What it’s like to study engineering remotely

By Wiwin Hartini

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been taking my engineering courses remotely these past six weeks. There are definitely advantages and disadvantages to studying engineering remotely. This is my last year studying electrical engineering at Portland State University. I was a transfer student from Clark College in Vancouver, WA, and my time at PSU was enriched by hands-on experiences.

Electrical engineering has branches, and I’m focusing on power engineering, or how engineers generate, transmit, and distribute electricity to households and other entities. It would be hard for power engineering students to do labs at home. I miss the hands-on experiences in the power lab, where students have access to different types of motors and generators, transformers, power supplies, relays, and other types of equipment that must stay in the lab for safety purposes. 

AlthoughI’m missing the hands-on experience, the main path to learning is, fortunately, still available. I can still ask questions of instructors who are also working in the industry, and I can still use free software for simulations and course materials.

In my electronics class, my professor conducts experiments at his home-lab, and students focus on conducting simulations and comparing results with his measurements, which has been very useful in filling the gap. 

Many engineering courses also rely on simulations that can be done remotely. So spending more time on simulations allows me to learn more about the software. 

The circuit built on LTSpice to run a simulation

My typical day studying engineering remotely involves spending hours in front of my laptop, which I think most of us are doing now. On the other hand, I am excited to learn more about what students are capable of doing while working or studying from home. Maybe there is a potential for hybrid engineering courses in the future, where students can take the courses online and attend labs in person. 

I would say that I’ve gained some extra time during this quarantine which I can use to focus on studying, reading, and other activities that I would not be able to do if this term was in-person. My peers and I used to joke about the fact that engineering students rarely get enough sleep. I’d say it’s true for most of my terms in the past, but this term, I have been able to get enough sleep, work part-time, and go to school remotely.

Tips for fasting in the US While Going to College

By Wiwin Hartini

Adjust your schedule 

person writing on a book

I made a mistake on my first time fasting here by keeping my regular schedule on top of fasting. This didn’t turn out well because I didn’t get enough sleep, and I would be very sleepy during  school. So I have  adjusted my sleeping schedule to accommodate for the early breakfast at 4 a.m. Sometimes I would stay up from 4 a.m. to 10 a.m. and do my classwork. Then, I’d take a nap. Making sure that you have enough sleep is critical to perform in school while fasting.

 Prep your food in the evening

selective focus photography of green and orange vegetables on black container

I  prep my breakfast in the evening, so when I get up in the morning, I don’t have to cook. This helps if you choose to go back to sleep, which I sometimes do. I get up at 4 a.m. and go back to bed an hour or two later. – I like this schedule because it allows me to engage with those who are not fasting and have a regular schedule.

Avoid flipping your day to your night

man sitting on surface

Doing work after breaking your fast until you have breakfast again is definitely doable. But from my personal experience, this can be unhealthy mentally because most activities are happening during the day. Still, if one is sleeping during the day and up at night, it can be challenging to keep in touch with people and feel energized during the day. But if this works best for you, that’s perfect.

Eat simple, nutritious food 

bowl of bread and vegetables

I learned from the past fasting experiences that I cannot eat a lot. Making sure that I’m eating the food that my body needs is  essential. I tend to focus on hydration more than food, so I  have juice, milk, tea, or water in the morning with my food. I ask myself if I have protein, carb, and vitamins in my meal. Eating enough healthy food is better than eating a lot of unhealthy snacks. 

Schedule your naps

I don’t usually take naps in the afternoon. I take an early one around 10 a.m. so I can wake up at 1 p.m. or 2 p.m. if I don’t go to bed right away after breakfast. This is helpful if you have your classes during the day.

Call your family and friends 

black and silver laptop computer on brown wooden table

I do this either during the early breakfast or during iftar (breaking the fasting). It’s helpful to keep the Ramadan spirit around you when fasting in the U.S. 

Those are a few tips that I hope will  be useful.  Happy fasting! 

Study anytime, 24/7 on Campus

By Wiwin Hartini

When school starts, everyone gets busy working on assignments. It’s week 5 already and we’re getting closer to midterms. I’m nervous just to think about that because I know assignments are due soon and exams are coming up. Stress level is increasing while time is still constant. This is when I try to break down every task into a smaller task and focus on finishing it rather than to sit down for hours trying to finish one assignment all at once. 

