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Stay Cool, Bra.

January 22, 2012

Joe Dawson ’12

Three days ago I was in a meeting with the cooler committee, talking about new directions for the cooler design. Before I lead you astray here, let's be clear: this is a group of people convening to design a thermoelectrically powered vaccine cooler/carrier. This is not a committee of people who are cooler. This group of people is, in fact, pretty ill-qualified to make up such a group. My advisor's name is Prof. Jacobson and he calls himself Dr. J, so he's the big exception to that. He wears colorful button-ups and drives around in a silver Mazda coupe, and if there was a Cooler Committee for geriatrics in the world, he would head it until he died.

The yellow M&M character, wearing sunglasses and sticking his thumb up. He has shoes and gloves but no limbs.
The first picture that comes up when you do a Google image search for 'Cool.' This guy's doing okay, but no knees? I believe it was my man Snoop Dogg, the arbiter of cool, who said "You're suspected, unless those feet and legs are connected." I'm pretty sure that quote's accurate.

I had a few ideas I had hoped to get across about the efficiency of our design at our meeting, and I started with analogies to cars and air conditioning systems, talking about taking our ideas to extremes, and proceeded to make drawings on the board that were intelligible to only me. I doubled back on old points, went on to new ideas that I forgot I had, glossed eyes in the room in record time. I knew that I was in a room of bright, capable people, but I was just losing them. I wondered if my ideas were too weird, my communication was bad, or maybe I was just a different kind of thinker than these people. I wondered how I would fare in a room full of engineers.

So that was a little frustrating, although I think when the dust settled I got at least one of my ideas across ("We need to be cooler! Look to Gaga!). In contrast, the day after the meeting I had something of an epiphany. I've made a decision I'm happy with and even though it may not be a big milestone decision, it feels so definite and real that I'm quite satisfied with it. After waffling and wailing about decisions for grad school, whether to go to UNC or NCSU, what particular flavor of engineering to do (they make you choose one out of like twenty kinds of engineering for grad school, how lame is that?), I'm happy that I've found what I want to do.

LL Cool Jay, shirtless, wearing a crown.
Ouch. Classic 'cool' blunders. Trying so hard with that name, "Cool J," pinkie ring, weird chest hair, muscles (ugh!). Only thing this wannabe's doing right is that sweet crown.

I had tentatively settled on Biomedical Engineering for my post-graduate studies. Two days ago I was looking through online information about degree programs at NC State. I discovered sadly that I was already a month late on the deadline for the joint UNC-NC State Biomedical Engineering program (or eleven months early!). If I still wanted to apply for an engineering program at NC State it would have to be in another field. I had only recently decided I wanted to do Biomedical Engineering, so it was pretty easy to let it go. I went on to look at other departments. I cruised on over to the Biological/Agricultural Engineering site, where I saw a number of things that intrigued me dealing with environmental restitution and other topics, and then went to the Mechanical/Aerospace engineering site. I was on the 'Undergrad Requirements' section and saw that students studying Aerospace Engineering are required to design a flying machine that mimics animal flight as an undergrad project, which sounds pretty awesome. The graduate research section showed students working on 'eco-cars' and rocket frames, beating pig hearts and remote airplanes.

Snoopy and Woodstock in their Joe Cool sweaters and sunglasses.
'Nuff said. Two really cool words side by side, "Cool," and "Joe". Also, he keeps a canary with him to detect carbon monoxide leaks. The bird dies and Joe strolls out of the mine, cool as hell.

It was at this moment that my decision was made. I just thought, over and over again "I want to do that. That right there. That's what I want to do" I craned my neck closer to the computer screen to see exactly how they had designed the car, what shape they had used to make sure the car was aerodynamic. I've had to make tough choices before, but it felt like this one just came up and made itself. I wondered how I hadn't known this all along, how I didn't know I wanted to be an engineer since I was in elementary school. At that time my dad would take me to open houses at the Engineering school in my hometown, and I marveled at the solar car they had on display, built bridges out of toothpicks and marshmallows, and tried to hold textbooks a foot off the ground using only paper. I was over the freaking moon. Back then it didn't matter. You didn't have to play it cool for the ladies, didn't have to tell yourself to take deep breaths when the Book Fair rolled into the gym. Before the 'cool train' rolled into town (Springsteen plays softly in the background: "Pass you by, glory days...").

I know that this isn't how it usually works. I figured my decision would be the labored, iffy kind of one I was going through a week ago. I was prepared for it, ready to make a decision when I wasn't sure about the outcome, maybe one of my first adult-like decisions like that, like a decision about where to live after you graduate from college or to switch careers. This one, it turns out, is nothing like that. Shucks.

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