Monday, June 30, 2008

My First Class Is Over

I so got an A. I’m not going to say it was a snap, an easy A, but I earned one nonetheless because I worked diligently, paid attention to the details of my drawings and did most all of the extra credit.

It was a good learning experience for me—a nice first class—but the most important thing I learned during the three months is patience. Usually, I like to rush through a project just to get it done, as I am very impatient when it comes to the completion of a task; however, with mechanical drawing, if you rush it, you’ll make mistakes, as there are not only measurements and calculations you have to do to draw a successful design, but since it is a mechanical drawing (as opposed to a computer-aided drawing), I had to worry about pencil size, lead width (0.3, 0.5, 0.7, or 0.9mm leads, which all have individual purposes), line thickness and format, not to mention a proper interpretation of the assignment. You have to plan ahead to make sure the drawing looks good on the page, centered, aligned, properly dimensioned, and that the views used to interpret the drawing are the correct ones to use.

We had about 25 assignments to do, including a paper, 10 quizzes, five extra credit drawings, a written final, a final drawing and a group project.

By the end of it, I was pretty tired of going to class at night. I have a fairly nifty drafting table setup here at home and I could easily do all of my drawings and assignments outside of class, so actually attending class was something of a bother, unless there was a quiz or preparation for the dreaded group project.

And the whole semester came down to that, the group project that we had to present in front of the class on the last day of the course. Now, most of the kids in class had never been to college before, and since this is an entry-level course, it was a lot of their first classes. Needless to say, there was a hefty dose of high school mentality handed around by most of them…and believe me, it showed.

For starters, group projects suck. If you have four people in your group, the workload will invariably break down as follows: Person One will do 60 percent of the work; Persons Two and Three will do 19 percent of the work each; while Person Four will do two percent, which usually amounts to scribbling your name on the report seconds before it should be handed in.

A lot of the kids in the class work during the day, which is why they are taking a night class, but as one of the oldest people in the class (actually, I found out, I was the third oldest), I probably hold down the most career-like job. Therefore, I was the one that took on the group project in the same manner I would take on any job that I was getting paid for: The more anyone in the group does, the less everyone in the group has to do. That might seem contradictory, but it isn’t. If everyone does a little bit more, the project gets done quicker and it looks that much better.

The project itself was exceedingly simple. The professor divided the class in half, an engineering group and an architecture group, giving each of the groups a single assignment, and since my ultimate goal in this whole endeavor is to come out the other side with an architecture degree, I chose the architecture group, naturally. The engineering group had to design a gutter, sewer, urban rainwater runoff treatment plant, while we had to design a Japanese teahouse and 2.5-acre garden surrounding it. A snap.

Because of a meeting of the historical society I am Vice President of, I missed the initial brainstorming of our group…and you’d think that I would have missed a great deal, as the purpose of that meeting was to come up with ideas, divide up the duties and assign the designs of all of the main structures of the teahouse and the garden. Of course, you’d think that’s how it would have gone, but when I returned to class that Wednesday, nothing had been done.

Needless to say, I took charge from the guy they had given the reins to and started doling out the assignments. I treated it like a business, made everyone report to me via email on their progress (back in my day we had to use the phone, but as an English major, I had very few group projects, thankfully) and I didn’t just stand back and look wishy-washy when decisions had to be made. I spoke up.

When responding to a choice of assignments, most everyone in the group said, “I don’t care. Whichever one you want me to do. I don’t mind.” You’d think that would come across as indifference, but it’s not. It’s indecision, indecisiveness, the wavering uncertainty of youth… a lack of confidence. Screw all of that. I’m not going to sit around and have my grade affected by a bunch of 18-year-olds who can’t make up their mind.

