Physically Educated

While my brother attends a college that focuses on theoretical classes and doesn’t have any engineers or a PE requirement, Cornell has a swim test, all students need to take two semesters of PE, and I am (obviously) an engineer.  There are dozens (hundreds?) of classes that count for PE credit, from bowling and juggling to skiing and (my personal favorite) rock climbing.

I took beginning swimming my first semester at Cornell because to pass the swim test you need to be able to jump into the pool and swim three 25-meter lengths – one on your front, one on your back, and one either way – and I couldn’t swim on my back.  The class was actually pretty fun, although by the end of the semester it got cold walking all the way back to North Campus from the pool.  We worked on basic strokes, but also did relay races, tried diving (from the side of the pool), and played water polo in the practice pool with our feet firmly on the bottom of the pool.

In the spring I took basic rock climbing, which is taught by Cornell Outdoor Education (COE).  It remains my favorite PE class, and I learned to boulder, belay, and climb routes at the wall.  Since then, I’ve gotten my own chalk and climbing shoes because I liked climbing so much.  Rock climbing is one of those things where you don’t feel like you’re getting any better, but then one day you try a route and absolutely nail it.

The next fall, I enrolled in another class with COE, day hiking.  Mainly, I wanted to get off campus and go slogging through mud and dirt.  We had pretty good (and warm) weather for most of our classes and overall I liked it, but I would have preferred to walk faster/cover more mileage.  I’ve walked more miles wandering around Cornell on some days than in a couple of the hiking classes.

Last fall, I signed up for small boat sailing, and in contrast to hiking, we had awful weather, specifically during my time slot.  It took a month of classes before we even got to go out on the lake in the small boats.  I enjoyed the experience, though I think I’d have liked the class better if I had more time to get used to rigging and sailing the boat.

While my required ChemE and liberal studies classes are usually interesting and enjoyable, PE classes provide the opportunity to do something other than reading/problem sets and try new things, often at reduced – or nonexistent – costs.  Beginning swimming was free, rock climbing was more than worth it (twenty hours of class, plus a wall pass and shoe rental for the semester), sailing was fair, and while hiking felt overpriced, it wasn’t exorbitant.  So while schools are eliminating recess and gym class, I have to commend Cornell for their selection of PE classes.  I’ve experienced my share of blood and sweat in PE, but also learned skills and had fun.


One of the things I’ve been doing since fall semester of my freshman year, besides eating, sleeping, breathing, and going to ChemE office hours, is pep band.  I started playing the clarinet in fourth grade, took lessons for three and a half years, went through dozens of reeds and a couple mouthpieces, practiced for hundreds of hours, and was not about to stop in college.  I didn’t want to commit to twice a week practices with either of the wind ensembles or the orchestra (fun fact: in eleven years of clarinet playing, I have never played with a full orchestra), so I joined the pep band.

All events are completely optional in pep band, but when it comes to events like away trips where we get limited tickets, people who have been coming to more events get priority for those tickets.  The other main event with limited spaces is men’s hockey, the most popular sport to attend at Cornell.  Hockey season starts in mid-October with the Red-White game, where the men’s and women’s teams scrimmage and the band splits up to cheer on both Cornell teams.

Right now, we’re in the middle of hockey season, with both the men’s and women’s teams in the middle of ECAC standings.  (ECAC is the conference that the hockey teams play in and includes Cornell, Harvard, Dartmouth, Brown, Princeton, Yale, Quinnipiac, Union, RPI, Colgate, Clarkson, and St. Lawrence.)  This past weekend Harvard and Dartmouth came to visit Lynah Rink, considered by some to have the best atmosphere in college hockey, and things played out in exactly the opposite way than we expected.

Harvard and Cornell have a rivalry that goes back decades, but this season Harvard is several places ahead of Cornell in the standings, and they’re nationally ranked.  As much as we wanted a repeat (or better) of last year’s 3-2 overtime victory during the last home game of the regular season, we were prepared for disappointment.  Well, we didn’t get it that night.

I had enough points to secure a spot to attend the Harvard game Friday night, so a little under an hour before game time, I found myself in Lynah with the pep band.  We played our pregame sets, “Knights of Cydonia” before lineups, the Canadian and American national anthems, lots of Davy (the fight song), and “Seven Nation Army” right before puck drop.

The first period ended tied, with both teams playing reasonably well.  Then Harvard scored in the second period on a shot that could barely be considered a shot that snuck into one side of the goal.  All was not lost, however, because Cornell not only scored a goal of their own, but another one on top of that to make the score 2-1.

Between the second and third periods, the band played the Alma Mater and “España,” then settled in to watch the last period.  A few minutes into the period, Harvard tied the game.  With less than a minute to go, the score remained tied.  And then it wasn’t.  Sometimes there’s a build up to a goal, where one team is getting so many shots or the goalie is just barely making saves, that you know there’s a goal coming.  This time, Cornell got into their offensive end, a Cornell player took a shot, and it went into the net.  Lynah went crazy, and the band went home happy.

The next night, Cornell took on Dartmouth, who is right below us in the standings.  Things didn’t go so well.  To summarize, we lost 5-2.  I guess it’s true what they say: you win some, you lose some.


Spring is here!

Correction: Spring semester is here.  Spring is most definitely not here.  See the picture below that I took last May February.

So I’m back in the miserable wasteland fun town known as Ithaca, and I’ve survived my first week of interesting, exciting classes that I need to take to graduate.  They’re mostly ChemE classes, taken with the same one hundred people I’ve been taking classes with for the past two and a half years.

As my college career has progressed, my standards for the definition of success have varied drastically.  Take, for instance, the following:

Most freshman engineers start out taking either the second semester of single variable calculus or multivariable calculus.  As a kind of “welcome to Cornell” gift, both of those math classes are curved to a B.  Minus.*  That means that if you do average on everything, all you get for your efforts is a B minus.  I managed to get exactly zero points for an entire question on the second prelim, which set me back one-sixth of the points without even accounting for mistakes I made on the other parts of the test.  I studied hours for the final, and judging by my final grade, I did a lot better on the final than the second prelim.

Spring semester of freshman year, I started rock climbing, and progressed from struggling up the wall using any of the holds to struggling up the wall on routes.  Now I can also climb some of the problems at the bouldering wall.  So there’s been improvement there.

Then there’s this semester.  So far I’ve been present when the Cornell men’s hockey team beat Harvard 3-2 with 40.5 seconds remaining in the third period.  I tried to read one of my textbooks.  I later gave up after five pages, but it’s the thought that counts, right?  I took care of swim test and timecard logistics and returned library books all in one morning.  In four hours of ChemE work, we did most of not just one, but two assignments, and got one of the questions right on the first try.

And finally, I have not yet shown up to class in my very fashionable pajamas with penguins on them.

*I’ve never had this definitively confirmed, but based on peoples’ general performance, I can believe it.