A study place becomes critical because there is always that “one place” where I can be more productive without a lot of distractions. It’s tricky to find a comfortable place to study because I do need that “studying atmosphere”. And each individual definitely has different preferences.

What’s nice about PSU is that I can study pretty much in almost all buildings 24/7 with the card access on our IDs. I found this very helpful because I like to stay late and I enjoy doing homework when people are sleeping. For example, I can actually go to the Power Lab in the engineering building and use it anytime, 24/7. I’ve seen other students utilize the facility around 3-4 AM which impresses me because as a student, I like to be surrounded by other motivated students.

I think it’s a luxury and asset for students to have access to campus facilities 24/7. The library opens until 12 AM on weekdays too. I’ve used the study rooms in the library and KMC to prep for presentations. I’d say that it’s fun to explore other buildings to find study spots because it’s easy to just spend the whole quarter in one or two buildings where our classes are thus missing out on other things provided by PSU.

Making international friends at PSU

By Wiwin Hartini

When I came to the United States in 2016  for college, I thought I’d be making friends with Americans and be able to speak English on a daily basis like what I’ve seen in the movies when I grew up. Although that part is true, living here has broadened my perspective about international boundaries. I’ve never met as many international students as I’ve met at PSU. And the opportunity to study here opened another opportunity to make new friends with students from other countries. 

I think I’ve met and worked with students from Venezuela, Germany, Vietnam, China, Nigeria, Congo, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Japan, and other countries. I did not expect this before I came here. It’s easy to take it for granted and not think about it until I realized how rare it was to meet a person from another country when I was attending schools in Indonesia. 

Recently, I joined a program at PSU called ICSP (International Cultural Service Program) where selected international students are given scholarships and opportunities to share their cultures to requestors (educational institutions, organizations, groups, etc). The program also offers training to develop the students’ skills. It has allowed me to meet with students from 16 countries and learn about their cultures. I would have never thought that I would be learning about Vietnamese New Year’s tradition or learning about stereotypes about Ukraine. 

As people are more globally connected through the internet, I think understanding other cultures is more important than ever. The application can be as simple as working for a company that would transfer you to Japan to work, for example. Having exposure to Japanese culture from a student while going to school can be a valuable experience in the long run. Working with people from different backgrounds can enrich the way we think and the way we can solve problems. 

Looking for an internship is daunting, but why not make it fun?

By Wiwin Hartini

It scares me to think about the fact that I only have a few terms left at PSU until I graduate. My mind keeps reminding me of how critical it is to lay out my plans A, B, E, etc. I remember looking for an internship last year and applying for 20-something opportunities online. It was not surprising not hearing back from 90% of them. I ended up with one internship at the end. The feeling of being rejected is never fun,  but I thought, why not make the whole process fun and adventurous? Why not change my perspective on job/internship hunting?

I then started doing my homework by having a conversation with a career advisor and learned that the process of finding an internship is a two-way process: Students are looking for opportunities and companies are looking for talents. The tricky part is to find the match. This totally changed my perspective on the process.

Instead of applying to every opportunity I see online, I started focusing on the companies and their values instead, asking myself  questions; 

“Which companies would I want to work for, for a long period of time?” 

“Which companies whose values match mine?”

“Which companies make me excited?”

I understand that as a student graduating from college, sometimes all we want is that first job that at least can provide some cash to get by. But I also realize how important it is to be excited and passionate about what we do to accomplish great things.

Now, I prioritize the companies values and culture, so during my interviews, I used the opportunity to also interview the interviewers and ask myself if I want to be like them in the next few years. I recently submitted eight applications and was interviewed by three companies and offered two internship opportunities. It is still scary for me, but I also gained valuable experiences by going through the process. At the end of the day, it costs students time and effort into applying and cost companies money to find the right candidate. So, why not make it more enjoyable? 

One thing to keep in mind is that I’m not an expert on this matter, but I would love to share how changing my perspective about job hunting has helped me during the process. And as long as we don’t give up, we’ll get somewhere. 

“How to make good friends in school 101”

By Wiwin Hartini

I transferred from Clark College last year, and my first term at PSU was overwhelming. I was still adjusting to the longer commute, and my classes were more difficult. Making friends posed the biggest challenge.

