My name is Hector Marin-Alcantar. I am a 2015 Graduate of Coachella Valley High School and a first-year student at the University of California, San Diego: Jacobs School of Engineering. My major is Aerospace Engineering, which is essentially rocket science.
In my first quarter at UC San Diego I enrolled in four courses: Anthropology 21: Race and Racism, Introduction to Aerospace, General Chemistry, and Orientation to Engineering. I didn’t take math my first quarter because I didn’t want to overload myself, and because of the AP Exams I passed in high school, I have fewer courses to take in my first year.
Because of the AP Exams I passed in high school, I have fewer courses to take in my first year.
My first day of class definitely felt new and exciting…except for waking up so early. My chemistry class was in a large lecture hall that easily seats about 400 students. I was impressed to discover that my chemistry professor is a researcher at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, a prestigious research institution that is a world leader in biology, marine biology, and biochemistry. Knowing I had a professor with a research background was nerve racking. At times I felt bombarded with super-sophisticated language, not to mention the unspoken pressure to do well or else.
As the quarter progressed, I grew accustomed to the size of the lecture class and began to get a feel for the pace of the course—which was quite fast! A quarter is only ten weeks! By the end of the second week you are already talking about midterm exams! I would read on the weekends and attend discussions to go over topics that I didn't quite get in lecture. I found that it helps to engage in class discussions because it perpetuates thinking about the subject and allows you to see different points of view.
When the professor showed the Schrödinger Equation, all you heard was the noise of a hundred people going, “Ohhhh…”
Overall, chemistry was definitely much more demanding than in high school. For instance, in high school you learn that the Neil Bohr’s Model addresses the structure of the hydrogen atom. The model describes the nucleus in the center of the atom with an electron orbiting around it. That’s what you learn in high school…however, when you go to college…you learn in Quantum Chemistry that the Bohr Model is actually wrong as it violates the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. So then it becomes necessary to look at Schrödinger’s Equation (a crazy looking equation that you probably won’t go over in high school because it involves multivariable calculus) to explain the structure of an atom with multiple electrons. I recall in lecture when the professor showed the Schrödinger Equation, all you heard was the noise of a hundred people going, “Ohhhh…” I’m happy to say that I not only survived the class, I did remarkably well.
My Anthropology class was less stressful. I had to write an “Identity Reflection Assignment” from which I learned a lot about the discourse that the United States bestowed upon its residents, such as how the US transitioned form “Overt Racism” to “Covert Racism.” It was truly an eye opening experience to learn about “Colorblind Racism” (the pursuit of equal opportunity without taking into account systematic racism). The class required lots of reading; but luckily, the material in the book remained interesting as it pertained to my community. I thrived in the class discussions and even shared my own insights and answered questions from my professor (the lecture hall was much smaller than chemistry). Overall, the class was amazing and I really enjoyed discussing the topic of race and how it affects people of color. I have learned tools to combat racism that I will take with me through out life.
My Orientation to Engineering class was about applying mathematics to everyday engineering problems and it was accompanied with labs on a programing interface called Python. Python is a programing system that allows you to write code. We used Python to derive, integrate, and calculate the bending moment of a metal beam on a robot arm. After we compiled the data, we were able to determine the modulus of elasticity in order to figure out what kind of material the robot arm should be made out of. I also learned that you can math the hell out of everything using Linear Algebra. By having a system of equations, we can write the equations in vector notation and into a matrix. We can use Python to calculate and solve for each variable easily. I really loved how you can use math for literally everything! It was an epiphany, a revelation, a new view of the world! It was simply awesome!
I was seriously intimidated by the students in my Introduction to Aerospace class. The lecture hall seated about 115 mostly male students in a rather small space. I didn’t understand what some of the other students were talking about when they said that they took Physics B and C in high school, until I found out there are actually four different AP Physics courses. I was thinking, “Man, I’m so behind compared to all these other guys. I wasn’t even able to take regular physics in school!” I felt at such a disadvantage without any prior knowledge to fall back on. I was setting sail into uncharted waters!
I really loved how you can use math for literally everything! It was an epiphany, a revelation, a new view of the world!
For the first two weeks of the course, I was completely lost. I only had my math skills to save me…but then physics is mostly math after all. By the third week, I was beginning to understand what the professor was saying mathematically. I began to make sense of the material by using math. When the midterm came, I felt nervous, but ready. When I saw my score, I was shocked to see that I actually did better than many of those students that took Physics B and C in high school. Aside from the exams, I got to build a rocket and a glider! These were fun projects because they required us to understand the boost velocity and terminal velocity behind the rocket; and the flight path angle, predicted lift vs. actual lift, predicted airspeed vs. actually airspeed, lift, drag, and induced coefficients of the glider. I got flustered in that class a few times, but I had great time learning. I remember getting a rush every time I solved a difficult physics problem!
Sharing a room with someone can be pretty nerve racking, but my roommate is not so bad. His name is Carlos and he graduated with me from CVHS. We’ve been friends since freshman year. So far it’s been very laidback living in the dorms; you don’t have to worry about cooking since there’s a dining hall right next to the residence building. The food on campus is quite good. I’ve been to all six of the dining halls on campus and my favorite is Pines. It has the most variety and is well decorated and cozy.
Besides going to class, studying, and eating, there are hundreds of clubs on campus and plenty to do at UCSD! Everything from archery to anime…and if there isn’t a club you like, you can create one. Also, there are concerts that are exclusively for UCSD students and faculty. I hear they’ve had many famous celebrities perform; although, I personally have not attended any concerts because of all the work I have to do. And there are so many other things to explore in the luscious City of San Diego! There are beaches within walking distance, small shops, a mall, and buses to take you to the famous Balboa Park in San Diego or the Civic Center to catch a play! No, I haven’t had time yet to really explore San Diego, but eventually, with some friends and family, I will.
So there you are, a little about my first quarter experiences at UCSD. If anyone has questions, please feel free to ask!