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Oliver Barron: Engineer and Musician

Recently, Her Campus had the opportunity to sit down with Oliver Barron to discuss his perspective on double majoring between schools at the University of Michigan. Oliver is from Ann Arbor, MI and is currently a freshman at U of M.

HerCampus: Oliver, what is your major/intended major, exactly?

Oliver Barron: I’m doing trumpet performance and mechanical engineering.

HC: How did you decide on that path?

OB: Well, my dad is a mechanical engineer, and I always loved to tinker with things when I was younger. In high school I did a lot of STEM classes, but I also did a lot of music and I really like playing the trumpet.

HC: How do you manage the intensity of the workload with both majors?

OB: Yeah, it is really busy. I just have to stay extremely organized. The music classes take up a lot of time in-class but do not really have much out-of class work. I split my time between music and engineering, so I do not take too many of either. In terms of academics, I find the music courses to be easier than those for engineering. The workload is manageable, I just have to be very organized.

HC: Would you say it ever gets overwhelming?

OB: It’s a lot of work, regardless of preparation. I don’t get overwhelmed too easily, but when I am really busy I’ll just calmly realize that I’ll be staying up until 3 AM to finish the work that needs to be done. I don’t personally freak out, but I would understand if other people do. It can be overwhelming, I guess, but you just gotta keep going.

HC: What does a normal day look like for you?

OB: I usually have an engineering class in the morning, so Calc or Engineering at 8. Then I’ll head over to the music building for the rest of the day. My schedule typically runs from 8 until around 4:30, with an hour break somewhere in the middle for lunch.

HC: What would you say led you to your music career from the beginning?

OB: My mom was a music teacher, so I started playing the piano when I was pretty young. My older brother and sister actually started playing the trumpet in fifth grade and I was like, ‘Cool, I want to do that. I want to be better than them.’ I guess it was a sibling rivalry thing, but it stuck and I really started to enjoy it.

HC: Do you perform very often?

OB: Yes, I probably have a concert a little under once a month. Right now, I’m in one of the bands and one of the orchestras. And I’d say both of them put on a concert at least every six weeks. So, for me, around one every three weeks or so.

HC: When is your next concert?

OB: I have a concert next week for orchestra, playing Tchaikovsky Number 5 on Wednesday the 15th. At this time of the year, they take the top players from the symphony orchestra and they do the opera and so the rest of the musicians in the symphony orchestra and most of the musicians in the philharmonic orchestra combine to make one large orchestra. This is the combined orchestras concert. The other pieces we are performing are Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony and Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony. It’s at 8pm in Hill Auditorium and it’s free to the public.

            * You can find more about the concert here.

HC: Would you say that music helps you at all with engineering or vice versa? Or are there any other benefits to doing two majors at the same time?

OB: I would say both. The technical aspects of engineering help me stay very focused and very organized and examine details very closely. And music is something that I can put a lot of passion into and allows me an outlet, so I don’t end up tearing my hair out. I think pursuing both makes you a more well-rounded person. Some of my older friends who are engineers can get very, very, very engineering focused and sometimes the music relaxes you up a bit. I find that it makes conversation easier, which is better in the workplace and for collaboration on projects. So, it makes you a more personable, well-rounded person. 

HC: What would you say your biggest accomplishments in your fields have been so far?

OB: In music, I performed a trumpet concerto with my high school. That was a lot of fun, I really enjoyed the experience. And with engineering, let’s see. In high school I did a science project about converting waste heat energy from candles into electrical energy, in order to power additional lights. So, I took a candle and, using a thermopile*, I measured the heat and I hooked that up to an LED. Then, measuring the wattage output from the LED, the LED was so much brighter than the candle; however, it was using the excess energy to make more light than the candle produced originally. I thought that was really cool. I went to the Michigan Science Fair for that.

*a thermopile is a device that converts thermal energy into electrical energy

HC:  Do you have friends who are not double majoring?

OB: Yes, I have a lot of friends in music. Like, the trumpets studio and some of the brass players and such – it’s a pretty close knit group. It’s really nice. And engineering, we’re good friends within our labs. And I’ve got some friends from high school, but one thing I would say is that they probably don’t have the same experiences as me in regard to the business of my schedule. Scheduling group work is really hard since, typically I cannot meet when they can meet. So you have to allot time for that as well. It’s also hard to make professors’ office hours. You have to make sure you don’t get lost in the system; you want to make sure that your professors know who you are. Most professors are very accommodating if you reach out to them. They usually are willing to help. But you have to take that step to reach out.

HC: Do you still have time to hang out with friends?

OB: I still have time, but I always have to be proactive in my work to do so.

HC: Is there anything else you want to say?

OB: If you want to do both, it is really important to always be proactive and plan ahead and do work and be practicing. So, making the schedules fit is really hard. It’s a big puzzle. I think, what people might end up doing is prioritizing one over the other, sacrificing one for the other. In order to make sure this does not happen you have to be super proactive to do work to make sure you don’t fall behind and end up in a situation in which one might have to be prioritized. There’s no days off, because eventually there’s going to be a week where I have a lot of music stuff going on and then suddenly there’s a lot of engineering stuff going on. And if you haven’t scheduled out in advance to get everything accomplished, it’s a really rough week. It’s kinda like going upstream: it’s always a battle, and if you stop, then you are just going to be dragged down. 

Alice is a freshman studying Biopsychology, Cognition, and Neuroscience at the University of Michigan. She is originally from Boston, MA and is excited to be exploring Ann Arbor. If you want to know more about Alice, follow her on Instagram @aligal98 !
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