Monday, November 18, 2013

A Day in the Life of a Toolie

With the start of another semester comes another set of lab kits to buy and papers to avoid writing, at least for us Toolies in UVa's Engineering School.

For those of you who haven’t read my blog posts before, I’m Steph, a 3rd year Computer Engineering and Computer Science double major from Northern Virginia. If you’ve read up on the Computer Science (CS) majors offered at UVa, you’ll know that CS is offered in both the College of Arts & Sciences and the Engineering School. I hate writing papers, not to mention that it aligned better with my second major, so I chose to complete the Engineering school requirements.

That’s one of the biggest differences between the College and the E-School: I don’t write papers, I go to labs.

Thursdays are usually pretty rough for me, as that’s when I have two labs scheduled, so I have class basically all day. I usually wake up around 8:30, get ready and head to Bodo’s to get some food to tide me over for the day, because having lots of labs usually mean you don’t have time for a lunch break…unless you’re much better at setting your schedule that I am!

UVa's Thornton Hall: The main Engineering School building

After devouring that delicious Bodo’s, I’ll head over to the basement of Thornton Hall’s E-Wing, where the first of my two labs is. It’s a little relaxing, because we just build circuits that we designed before the lab started, but can get stressful towards the end of the lab time if the circuit isn’t working. Either way, you make a lot of friends pretty quickly and, if you’re lucky and have a super awesome TA (like one of the TAs below!), get to sing along to whatever music is playing that day.

CS 1110 TAs doing what they do best: Eating!


Once that lab is over, I get to go to a different basement (most of the lab spaces are in basements because it’s easy to move the equipment there) and run my own lab! I’m a TA for CS 1110: Intro to Programming, so I run a lab activity in Java every week. The class is required for all engineers, so it’s usually first years wanting to get the class out of the way, but occasionally we get lucky and get random fourth years looking for a class to fill their schedule.

We try to design the 1110 labs around the current homework assignment, so this week’s lab is called “Target Practice,” and everyone gets to write code that makes targets appear randomly on the screen that disappear when you click on them. Their homework is to make a Zombie game, where a little girl figure follows the mouse, and zombies follow her, so it’s a good start to some of the code that they need for that project.

After 1110 is over, I have one more class, and this one is basically just a problem session. Most professors believe that the best way to learn engineering is by doing problem after problem, so they teach the concepts as they go through different examples.

Students working on come circuit boards for the experimental Smart House


Notice that nowhere in my day did I mention an essay or having 100 pages of reading to do for a class? Yeah, engineering is pretty nice sometimes.

But in reality, engineers and College kids tend to think that they’re super different…but that’s entirely not true. Both have clubs to go to, meetings to run, meals to eat, and football to watch! Engineers just tend to do more of their homework in groups…while hiding in some study room in the Engineering School at 2 AM. So don’t be surprised if you don’t see your engineer friends all that often. 

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