One of the great things about Pitt Honors students is their natural curiosity. Almost everyone I’ve met through the UHC is interested in a multitude of subjects, but it makes picking a major difficult. Most people I know picked up a minor or second major, and some changed their major entirely!
I was just as indecisive. I’m currently studying electrical engineering, but during my senior year of high school, I planned on applying to Dietrich as a neuroscience major–I knew I was interested in the brain and I could use a neuroscience degree to help people. I was about to submit my application but on a whim, I decided to apply as an engineering student instead. Why not? I loved the physics class I was taking, and I figured I could always switch back to neuroscience.
During my first semester at Pitt, I kept the thought in the back of my mind; I still felt like I hadn’t gotten enough exposure to engineering to make a decision. However, I took Honors Engineering Analysis and Computing, which consolidates a two-semester course into just one, so I finished the freshman engineering curriculum early and had extra room in my schedule. I decided to try out some electrical engineering classes because I loved learning electricity and magnetism in Physics 2, and my dad is an electrical engineer so I sometimes helped him in his workshop. I took a linear circuits lab, and I knew that electrical engineering was right for me! I find the problem solving in electrical engineering more satisfying, and I can still find a career that will make a positive difference in the world. Neuroscience still interests me though, so I decided to pursue it as a minor. The two make for a difficult course load, but there is so much interdisciplinary work between electrical engineering and neuroscience (especially advancements in artificial intelligence), so it’s really interesting learning about both!
The other Honors course I took was Art of Making, a hands-on design class offered through the engineering school. This was one of the electives offered in place of the second semester of Engineering Analysis and Computing. Every week we had workshops to teach us how to use various tools, ranging from basic hand tools to microcontrollers. We also had a capstone project so we worked on user outreach, prototyping, and testing. When COVID-19 hit, we didn’t have access to all the resources we had at Pitt, but we were mailed everything we needed for our projects and a toolbox with calipers, a soldering iron, a multimeter, and other useful gadgets. Using all the skills we had learned, we also got to help redesign the course for remote learning. I learned a lot of useful skills that I use in personal projects, and the strategies we learned for designing a product and working with teams have been invaluable for group projects. I also have a lot of experiences to talk about during internship and co-op interviews and can highlight a lot of unique skills that few engineering students have this early in their academic career.
The Honors classes also gave me a great network. They are much smaller, so everyone got to know each other a lot better than in my other classes. We did miss out on some experiences that the rest of the engineering freshman shared like the Freshman Conference, but I think it was absolutely worth it because we got a challenging, enriching class to replace it. I also gained a lot more freedom with my class schedule since the Honors courses helped me finish the prerequisites for most engineering classes early. The engineering curriculum is usually very intense, but I now have some flexibility to take interesting courses just for fun!