For as long as I can remember, I’ve found pleasure in making things. Things that moved, things that flashed, things that buzzed, things that whirred all have excited me to no end. I remember one of my first “inventions” was a handheld fan powered by an old electric toothbrush motor and a 9v battery. At the time, I did not understand the interworkings of the motor I was using, nor the chemistry of the battery, nor even how the shape of the propeller allowed it to move air. I did, however, understand what each piece did, and I found great pleasure in putting the pieces together to make something new. As I moved from grade school to junior high to high school, my knowledge of how things work grew, and with it grew my desire to make more things. When learning about kinematics in physics, my friend and I decided to build small coilguns using the circuits of discarded disposable cameras to see if the equations of motion worked out. Along the way, I unintentionally learned a lot about electricity and magnetism, RC circuits, and what a high voltage discharge across skin can feel like. Projects like this led me to be one of the founding members and vice president of my high school’s engineering club. I recognized that I not only did enjoyed making devices and contraptions, but I absorbed knowledge much more readily when I could use it to make something physical. For this reason, my choice to attend Olin College was a no-brainer. Olin’s focus on project-based learning and application driven education resonated with what I enjoyed, how I knew I absorbed information, and how I liked to apply myself. Through the whirlwind that has been my time at Olin, I have had the pleasure of taking part in many experiences that speak to the five curricular components of the Grand Challenge Scholars Program: a Grand Challenge Project, an Interdisciplinary Experience, an Entrepreneurial Experience, Global Awareness, and Service Learning. In this portfolio, I will be focusing a handful of projects and experiences that highlight these components of the program.
People are more likely to improve themselves, their communities and the world if the change is simpler, more desirable, cheaper and easier than the current option, and the activation energy to switch is low. We are creatures of habit. Society has inertia. Changing the world requires changing people’s minds and altering their behaviours. My conscience compels me to try to improve my environment. Over time, I have developed my philosophy for enacting change, and refined my approach. In each of the experiences I will describe below, I identified a behaviour in my peers worth adjusting, created a desirable and simple solution to alter their actions, and gave them the tools to enact change. The scope of these experiences may not be global, but in each, my actions attempted to cause people to improve themselves as individuals, ameliorate their community or have a lesser impact on the environment. Through these, I learned how to lay the foundation for a real behavioural change in my peers, I learned how to lay the foundation for real behavioural change in my peers. This mentality scales up for Grand Challenges. The Grand Challenges cannot be resolved with technology alone, or solely through social pressures, or by simply passing a bill. They cannot be solved by throwing money at them, nor by holding hands and wishing they would go away. Grand Challenges demand all of these things together -- and more: an interconnected ecosystem of scientific innovation, an enlightened social paradigm that welcomes the change, strong political will, ample economic resources and yes, a dash of optimism. With all these elements acting in concert, we can change our behaviours in meaningful ways and be able to achieve great things.