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.