Home > Documenting the Process > Got Those First Two Weeks of the Semester Blues

Got Those First Two Weeks of the Semester Blues

September 6, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

Seriously, I hate the first two weeks of the semester.  There are a number of reasons for this.  One is that I’m coming off a prolonged period of inactivity, and moving again is always accompanied by the mental screech of rusty joints.  Another is that I spend the first week, if not two, not quite remembering when or where anything is, in a constant state of feeling like I’ve forgotten something important which is usually – but not always – false.  A third is simply that it’s hard to see the end of the semester from the beginning.  That was one of the things I liked about the seven-week terms at WPI; you could always see the other end of the tunnel.

Anyway.  The fall semester at the University of Maine started a week ago today – well, Monday – and, having made it through the first week, I have a few things to report.

First: This is kind of a strange semester.  I knew it would be in the spring, when I signed up for the classes I’m taking, but now that I’m actually doing them it’s even a little weirder than I thought.  Mainly this is because I’m still in a technical major – still mechanical engineering technology – but I’m not taking any courses directly relating to that program.  It’s almost like being a humanities student again.

This is not just because I didn’t feel like it, of course; it’s because I’ve run into a major bottleneck in the program.  It turns out that almost everything after the really basic freshman stuff, which I took in the spring, has Physics I as a prerequisite.  Seriously, the lot.  If I had a copy of the flow chart my advisor showed me I’d inline it here so you can see.  After the first semester, it pinches down to PHY 107 like a crowd control choke point at an airport.  On the other hand, I still needed to be taking at least 12 credits this fall to maintain my standing as a full-time student…

After a great deal of Pauli Exclusion Principle Bingo with the online catalog, I managed to find a selection of classes that looked interesting, might not be a complete waste of my time, and in one case ticks off the two remaining boxes on the General Education Requirements form.  My advisor will no doubt give me hell about it when we meet up to plan Spring 2012 later on this fall and he sees what I ended up with, because he’s very efficiency-oriented and will be terribly annoyed that I A) took humanities classes that fit GenEd categories I’ve already met and B) didn’t take Chemistry I.  (Two lab sciences in the same semester?  Er, no thanks.)

So what am I taking?  In no particular order:

GER 101.  Yes, this is what you think it is: Introductory German I.  "Why in God’s name would you take German I?" I hear you asking.  (Actually, I hear Professor Crosby asking, because he did, last April, when it appeared on my Wish List.)  I’ll give you the same answers I gave him: One, I’ve always kind of wanted to learn German, and they didn’t offer it at my high school; two, German strikes me as a more-than-usually useful foreign language for an engineer to know; and three, I still might manage to swing a semester abroad next year, and if I do I’ll probably end up in Austria.  Everywhere else the University has overseas consortium agreements with only offers liberal arts stuff.  (This might technically be a corollary to point two rather than a point in its own right.)

HTY 279.  This class is entitled "European Military History" and, as you might expect, has a lot of ROTC kids in it.  They must be slightly puzzled by the presence of the pasty-faced, leviathine civilian in the corner, but the hell with it.  This one Prof. Crosby doesn’t know about, since I discovered and added it after our meeting.  It might come in handy if I decide to declare a history minor, which would also give me something useful to do with all those history credits I have from my previous lives.  If not, well, it’s still more interesting than sitting at home and slipping to part-time enrollment status.

INT 400.  This is an odd one.  I mentioned it in my previous post, back in May.  It’s one Prof. Crosby won’t argue with, because it knocks off my last two GenEd requirements.  This class is a bit puzzling, because it has three catalog numbers, a different title to go with each of them, and is being taught by a veritable Senate subcommittee of professors.  The incarnation I signed up for, INT 400, is entitled "Pop!Tech: Impact of Technology on Society", but in the online course tools it also answers to PAX 398, "Topics in Peace and Reconciliation Studies", and PAX 598, "Independent Graduate Study".  At its heart it’s geared toward an online participation in and analysis of the annual Pop!Tech conference in Camden, which I gather is sort of a northeastern TED Conference, but with such a profusion of instructors (each of whom appears to be taking point on 10 days’ worth of the course), it’s bound to be a bit… chaotic.  I’m still feeling my way through the syllabus, but I’ve gotten the first week’s worth of work done and it does at least look like it’s going to be interesting.  If nothing else, I assure you it was by far the least desperate-looking of all the offerings that clocked the Ethics and Population & The Environment GenEd requirements.  (I have very finite interest in sustainable arboriculture in the Pacific Northwest.)

