Submitted by Austin C. Wells
What it really boils down to is that Ways of Knowing is not a class about building this amazing autonomous robot that works %100 percent of the time. That’s (almost) impossible, and that’s the point. This class is about doing something much more important than that. For many people, it’s the first time they will be given a problem where the solution can’t be found on the internet. You can’t just type “How to Build an Autonomous Water Testing and Remediation Robot” on YouTube and get a step by step video explanation. The result of that is phenomenal. When things go wrong you simply can’t deal with it on your own, you need a team.
You need people who will stay up with you until five in the morning the night before competition while you build a new turbidity sensor because (for the third time) your sensor burned out. Not only that, but you learn to do the same. You realize when there is nothing you can help build, you have the opportunity to do something better. You have to opportunity to be there for your team. The mechanical engineer learns to stay with the computer scientist as he programs through the night in case a wheel falls off and needs to be replaced. The computer scientist learns how to be there for the electrical engineer as he spends hours wiring circuitry just in case a wire needs to be held while it’s soldered. The electrical engineer learns to be there for the civil engineer as the chassis of the robot falls apart and he realizes the pieces needed to put it back together are in another building. You learn how to support each other, and how to not give up when everything, and I mean everything, goes dead wrong.
With that comes the second important lesson of Ways of Knowing: the realization that with a project as difficult as this, no one has all of the answers, including the professors. But as that realization occurs another one happens simultaneously. You realize that even when you don’t know how to fix something, if you are given a group of Professors and TA’s that adequately care and you have enough spare parts, any problem can be solved. Nothing is more encouraging than when professors are willing to stay after hours or meet on the weekends to help figure out why your robot won’t run. When a professor will come in at 5:30 in the morning with donuts and coffee for the kids who have stayed up all night working on robots it becomes obvious that the professors at SMU genuinely care about you. That these are people you can approach, have a conversation with, and learn from without being viewed as a first-year undergrad that can’t even get their robot to move forward.
Ways of Knowing is an experience. It is something that can’t be explained in a few lines, because it’s the little victories and defeats throughout the semester that make the class so amazing. It’s the feeling you get when your sensors work for the first time, blow up the next day, and is rebuilt even better the day after. It’s the little spark inside of you that lets you say, “We did that, we didn’t give up, and we made it work”.