The University of UtahRedthread Home

Returning to School (Reflection on an Origin)

In yet another plane.

My voyage to Antarctica is underway, and at the moment I am a man in flight.  For weeks the ice sheet has been the sole occupant of my thoughts, but at the moment thoughts of Antarctica are melting away.  The idea that I really will arrive in such a remote place seems both foreign and surreal.  Our night flight creeps forward, notwithstanding.  It only seems as though a few moments have passed, but we have started our final descent.  Time may be linear, but its perception most certainly is not.

In yet another plane.

Nothing to do but fly.

Another layover and another flight.  It feels strange to have no required tasks for our trip, except to sit here and fly.  Although very busy, this semester has been an incredibly positive experience for me.  I don’t know why I waited so long to go back to school.  I had always planned on returning, but I had trouble justifying the expense.  I could picture myself in school, but I couldn’t ever figure out what classes to take.  If I had started school I would have been a student without a major, a state that is for some reason taboo.  After several years of contemplating a return, I had a frightening realization that if I didn’t go back to school soon, it was possible that I wouldn’t ever.  Since I always had planned on college, I went ahead and enrolled, not knowing what my major would be.

It seems silly now that I worried so much over choosing a major.  Since I entered school without really knowing a major (but declaring Computer Science, because they force you to choose one,) I didn’t have a set agenda for which classes to take.  It turns out that this was the best thing for my future.  Without a set program, I just chose classes that sounded interesting, and a few required Gen. Ed. classes.  I took a math class, and rekindled an old enjoyment I had for mathematics.  Since I enjoyed the math class, I took another, and another.

At this point, I knew that I wanted to do math for the rest of my life, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a math major.  All I could picture was the stereo-typical math geek, alone with a board of equations.  I decided that I needed to find a major that was math-heavy, but would still allow me to actually do some hands-on work.  This is how I came to the determination that I should try engineering.  I had heard that electrical engineering is the most mathematically intensive, which coupled with the fact that I knew very little about electricity ultimately drove me towards my calling.  The fact that I didn’t end up a math major is actually pretty funny now, especially considering the head of our Antarctic Expedition (Dr. Ken Golden,) is a math professor.  I hadn’t realized that there are math professors that do such hands-on research.  It is probably a good thing I didn’t meet Dr. Golden sooner, or I may never have discovered the joys of engineering, and certainly wouldn’t be on a flight to Antarctica right now.

I understand that traveling to Antarctica is not necessarily a part of the normal student experience, and I was shocked that such an opportunity would be available to an undergraduate.  Although thrilled that I am a part of this project, this was not the only project I considered.  I did meet briefly with a senior project group working to design a wireless vital-sign monitoring system for astronauts.  I also nearly joined a group that is currently designing rocket control systems.  I am really fortunate that I ended up studying engineering at a university that does research, particularly since this was not a criterion in my choice of college.  Let this be a lesson for the kiddies out there!  Choose a university that does research.  They have, by far, the coolest projects.

I can’t see anything out my window but blackness, as we are over the ocean and it is night.  Time is still crawling, but with every moment I know I am getting closer and closer to our exciting destination.  I wonder what our perception of time will be during our training in New Zealand.  Will it creep, like now, or will I blink and wonder where it went?  There certainly is a lot of unknown awaiting us.  Either way, Antarctica: here I come!