Coming from a society where most of your peers are your age has a disadvantage. I did not know how to interact with people from more diverse backgrounds such as returning students who also work. I did not know how to make friends. I was too shy to start conversations with people, and I decided to just go home after my classes. I really want to share how it all started to change.

I learned to make good friends on campus by being involved, working on campus, participating in clubs, creating a study group, and volunteering. I started working on campus as a tutor during my second term at PSU, and it has allowed me to grow as a student. I learn from the students I meet and my coworkers as well. I worked for PSU Capital Projects & Construction as student support. It taught me about the history of each building at PSU, which I always enjoy sharing with my friends when I am giving them a tour.

One way to find “study buddies” is to actually start sitting down with different groups of students who are working on homework. I did not do this until I started taking power engineering classes where labs are part of the class. I had to talk with my peers and started getting to know their studying styles. Now, I usually study in the power engineering lab with my friends. 

When it comes to volunteering, there are many organizations or events that are always in need of volunteers. I volunteered once at a different university for the MESA event to help an Intel employee who was giving a presentation about the supply chain. From this event, I got to know the presenter a little bit, and we are actually working on inviting him to PSU to give a presentation to PSU students. Volunteering not only allowed me to meet other people but also to learn from their experiences.

I would also say that students should have the ability to make their college experience fun in their own way. It’s beneficial to define and write down what one wants out of college. I love studying the technical knowledge related to Electrical Engineering, but I thought something was missing; non-technical skills. I wanted to be more involved, and joining student organizations has worked very well. ICSP (International Cultural Service Program) has allowed me to make new friends from other countries. IEEE Eta Kappa Nu allowed me to learn about organizing events in addition to attending a Student Leadership Conference on the East coast.

Which club will you join? 

Fasting, going to school, working, and enjoying it all

By Wiwin Hartini

It’s 3:30 a.m. and my alarm just went off. With my sleepy self, I try to gather all of my energy to eat suhoor (early breakfast). As Muslims, we fast for 30 days from sunrise to sunset during Ramadhan, the holiest month in the Islamic calendar. I normally have avocados with an omelet or toast and drink four glasses of water. It’s also important to be ready mentally because fasting is not just about not eating and drinking during the day, it’s about self-control.

After I finish my early breakfast, I normally stay up and start working on my homework before going to school. Coming from a country where the daylight is constant throughout the year, fasting in the U.S. in the spring is a new experience for me. It’s 16 hours of fasting: from 4 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. And it’s fasting by myself instead of with family.

At first, I thought it would be hard psychologically because it’s such a big celebration back in my home country but not as big in the U.S. Instead it has taught me to be more mindful about what I do, how I treat people, how I control my thoughts and emotions. It’s become a month of self-introspection.

There are many students at PSU who are fasting and going to school. For me, it’s never been this easy nor this hard before. Working 13 hours a week and going to school full time and commuting 3 hours every day keeps me very busy. As a slow eater, sometimes I’m grateful that I now have extra time to focus on things other than eating.

Two weeks have gone by, and believe me, it’s not always perfect. The reality is, I don’t always get up for the early breakfast even though I’d love to. I realized that I had to make a decision about whether to sleep or eat. And I chose to balance my schedule without breaking the main goal of fasting. I normally get home around 6:30 p.m. and take a nap to recharge. So, when I get to break my fast at 8:30 p.m., I can stay up until about 1 a.m. working on my schoolwork while snacking and hydrating.

What I learned is that fasting is not an excuse to do less, it’s a mental practice. When you have the mindset that you can handle challenges with a positive attitude, you’d be surprised by how much energy you have, even though you have to skip your favorite tacos.

Think engineering students are smart, awkward nerds? Think again

By Wiwin Hartini

I still remember my first day at PSU as an electrical engineering transfer student from Clark Community College. I was excited and shocked. I was used to classes of about 20 and suddenly there were 100 students. I remember asking myself, “am I ready for this?” or “Is this how the program was set up?”

The truth is, as you take higher level courses, the class size gets smaller. But I didn’t think about that at the time. Also, as I have taken more engineering classes, I have learned more than just the subject. I’ve learned some “realities” of studying engineering. Here are a few:

You are more than smart.

Stop by PSU engineering building in the evening—7-8 p.m. is okay during weeks 8-10 of the term—and don’t be surprised to find a lot of other students. I’ve heard that some students stay overnight since most labs are available 24/7! And don’t worry, some of the food carts across from the engineering building are open in the evening, and if you need parts for your projects, there are vending machines! The point is, engineering students work very hard. It’s not just about being smart. It’s more about persistence.

