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Engineering—right major for a jack of all trades

By Sherri Kimmel


With Professor of Studio Art Syd Carpenter (left), Bastian discusses tea bowls and a serving bowl before he starts the firing and glazing processes.

Before arriving at Swarthmore four years ago, Andreas Bastian ’12 had his hands—literally—in a variety of disciplines: from drawing, to construction, metallurgy, and blacksmithing. He even applied his creative-thinking skills to food prep.

“I’ve always been interested in making things from scratch,” Bastian says. “I understand something better and can appreciate it more if I understand the process by which it was made. You’ve seen how this approach manifested in my 3-D printer project, but in high school, I applied this approach to the humble sandwich—part of a larger trend at the time of learning more about cooking.”

“I grew the tomatoes and basil, made the mozzarella from milk from a local farm, and baked my own bread,” he explains. “At the time I regretted not growing the wheat for the flour, but the sandwich turned out just fine without this step.”

With all of these eclectic interests, it could have been difficult to find the proper place to prosper after graduating from high school in Charlottesville, Va. “Swarthmore was the first time I found a place that really clicked,” he says. “It was the right place for me to experience new things.”

And engineering was just the right major. “I walk out of class with a glow of amazement at a concept I’ve just learned,” Bastian says. “I have incredible classes with very interesting people who have very diverse ways of thinking. I was conscious even freshman year that I was changing and achieving personal intellectual growth here.”

His favorite course has been Linear Physical Systems Analysis, taught by Eric Cheever, professor of engineering. “It covers this incredibly powerful mathematical system,” says Bastian. “We analyzed thermal, electrical, hydraulic, and mechanical systems and learned tools to allow us to interact with the mathematical relationships underlying everything. It was difficult but rewarding—even though sometimes I had to spend 16 to 18 hours on a take-home exam,” he says with a wry smile.

Bastian’s adviser, Assistant Professor of Engineering Matt Zucker, explains that Swarthmore is one of only nine liberal-arts colleges with a dedicated engineering program. “It’s a general engineering major,” he says. “We produce generalists who are good all-around problem solvers.”

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