IU 2020 Series: Aidan Whelan

Aidan Whelan
Retrospection is a funny thing

When we think back on all of the events that shaped us into the people we are today, there are some experiences that we recognize as pivotal moments in our development. However, as hard as we might try, there are inevitably influential moments we’ve forgotten or misremember. In this regard, I feel incredibly fortunate to have been a part of the 2020 project during one of the most significant life experiences that is college.

Looking back at the amazing time capsule created by the brilliant multimedia team has allowed me to relive so many of the moments that have defined my college experience, and now, at the end of this great journey (don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten that freshman Aidan wrote the first blog as a fantasy adventure chronicle), I’m reminded of so many aspects of college life that I can now recognize as chief contributors to my overall experience at IU.

I was one of the first students to work with the 3-D printers in the Center For Research in Extreme Scale Technologies (CREST) back in 2017.
Some Call it Wisdom

We may be in the 200th year of IU, but with this bit of insight I’ve gathered, I hope to offer my thoughts to the class of 2021 and the many more that will follow them. Who knows? If this insight works for you, we may even be able to call it “wisdom”!

As a freshman, I was pretty overwhelmed with the university. I’d venture a guess and say that’s pretty universal. In a new place, surrounded by new people, beginning a new chapter, everyone is eager to find their place in this big machine we call college. I distinctly remember the dialogue I had with myself: “Give me a semester and I’ll have it all figured out.”

And freshman Aidan ended up feeling pretty content and comfortable after that semester. The college course load had become second-nature, I had developed a system for navigating campus, and I became friends with the cohort of students with whom I shared every academic moment as we undertook the rigorous engineering program. It seemed like we had our four years planned out, and we were on the railroad track for the long haul.

But as comfortable and settled as you may feel in that moment, I cannot express with more emphasis the importance of pursuing that niche interest that may not be directly concerned with your degree, but still hangs out in the back of your mind.

You may be at IU to pursue a major in a particular field, but the true beauty of a university like this is the opportunity to explore a breadth of interests and make for yourself a truly unique and personally satisfying experience. I’ve used this to my advantage on several occasions, and I’ve found those opportunities to be some of the most fulfilling.

ABF: always be fencing
In my very first semester, I diversified my STEM-intensive schedule with a weekly private guitar session (for credit!) at the Jacobs School of Music with Carlo Fierens. Having whet my appetite for variety, I would later study abroad on two occasions, studying architecture and politics in London and metropolitan spaces in Paris. Now, entering my final year, I’m supplementing my senior engineering courses with semi-weekly instruction in longsword fencing, a decision supported exclusively by the fact that I’m a massive fan of Game of Thrones. Take these opportunities to enrich your experiences and keep yourself excited to learn. I promise, you’ll never find a better time to explore these curiosities than in these four years, and they very well could reveal to you what you’re truly passionate about.
Representing IU across the pond!
Essential Takeaways

Another essential takeaway from your college experience will be the relationships you will have made, from close friends to infrequent acquaintances. Now, everyone has different approaches to making friends, so it isn’t my place to give tips on that front, but to the point of maintaining and strengthening relationships with your peers, the quality I’ve found the most lacking and consequently the one I’ve hoped to exhibit the most is being excited for the successes of others.

Find the people who you would like to see catch the next big fish, and who would hope to see the same for you. All too often I’ve been disheartened by competitiveness fragmenting relationships as part of this misconception that the success of one threatens the chance of success in the other. Instead, the most valuable position you can take is recognizing that kindness reciprocates, and the friends you keep are your most valuable resource.

In everything you do at IU, I encourage you to keep a set of goals in mind. That isn’t meant to sound like a cliche–instead, I recommend it as a tool. Keep your eyes on what it is you’re working towards, whether it’s long-term or short-term. These goals can change, of course, and it’s perfectly acceptable to have several. I have a goal to get a job building intelligent prosthetics just as I have a goal to read a book tonight. If your goals make a 180-degree turn in the middle of sophomore year, that’s completely fine. Your goal could be to actively explore different fields until you find your passion. The important part is to know in which direction to drive yourself. By maintaining that focus, you’ll find yourself becoming more confident, achieving more, and taking full advantage of all of the resources IU has to offer.

Being from a family of Monty Python fans, it’s a no-brainer that we would dress up for IU Auditorium’s tour of “Spamalot”.

Find what makes you happy—& let go of what doesn’t 

There will be lots of opportunities presented to you in your four years at IU.

They could be anything from getting involved in a student organization or club to signing on to a research team or a stage production–even something as simple as a class project or assignment. Every student has their own path, and with each comes its own unique set of opportunities, but the one common thread that I’d pass on to students is to accomplish each while keeping in mind the chance to turn them into new opportunities.

This is accomplished by chasing every task with dedication, a work ethic, and intention. The reward may not be obvious to you at the time, and there may be a time when you feel as though your work is for naught, but I can guarantee that consistent, reliable, and quality work will garner attention and respect. From research internships and project presentations to speaking engagements and leadership opportunities, I can attest to the fact that maintaining your commitment to honest work and responsibility are the greatest tools for positioning yourself to achieve the opportunities you want.

Tying all of these together, my greatest hope for all of the students after me is that you can use this time at IU to find who you are, to realize your identity.

These, among other things I’ve learned over my four years, have led me to strengthen my motivation for the things that make me a better, happier person, and to recognize and avoid the things that don’t. Finding out who we are takes time and practice, and it doesn’t end when you graduate, but with such a breadth of opportunities at your fingertips, it’s in these four years that you can make the most progress. Take a chance on the things you’ve always wanted to try. Recognize the value in your relationships and be genuinely happy for others in their successes. Make yourself dedicated, intentional, reliable, and indispensable. Your time at IU will be a journey of figuring out who you want to be by the end, and I hope you’ll be able to use these insights to get there, just as I did.

Thanks so much for your interest in our 2020 adventure! It’s been a privilege to share our stories, and I look forward to the ones to come from the classes that follow!

Aidan Whelan head shot
Aidan Whelan

Aidan is a senior studying intelligent systems engineering in the School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering. He’s one of 12 Indiana University students featured in the IU 2020 Series, a four-year documentary film produced by student interns in the Office of the Provost for the IU Bicentennial.

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