March 15, 2011

What a week

The last 7-10 days have been an incredibly busy, but wonderfully exciting time for me. I’ve been across 3 US states, traveled well over a thousand miles and met lots of interesting and fun new people.

It all began on Saturday the 5th, when Lafayette hosted the first ever TEDxLaf conference — it’s a independently organized TED event that was designed to bring together an array of amazing speakers to give 20-minute talks on things as diverse as art, music, technology and sustainability. The event was completely organized by students and I was lucky enough to be asked to be a speaker. I decided to speak on the use of technology in education, focusing on how fast technology is moving and how we can adapt our way of thinking and teaching to make the most of it. All the talks were recorded and I expect they will be online soon.

Though talking was an amazing experience and a great opportunity, perhaps as important was how the TEDx conference introduced me to many other wonderful people doing wonderful things. Some of the other speakers were students and professors here at Lafayette and though I knew them before, I got to see a whole new side of their life and work. I found a new form of respect and admiration for my peers and mentors. Others were people from Easton and around the Lehigh Valley who are doing amazing things for their community. I had no idea that Lafayette was in the middle of such a diverse group of wonderful people doing amazing stuff. Among them were Troy Reynard, owner of the Cosmic Cup Coffee (where I’m writing this from) and Kathleen Nasti, a choreographer putting together an innovative new dance production that’s going to be free to the public. I feel truly honored and humble to be included among all these wonderful people.

Saturday was an exhilarating but exhausting day. It was also just the beginning. The next day I got on a bus and 5 hours later found myself in Ithaca, NY in the middle of one of the worst snowstorms of the year. I was visiting Cornell University and once again I got to meet lots of great people.

In many ways Cornell is quite similar to Lafayette — an excellent educational institute situated in a small, but interesting town. Much to my delight it was also packed with lots of fun and friendly people. From the graduate students who picked me up from the bus terminal and showed me around to the professors who took time out of their busy schedules to answer any and all questions we had, I saw the same sort of genuine interest I’ve become used to at Lafayette. Cornell promises to be a great place to live and work for the next few years (snow and ice not withstanding). Cornell also seems to enjoy giving fully funded PhD offers to Lafayette graduates. I know at least three alumni who are currently graduate students (at three different departments) and I’m sure there are even more if I cared to look closer. Admittedly three out of a few thousand isn’t a statistically significant number, but a good thing is a good thing.

After being thoroughly impressed by Cornell I got on another bus back to Lafayette on Tuesday. On Wednesday morning I took my midterm for my Communication Networks and that afternoon I was on a flight to Dallas, Texas for the 2011 SIGCSE Conference (Special Interest Group on Computer Science Education). So for the third time in a week I was getting a chance to travel and meet awesome people.

My roommate was from Arizona State University and was working on autonomous robotics for his senior project (sponsored by Intel no less). I also met other students who had worked on image recognition, educational games and computational biology. I got a chance to present my work on computational art that had been my Excel Research for the past few years at Lafayette. Being my first proper computer science conference it was a great opportunity to meet people and get a first-hand look at cutting edge research. Though Lafayette is a great place, it can be a bit hard to meet people outside the “Lafayette bubble” and going to great conferences makes up for that. Though I’ve only spent a few days with other students at the conferences I feel like these friendships and contacts will last for much longer.

And yesterday I got back to Lafayette at 2 in the morning. After about a week away, it’s good to be back. I know it’s Spring Break and I’m supposed to be partying in Florida, but after a week of exciting, amazing experiences I’d rather just breathe. So here I am, writing this blog post, cleaning up my room and doing a good amount of thinking and reflection. The rest of the week will be equal amounts working on my thesis, catching up on reading and filling out reimbursement forms. And on Monday I shall resume life as just another college student (after not sitting in a class for well over two weeks).

posted in Shrutarshi Basu

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