I doled out the assignments and kept on them over the course of the two weeks we had to do the project. Of course, given my personality traits that I’d rather do something myself than allow someone else to mess it up (it exemplifies my lack of confidence in most people, so be flattered when I allow you to do something, as it means that I trust that you can do it), I volunteered to put together the final 40-page written report, the 60-frame PowerPoint presentation that we used to present our design, do the main overall layout of the garden (it’s pictured above) as well as design the main gate to the garden (I even did a scale model of the gate too).

Why so much? Again, the PowerPoint presentation, the report and the main layout were the focal points of the presentation, and I wanted them to be their best. I didn’t know these kids or what they were capable of; I had seen some of their drawings in class and I wasn’t too impressed, plus, I figured that most of them would wait until the last minute to do it… and that’s not what my second go around at an education is all about. I am in it for the A, and I wasn’t going to lay that in the hands of kids who couldn’t care less about passing or failing.

Of course, there were a couple of outstanding designs, and I’m not going to say that I was the best draftsman in the room (because I wasn’t), but I held my own with scores of nines and 10s on the assignments (with one eight).

But there is always those ones that don’t want to do anything…remember the percentages? There were eight people in our group. Me and another guy did a lot of the work. I took care of all that I mentioned above and he single-handedly designed the entire teahouse itself. Four other people did exactly what they were supposed to do, no more an no less, while the last two did virtually nothing. One was even Japanese for God’s sake. He could have helped with the pronunciation of some of the words, but he didn’t.

In order to put together the report and the PowerPoint, I needed each person to write a couple of pages about their design, what inspired them to choose the materials, the look, the features, etc., as well as provide me with scans of their drawings to include in the PowerPoint. Each person was going to present his/her drawing with the PowerPoint and basically explain in detail the reasons behind making their structure look as it did.

For me, it was real simple. In fact, I cut out a bunch of stuff. Like I said, the final report was 40 pages long, but I received a total of six of those pages from the other seven members of my group. The other 34 pages came from me. The two that did nothing the whole time, of course, didn’t write anything.

One of the slackers didn’t show up for class for most of the two weeks we worked on the group project. I saw her once or twice, and I didn’t even know her name or if she was still enrolled in the class or not, and because of that, I gave her the least crucial portion of the project: to design the waterfall (which has a host of traditional meanings in a Japanese garden). I figured if she didn’t do it, we could get away without having to discuss it in our presentation.

The class before the last day, she handed me her drawing… and I couldn’t tell what it was. I mean, she was assigned the waterfall, but what she handed me looked more like the designs for the small intestines. “I did it really fast this afternoon,” she told me quickly. It was crinkled like she kept it in her pocket all day, and she had written a bunch of phone numbers on the back…it’s vellum, you can see right through it. In short, it made no sense, it didn’t follow the theme of the garden and it wasn’t Japanese in the slightest. Oh well, I put it in, because that’s all I could do. I was going to put on my career hat, play the managing editor and tell her to do it again, but if that’s the level she wants to work at, I’m not getting paid to stop her.

It must have been difficult to live with me for the five days or so before the presentation, and I owe a lot to Kara and the kids for staying out of my hair during that time. It seems that, if I wasn’t sleeping, I was in my office, writing a report, drawing the garden’s overall design, designing the main gate, working on the scale model or piecing together the PowerPoint… not to mention my regular day job!

I wasn’t surprised that, on the day of the presentation, the girl didn’t show up. I hadn’t received any copies of the other guy’s drawings or his section for the report, and I hadn’t even heard from the girl. Class started at 6pm and she wasn’t there. I went through the PowerPoint with the rest of the group, so everyone knew what frames they had to work with and what they needed to talk about… and she hadn’t yet arrived to class. Our presentation was first, but we didn’t start until after 7pm, and as I was introducing the group—just after I explained that we were missing the girl, she strolls into class and joins us up front.

