Flashmobs and Failing Fast

This past year has been: amazing. upsetting. hilarious. disillusioning. exhilarating. It has been full of a lot of travel and new experiences, many important conversations and much questioning.

A year in review, in a slightly different format:

Spontaneous walks in the woods

LEARNING IN THE CLASSROOM:

Game Theory: Words cannot describe how much I loved this class. Our professor was a great lecturer and always had his office open even outside of office hours – he was also quirky and would lament why he didn’t get his favorite classroom to lecture in, or tell fun stories about his kids or favorite computer games. Most of my classmates were seniors, but it was definitely worth the challenge. The way we were taught to approach solving problems, analyzing information availability and changing game rules, and understanding rational decisions of all players was something I found myself going back to whenever I was negotiating something. And having this background in game theory allowed me to get a full-picture understanding of industrial organization theories in the following semester.

Programming: I brushed up on Java, and picked up HTML, CSS, and Javascript, because I figured, if I’m going to work in tech, I better be able to talk to developers (especially considering where I’m working this summer, but more on that towards the end). I absolutely loved the duality of thinking through both the look and feel for the user experience and the logic problems for the code. Side note: I took this class with peers who were artists, musicians, and spoken word poets-definitely not your standard CS course atmosphere!

Econometrics: I love statistics for its relevance and application to other subjects, and in this course, I was able to get a solid introduction to econometrics and models that were critical for understanding economics research papers and studies, which helped me better understand many of the papers I read for development economics in the following semester. We even created modified regression models to analyze data sets and test claims made in Freakonomics, which was fun.

Chinese: This year the focus was on reading Chinese documents and newspapers – we read and debated the US’s and China’s government statements on China-Taiwan relations, watched and discussed Chinese films, read press releases and news articles in Chinese, etc. By the end of the year, I was definitely well-prepared for direct enrollment (more on that towards the end) and could even conduct a job interview in Chinese with native Chinese speakers (and get the job!).

West African Dance: I absolutely loved this class, and it was so different from anything I had ever learned. We had the chance to learn the movements of traditional dances of Haiti, Guinea, Nigeria, and Brazil (with some history!). I was lucky to be peers with such an amazing, energetic group – we even did a samba flashmob in the dining hall!

Industrial Organization: Our professor reminded me of my favorite math teacher in high school: strict but supportive, with high expectations and a lot of dedication to helping students meet those high expectations – you know, one of those teachers who gets a rep for being scary and hard, and secretly gets a kick out of that. Before I took this class, I would read news articles in the business section and take things as given. The average reader ends up agreeing with the most recent article they read, and most people read from media outlets that are closely aligned with their political identity to begin with (e.g. liberals read NYT, conservatives watch Fox News). After this class, I have a more critical and analytical view for when I read anything in the news: I can look up other articles, dig up industry reports and corporate annual reports, and be able to explain the firm’s decision with industrial organization theories and models. I’ve learned so much about being able to analyze and understand firm decisions on a deeper level, and learned that I really enjoy it, and found that antitrust law is pretty interesting…

Development EconomicsMany of the readings and books for this class are things I might have read on my own anyway – but this course put it in a context so that I was able to not only better understand the material and findings but also more prepared to critique them and find areas for further research. Our team designed a research study experiment to study the social capital and cost-saving impacts of combining self-help group programs and child nutrition programs in Udaipur, Rajasthan, India. As “just” undergrads, we were able create a partnership with a grassroots NGO that has worked with leading MIT development economists. I also loved that there was discussion in this course: I loved being able to voice my opinions, and was really committed to debating, so much that once during a classroom discussion my professor called me out on being too opinionated for an economist. I wasn’t sure if that was a compliment or an insult…

Design FundamentalsThis was a design thinking, industrial design, and product design course. Before this class, most of what I knew about design was limited to graphic design, with some web and user experience design. I was entirely new to fabrication (I’m a pretty klutzy person, and once managed to cut my hand on a plastic yogurt lid, so needless to say, I never even tried to learned woodshop). I found that through this course, I learned a lot more about functional design, design for ease of manufacturing, and fabrication skills related to design. Through class projects, I realized many mantras of software developers applied: the importance of “failing fast”, adapting designs to user feedback, and building multiple iterations (which, out of laziness, meant designing something that would be easy to recreate). Readings and videos from design firms also led to interesting debates that helped me think more critically about sustainability in design and what materials I should use in designing a product so it could be made from recycled materials or easily accessible materials for local manufacturing.

The Met, NYC

LEARNING OUTSIDE THE CLASSROOM:

Dance: I joined two dance pieces: a traditional Nigerian dance with the International Students Association and a contemporary Nigerian/Ghanian dance with Amherst Dance.

Travel: I took a bus to Montreal, Canada over fall break – and yes, there was an embarrassing incident in which I ran after the wrong bus at 3am during a layover in Albany and had to come back to a bus terminal full of people snickering at me. I also took a 13-hour bus from New York City to Greensboro and Winston-Salem, North Carolina by myself to visit my friend’s family over Thanksgiving break and had my first Thanksgiving dinner, which included turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and even sukuma wiki – yum! Over interterm, I also traveled to New York City and went to the Met for the first time and saw my first Broadway show – Rent! “Forget regret, no day but today” indeed.

