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MIT student blogger Michael C. '16

I walked on water* by Michael C. '16

IAP?'re AP.

*in the solid phase

This is a recipe for The Best Tasting BLT Sandwich In The World™:

(1) Slap together week-old bacon, lettuce, tomatoes, bread.
(2) Forget to add mayo.
(3) Hike 10 miles through snow, over ice, and across rivers with the MIT Outing Club (MITOC)
(4) Eat BLT.

The point is, of course, that the longer you’re away from something the more you appreciate it. True for food, true for MIT.

Because as good as it was to be home in December for winter break (back home, “winter” is 70 degrees), after a week or so I found myself missing the little things about MIT. The bipolar weather. The strange architecture. The random middle-of-the-night conversations about quantum dots and social media strategies. The soggy burritos from Anna’s.

It’s good to be back.

Anyways, it’s IAP (Independent Activities Period), the month where we can do whatever we want (be that classes, working on personal projects, or just chillaxing), and here’s what I’ve been up to:


(1) 2.670 (Mechanical Engineering Tools)

A class!  But not your average lecture class.  2.670 is essentially a shop training class for mechanical engineers – you learn the basics of using a mill, lathe, bandsaw, etc.  Even if you already have these skills I recommend taking the class – it’ll give you universal shop access to many shops on campus (including the Edgerton Center, where getting off the waiting list can take months), and it’ll get you acquainted with the Pappalardo shop staff, who you’ll be working closely with in 2.007 (the robot competition class) and 2.009 (the super duper awesome capstone senior product design class).

Plus, you get to machine your own flashlight out of aluminium!


(2) Winter School

More school!  But again, not your typical MIT class.  Run by MITOC, Winter School does have weekly lectures, but they’re about teaching outdoor winter survival skills.  And this being MIT, we like to put a nerdy spin on things. During a lesson on food and water, the 3.091 TA teaching the lecture calculated the integral for heat required to melt snow, using the latent heat and heat capacity of water.  Other lecture topics: how to ice climb, how to snowshoe, and how to pee when the snow is 4 feet deep.

The lectures are only a small part of what Winter School is about, though – it’s really all about the weekend trips.  Usually there’ll be a dozen or so trips per weekend in New Hampshire, letting you apply the winter skills you’ve learned in lecture.  Yay for Mens et manus!

Overheard on my first Winter School trip: “Crampons make me feel like I have ice-walking superpowers!”

So far I’ve done a hike up Mt. Jackson; this week I’m hiking up Mt. Moriah and Mt. Surprise on Sunday, staying at a MITOC cabin overnight, and then ice climbing in New Hampshire’s Frankenstein Cliffs.

Big shoutout to my first trip leaders Carolin and Wolfram, who kept the conversation lively and discussed important topics like how to walk in crampons (“walk as if you were a cowboy, like you have massive balls between your legs), German hiking traditions, and how to color match a Patagonia jacket with an Arc’Teryx backpack.

The really great thing about MITOC is how open and accessible it is.  Normally winter gear costs a fortune; buying a backpack, crampons, mountaineering boots, ice axe, and ice pick could easily run you over a thousand bucks.  That’s not including the cost of getting trained to use that gear; getting an ice climbing lesson from a local climbing gym can cost several hundred dollars alone.

But a MITOC membership is only around $20, and you can go on as many trips as you’d like for nominal fees (usually the biggest cost is paying your driver for gas – generally around $20).  And after paying a deposit you can rent gear for very reasonable rates (usually around $5).


(3) UPOP

MIT is good at teaching technical skills.  There’s a reason it produces some of the best engineers in the world.

Where an MIT education can fall short, however, is in “soft skills” – things like team dynamics, negotiation tactics, and leadership strategies.  That’s where UPOP (Undergraduate Practice Opportunities Program) steps in.  It’s a week-long “boot camp” during IAP where you do a lot of workshops on developing these skills, and get broken up into teams that give presentations at the end of the week.

UPOP isn’t perfect – sometimes the sheer volume of workshops and presentations was difficult to absorb – but on the whole I found it a valuable experience that I think helped fill some of the gaps in my MIT education.  For MechEs especially, those team management skills will come in handy in project classes like 2.009.

My UPOP team, Team Two Tau. On the right is Kate T. ’16, who’s also going ice climbing with me on Monday.  Yay for Winter School/UPOP crossovers!  [photo creds for this to Sophia L. ’16]