor Gavosto gave us a set of equations to plot a ravioli, with a separate set for the top, the bottom of the ravioli, and its filling as well. I uploaded the PDF of the third project.

General Physics I for Engineers

I never liked physics and this class was no exception. PHSX 210 at KU is mostly an extremely mediocre experience, where you are simply required to cram the material and spit it back out during weirdly formatted quizzes and exams. The single thing I remember from this course is that I didn’t have the best homework and work ethic there, simply because I couldn’t care less.

Our homework was due every Wednesday at 9 am. A responsible student would do the homework the night before or even sooner. I would wake up every Wednesday at around 5 am and give myself 3-4 hours at max to do it. Everyone is sleeping, meaning there is no help available. What happens if I can’t do a problem? Too bad. I got an A in that class by being 0.1% over the A cutoffs. One sneeze in the wrong direction, straight to the B land.

General Physics I Laboratory

I don’t want to talk about this. This was just an excel class, where you would make what’s called a "master" excel file, punch in numbers you collect during experiments, and crunch out that data.

Thank you! Stay tuned for the sophomore post ◼︎