Oh yes – and after all that, I’m not actually taking PHY 107.

Not exactly.

You see, the School of Engineering Technology at UMaine began in the early ’70s as a two-year associate degree program, designed to create sort of proto-engineers who were expected to complement the tradespeople emerging from the state’s system of Vocational-Technical Institutes, one of which is over in Bangor.  As such, SET has always had a fairly close relationship with those schools, which continues today, even though they’re no longer VTIs.  They’ve changed names twice since then, in fact, first to Technical Colleges and then to Community Colleges.  They even offer some four-year degrees themselves now, and SET morphed into a four-year program long ago (which means the University is in the peculiar business of running two parallel four-year engineering programs).

One of the interesting side effects of this is that the introductory physics courses offered over at Eastern Maine Community College in Bangor are accepted credit-for-credit by SET.  Three credits for the lecture and one for the accompanying lab, just like you were staying on campus and taking PHY 107 from the gang in Bennett Hall.

The difference?

Well, there’s an evening division, which means I don’t have to be attempting to operate a physics lab at 9 in the morning, but the really critical difference from my perspective is that PHY 107 at the University costs $1,188.00 plus about $400 worth of books and gadgets (they use a sort of game-show-buzzer class-participation widget called an "i>clicker") and meets five times a week, whereas PHY 121/122 at EMCC – for the exact same credit – costs $400 and meets twice a week.

There are tradeoffs, of course.  EMCC doesn’t have quite the same cachet as the University, and it’s slightly further away; also, studying "away" in this fashion causes the Financial Aid office at the University to get weird and refuse to release the balance of my financial aid until they get a form from EMCC proving I’m really showing up for classes ,which EMCC refuses to send until their add/drop period is over (which isn’t until Wednesday).  This has caused some interesting cash flow problems.  Still.  The entire class costs as much as the books for the UMaine version.  I think I’ll take the win.  And as for cachet, it’s still going to be the University of Maine’s name on my degree, so what the hell?

(I am indebted to my MET 107 teammate Bill Long for this tip, which he gave me as we were leaving the Machine Tool Lab on the last day of the class.)

So that’s the lineup, such as it is.  I dropped Differential Equations after getting nowhere with an attempt at reviewing calculus on my own time over the summer.  Not sure what I’m going to do about that.  I don’t intend to take Calculus I and II over for credit; if nothing else, it would waste eight credits’ worth of my financial aid capacity on stuff I’ve already finished.  It was 20 years ago, though, so I need something.  I should swing by the Math Department office and see what the procedure is for auditing, if that’s even an option any more.  Or change to a program where I don’t need any more math credits than I already have.

I keep thinking maybe I’d like to be an architect.  The only problems there are that the University doesn’t have an architecture program and I can’t draw.  These are not trivial problems.

In future posts, we’ll take a closer look at my classes individually, and I’ll have an update about my workstudy situation.  Right now, bedtime.

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  1. Phil C
    September 8, 2011 at 08:39

    In no particular order:

    Sweet, German! I’m sort of studying German in my spare time (which I should really be using to study Japanese, given that I took the trouble of moving to Japan) so it’s always nice to see I’m not the only one giving it a shot.

    I remember being the pasty, weird-looking civilian in my Naval Science classes; the feeling tends to wane once you get halfway in. By the second semester, they were all used to me, by the third, I was the go-to guy for foreign words. And those were classes that were taught by Marines and Navy pilots.

    My alma mater actually pioneered the whole clicker system, if you want someone to blame for that $50 boondoggle. (Carl Wieman, Nobel Laureate in Physics, used it in his undergraduate classes to critical acclaim and increased test scores among his students.)

    I’m not sure what to say about the Math situation, besides platitudes like “do your best!” I took Applied Calculus for Engineers 1, and though I thoroughly enjoyed it, my mediocre performance in the class combined with my busy schedule the next semester (I was taking 7 classes and auditing a graduate translation seminar) made it impossible to continue.

  2. September 11, 2011 at 18:14

    I’ve taught using the iClicker system. As personal response systems go, it’s pretty dummy-proof at the instructor end, but has its annoying elements from the student end (for instance, the clickers don’t seem to work properly if you buy the wrong BRAND of batteries).

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