Of course, I did the lion’s share of the speaking, talking about the history of Tea in China, how it migrated to Japan, the very involved and ritualistic tea ceremony, the difference between gardens in Japan and the west, namely the U.S. and finally the main gate to the garden. Everyone else followed. While this was happening, I told the slacker girl the order of the presentations… and she told me that she didn’t know what to talk about. I said, “talk about the waterfall, you know, your drawing.” “What should I say?” So I gave her a few suggestions based on what I had read and researched about Japanese gardens and what had soaked through about waterfalls (excuse the pun), and she started to write it down! Verbatim. She had me say a few things a couple of times so she could transcribe them, and I found it very sad that she didn’t know how to spell “environment,” “verify” and another obvious word I can’t rightly recall. Granted, I’ll be the first to admit that I spell restaurant wrong every time I try and February always throws me for a loop, but how did she graduate high school if she can’t BS her way through a two-minute spiel about a simple three-tier waterfall?

She stood there and read from the scrap of paper on which she had scribbled my suggestions. When she was done reading it, she stepped down, never once mentioning her drawing or anything remotely close to what she had attempted to design.

Sometimes I weep for the future… but one thing really pissed me off at the end of it all. We had finished our presentation, a few of the students and the professor asked a couple of questions (which nobody could sling the answers but me…like “Why did the Japanese place such importance on their gardens and teahouses?”) and we were all stepping down off of the riser to return to our seats. I had the report in my hand and I was going to drop it off at the desk the professor was sitting at. The slacker girl and I were walking down the aisle together and she said, “Oh, is that the report?” taking it from me to give it a quick thumb through. Then she said, “I’ll give it to him,” and without so much as a pause she quickly scooted over to his desk and turned in the report.

One she had nothing to do with. Now, I don’t want to sound like George from “Seinfeld,” but I didn’t like her getting credit for anything to do with the report. By the very fact that her name was on it and the evidence that she was the one that handed it to her, she received the ultimate credit for doing the most work on the report. The professor has no idea who wrote the 36 other pages, and since her name is nowhere to be found aside from the cover, he probably assumed she did it all.

I was going to say something after class, but I figured it was a waste of time. My A was nailed down, and if it helps that girl get a slightly better grade (I don’t see how she could possibly have passed), then so what. It was my inadvertent good deed for the day.

I just hope she learned a lesson.

One funny thing happened right after class (funny to me anyway, as it well illustrates the age difference I experienced between myself and the rest of the class). In our group was this one young couple, boyfriend/girlfriend, who were so joined at the hip that she shared one desk for most of the class. Jennifer and Johnny (he didn’t answer to John… just Johnny! As in, “I did it for Johnny!”). They’re both blond and disgustingly cute together, one of those couples that look like brother and sister until you see them kiss and you get that little bit of vomit rise up in the back of your throat, making you think their actually from West Virginia until you find out they’re not actually related. Anyway, we were standing around saying good bye, and I thanked the two of them for all their work on the group project. Jennifer said, “No, we should thank you, as you did most of the work.” Then she added in a squeaky Valley Girl-esque tone. “You're so awesome!” I think if she had to have spelled that out, it would have been Ur soooo awesome! As if I was a bouncer and just allowed them to come into a really trendy club or if I let the Hollister store stay open five more minutes so she could get a new cell phone cozy. Apparently awesome is a high form of praise to the Y-generation, especially since a host of other words may very well have sufficed.

Well, I thought it was funny. And on that note, my first class ended. Afterwards, as if we were the city champs in youth soccer, we had a pizza party at the local pizza place just off campus.

I think I was the only one there that was old enough to buy myself a beer.

Ah, kids.

1 comment:

Yard Sale Princess said...

Ryan, as I read this post my skin was crawling. My skin didn't even crawl with your fly post! I cannot imagine being emerged into the assinine attitude of the youth and not having my brains turn to jelly. It brought back horrible memories of my credential classes at CSUF. I don't think that I could tolerate going through that again. You must be very dedicated to your goals. I give you a pat on the back for dealing with the little mites! Good job on finishing your class with an A!


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