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.

161 Things Every Cornellian Should Do, #25, #26, #129

25. Bomb a prelim.

26. Ace the next one to save your grade.

129. Console a friend who did poorly on a midterm, only to find out they did better than you did.

So.  Grades.  Everyone’s favorite topic.  Some professors come up with multiple grading schemes so that students get the best grade possible.  Some professors curve the class to a B- because they think this year’s students are particularly dense.  Either way, at the end of the class you get a letter that more or less corresponds to grades you’ve been getting throughout the semester.

I’m not going to say what exactly my grades were, but there have been several cases when performances on second prelims and the final managed to pull my grades out of the gutter where they were languishing.  It is very possible to recover from one bad prelim, and to some extent from two . . . don’t ask how I know that.

At Cornell, most general math and science classes, major-level engineering classes, and a lot of other classes have two prelims during the semester and a final during finals period.  Some classes have three prelims, and some have essays or projects instead of prelims.  The majority of my classes have evening (night) prelims though I have taken a liberal studies class with in-class prelims.  Theoretically, Cornell has an algorithm that minimizes conflicts between prelims and finals, but that doesn’t mean your prelim schedule will be pleasant by any means.  I’ve had prelims scheduled so that I have three prelims in eight days or one prelim every week for eight out of eleven weeks, followed immediately by finals week.  Both aren’t great, the first because you do nothing but study for a straight week and the second because you always feel like you should be studying.

Most classes are curved, meaning that your grade depends on how much better or worse you did than your classmates did.  For example, I heard from a few people that our organic chemistry class averaged somewhere above a 40% on the final.  The only reason most of the class didn’t fail is because that 40% was what you needed to get the average grade (usually between a B- and B+, depending on the professor).  In general, I don’t feel that people in my ChemE classes are horribly competitive though I tend to prefer to study by myself.  Review sessions are nice, but when it comes to the exam, you’re going to have to be the one to pull the answer out of your brain.

I do complete almost all of my problem sets at office hours and/or working with a group.  I’m working on making up a theory called the Theory of Mutual Suffering.  I’m not sure exactly what it says, but it’s about struggling through hours-long algebra problems in groups.

To conclude: You will probably fail an exam at some point.  You might just save your grade with this thing called studying.  Not everyone is a cutthroat jerk who will burn your notes to make you fail.