Core at Mudd: The End

The end? Yes, the end (at least for me). With the conclusion of this semester, I have officially finished all of my Core requirements. Some sophomores aren’t quite done–the core engineering course can be delayed until junior fall and the physics lab can be taken sophomore fall or spring. But I am done! It’s a little weird, I must admit. Registering for classes a few weeks ago was super odd, and a little overwhelming given the new options. No more choosing electives to fit in-between Core classes–now I have to choose all the classes! Given that I’ve blogged about some of the different classes I’ve taken through my Core experience, I thought I’d write something about what its like to be done with it. Keep in mind that this was just my experience!

Malia in front of a Harvey Mudd College

Me on my first day at Mudd!

The first thing that comes to mind when I think about Core is my friends. (Insert joke about how the real Core was the friends we made along the way). I really do spend a lot of time studying with my friends and working through problem sets with them. Because we were all in Core, this was really easy. I could study with anyone! Going forward, it will be very different. For example, I’ve mostly studied with my frosh (Mudd freshman) roommates so far, which worked really well because we have different interests and could help each other out. Unfortunately, those different interests mean that we’re all looking at different majors and won’t have many classes together starting next semester. We can still study together, but I think all three of us will have to study with others as well. Core helps frosh make friends and study groups, and the reshuffling of those groups that will happen this next semester will be a very big change.

I think the second thing that comes to mind is the classes I really enjoyed. Taking CS 5 (the intro computer science course) is what introduced me to computer science, and several courses and a summer research project later I’m considering majoring in CS! I might not have taken it if Core didn’t require it. The physics classes (special relativity, mechanics, and electricity and magnetism), were fascinating and difficult and so interesting. The math classes told a story and fit together like puzzle pieces (sometimes very confusing pieces, but hey). The labs provided me my first chance to see what experimental science actually looks like. I inserted DNA into E. Coli to make it turn blue when it detected sodium, synthesized alum from scrap aluminum, and measured the wavelength of a laser in my bedroom!

A laser pointed at a wall that passes through a filter. On the wall, three red points are visible.

My experimental set-up for measuring the wavelength of a laser.

The third thing that comes to mind is the classes I didn’t necessarily like. I wasn’t a fan of biology in high school (I prefer my science not alive at all), and while I did not dislike the Core bio class Bio 52 I’m not sure I really liked it either (notably, my friends who are interested in biology had a very different experience). And even then, a class in Spring 2020 that covered epidemiology was surprisingly relevant to my immediate life experiences. I think the thing that I took away from all of my classes, especially those in areas I probably won’t take another class in, is different ways to approach a problem. Each class emphasized a new way to think about a problem. Whether I ever use the specific things I learned again, I think I am a better problem-solver, a better student, and a better learner because of the diversity of disciplines I was exposed to. I think, beyond anything else, that is the legacy of Core for me.

Of course, my Core experience was rather different than it has been for students before. Usually we’re not all at home alone, dealing with additional stress from a pandemic. At this point, I’ve spent as much time doing remote learning as I have actually at Mudd. That’s definitely not what I imagined college would be! I don’t know what going through Core completely at Mudd would be like. But I am deeply grateful for the professors who worked incredibly hard to move classes online and make it possible for this semester to happen at all. Overall, I did enjoy my Core experience, and I’m looking forward to moving on to more major specific classes!