Can you fix this?

I’d say that what we learn in an undergraduate engineering program is actually the fundamentals of applied physics. I took Electronics II, where we learned how to design a simple mini operational amplifier. We touch on many fields such as power, computers, signal processing, microelectronics, etc. It’s hard to be good at all of them, but engineering focuses on problem-solving methods. So, yes! Given reasonable time and resources, we can fix things.

Do we lack social and communication skills?

It’s a typical stereotype to say that engineers do not know how to start a conversation and prefer to work alone. I’ve learned that engineering requires a lot of “teamwork.” Can one person build a bridge? I spend my days in the basement of the Engineering Building working with students from many other countries, including U.S. students who’ve had work experience. We’ve had to learn to understand different perspectives and communicate creatively to get our projects done.

Homesick? Here’s what I do

By Wiwin Hartini

It’s almost been three years since the last time I saw my family at home in Indonesia. I often think that it’s not that long ago until I suddenly miss home badly. I miss speaking my native language, eating cheap local food, being with my family and friends and enjoying the tropical weather.

It feels funny and lonely sometimes when the people around you speak a totally different language, have hair and skin that are different from yours and find things humorous that  I need to think about sometimes. Is this real? All I want at that time is to be home watching my family’s favorite movie chosen by my younger brothers. It’s good to feel this way to some extent because it makes me appreciate the time I get to spend with people here in the U.S., which will not be forever.

Recognizing this feeling is also hard when you’re trying to look like you’re fine all the time. But I think it is important to be aware of it because it can happen to anyone at any time.

Here are a  few things that I found work for me when I feel like I just want to go back home.

Get busy with activities you enjoy

Getting involved in clubs, organizations or working on campus can shift our thoughts. Working on campus has been a good tool for me because I have to think about getting my work done and learn new job skills.

Try those food carts around PSU

I would say this is my favorite activity when I am thinking about food at home. At least, I get to try different types of food at the carts across Fourth Avenue from the Engineering building. My favorite is Pho, and yes, the first time I tried it was actually in the U.S.

Less social media

It gets frustrating sometimes when you look at your friends’ social media and they seem so happy without you, isn’t it? Well, I’m happy when they’re happy, but I feel like I’m missing something. This feeling can trigger homesickness too. So, use social media wisely; such as actually to communicate instead of looking at people’s posts only.

The U.S. is big, travel if you can!

It doesn’t have to be expensive; small trips with friends can be fun. The idea is to create activities we can look forward to. My friend from China and I are planning to visit San Francisco this spring break. The fun part so far is trying to figure out the places that are worth visiting.

Remember the reason we’re here

Why am I here? Answering this question helps me during difficult times.

There are more to share, but I hope whoever is experiencing homesickness doesn’t feel alone anymore.

Midterm pressure? Use the 5-minute rule

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is wiwin.png

By Wiwin Hartini

I just realized it’s week five already and midterms are coming up and lab reports are due the same week. It seems as if a 24-hour day is not enough.

I used to panic more as midterms got closer even though I tried not to. I felt as if everything was coming at me all at once, and I didn’t know what exactly I was worrying about.

It was last quarter when I learned to change my perspective from the professor who taught my Microprocessor class. It was the most difficult class I had ever taken. I worried all the time, wondering if I could understand the class or not and if I would have to retake it.

Apparently, I was not the only student who felt that way. One day, the professor told a story about his grandchild who would panic every time she was assigned homework. To solve this problem, he told her that she could panic or freak out, but only for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, she had to face her homework and start doing the problems she recognized.

He introduced this rule to the students who were taking his class. It even came up as a question on our finals. There was a day in the lab when I heard my classmates remind each other about this rule because a project was taking a long long time. We had to remember to focus on doing what we recognized.  

The rule now applies to almost everything I do. I can really see the difference between what I was like a year ago in dealing with exams, and what I do now when faced with challenges.

Also, If I want to do something fun before a midterm, I know that PSU offers an event called “Midterm stress relief,” where students can try Thai massage, eat food, and play with Corgis for free. It’s Feb. 6 and next term it is May 1.

[link: https://www.facebook.com/pg/PortlandStateU/events/?ref=page_internal%5D