Work: I assisted a professor in two research projects, one on child nutrition in Chandigargh, India and one on violence and grain prices in Mombasa, Kenya – and one of the papers will be published soon! For my work with the Social Innovation Leadership Team, I spoke at the Ashoka U Exchange in Phoenix, Arizona and developed new programs, including an alumni speaker series (which led to the development of an internship program in Soweto, South Africa and Accra, Ghana) and a design thinking workshop. I also worked on recruiting and hiring new team members and upcoming programs, including a network for liberal arts college entrepreneurship programs and a social enterprise internship program. For my work with Reader to Reader, I designed interface graphics for the new website, infographics, t-shirt graphics, and impact documentation materials for our corporate sponsors.

Other: I was in the production of Women of Amherst, which is our version of the Vagina Monologues, composed entirely of submissions from Amherst students. Being a part of the case meant meeting amazing, strong women but it also meant learning more about sexual violence issues and how colleges deal with them – it was the latter that was the cause of much disillusionment and questioning (more on that below). I visited the ridiculously huge MIT Splash (even bigger than Stanford Splash, which seemed unimaginable), organized the inaugural Amherst Splash, and taught a course on culture and art. We had a great lineup of small seminar-style courses led by a diverse group of students, but next up: more social justice and STEM courses!

Women of Amherst cast

LIFE LESSONS LEARNED:
There have been a few incidents that happened this year to my friends both at my institution and other institutions, most of which I will not get into specifics here. I will say this:

1) Underrepresentation of women and students of color start at the college level: students in student government are often dominated by one or two social groups, which have priorities that may not accurately represent the interests of the student body, for example, when it comes to increased support for multicultural resources on campus. Since students in student government are often the first group administrators turn to, many opinions representing diverse backgrounds are left out of conversations for decision-making.

2) Sexual violence, rape and sexual assault is all too prevalent everywhere, but it’s particularly disturbing if it happens on college campuses and colleges, like BU, respond by not punishing perpetrators severely enough and and disbelieving/blaming victims. It’s even more disturbing when other students, like Yale’s DKE, think it’s okay to joke about sexual violence. Perpetrators at Wesleyan are dismissed for a few semesters but can return and graduate, while students at Amherst who steal laptops are expelled for longer – I’m not saying that theft or plagiarism is okay, but in the real world, theft is a petty crime, while sexual assault is a violence crime. Many colleges and universities need to take a critical look at their current hearing process and disciplinary process. This year, I met more survivors than I wish I did, and I learned that it’s not just about sexual assault on campus,  it’s also about creating a safe environment for survivors who have experienced sexual assault before coming to college:  1 in 4 college women are survivors. Colleges should instruct professors who teach certain courses (e.g. law, history, etc) about adding trigger warnings for course readings or videos that feature sexual violence, adapting class discussions that could lead to triggers for survivors or making them optional, etc. Every student should feel safe in a classroom. Seriously, Title IX, get your act together.

These issues aren’t limited to my campus – unfortunately, they are all too common at colleges/universities across the US. I love my school, but part of college is growing up, questioning and becoming a little more jaded about injustices in the world. I’ve grown a lot this year. I’ve questioned a lot. And I’ve gotten a little more jaded.

A new chapter

UPCOMING ADVENTURES:
(I’m moving abroad and will not be in the US for at least 7 months, and maybe more. Crazy…)
-San Francisco, US for May-June: 

I’m interning in SoMa at Stackmob, an awesome mobile development platform that helps developers save time when developing (and you can never have too much time!). I always enjoy meeting up with interesting people, feel free to drop me a line!
-London, UK and around Europe in July:
I received a fellowship to study bargaining (game theory/industrial organization) at LSE. Afterward, I’ll be around Europe to learn more about startups there, to conduct some independent research, or to just travel. I’ll definitely be in Paris at some point and I’ll be ending in Barcelona, but everything else is still up in the air. If you’ll be in the area or if you know someone I should meet while I’m there, let me know! I’ll be blogging over at Bricole Mag, a publication I started dedicated to discussing issues of culture and identity abroad.
-Around China in August:
I have a fellowship and internship offer in Beijing, and friends to visit in Nanjing, Tianjin, Hangzhou, Suzhou and Guangzhou, but everything is still being sorted out. It all depends on whether I can/should get a tourist visa and then a work/student visa or just get a work/student visa and if my paperwork comes through before I leave the US.
-Beijing, China for September-January:
I’ll be direct enrolling at Tsinghua University (清华大学) and will be studying at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences. Unlike most programs, I won’t be near Americans or taking classes with Americans: I’ll be an international student, living with international students from East Asia, Southeast Asia, and Europe and taking classes with Chinese classmates. I’m also hoping to get involved with the tech scene in Beijing, please drop me a line if you know anyone! I’ll be blogging over at Bricole Mag, a publication I started dedicated to discussing issues of culture and identity abroad.
-Somewhere abroad for January-May:
I haven’t heard back/decided where yet, though. More on this later.

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