Olivia Tsai

 Catching Opportunities in Track & School

January 17, 2005

Whether seizing the chance to develop a pedometer that may help combat obesity or sprinting to beat an opponent on the track team, ECE senior Olivia Tsai has learned to catch opportunities. She first came to Carnegie Mellon for a pre-college summer program and loved the campus. Last summer, as an intern in a research experience for undergraduates (REU) at the University of Pennsylvania, she worked on a microcontroller that allows researchers to monitor children's activity levels. Olivia herself is on the go now, preparing for the indoor season which officially starts this spring. Let's find out how this sprinter does it all:

Olivia Tsai

ECE Senior


Livingston, NJ.

Summer project:

The project was to make a pedometer for young children in order to keep track of their activity levels. The premise behind this project is the current obesity epidemic and the roots of such problems lie in a person's childhood. By being able to monitor activity levels and the forces of the foot, it is possible to analyze the data to extract valuable pieces of information using a microcontroller.

Biggest track wins and goals:

Just this past May at the outdoor track championships, I anchored the 4 x 400m relay team that broke the school record and took 3rd place at that particular meet. I am currently 2nd for the all-time performances in the 55m, the indoor 200m, and the 400m hurdles, and 3rd for the 100m, so getting the school records in any one of those would be a huge accomplishment for me.

Practice hours:

About 2 hours a day. The meets on the weekends take up most of the day.

Making time for sports:

It isn't as hard to incorporate into my schedule as I initially thought it would be. My brain needs a break after a long day of classes anyway, and that's just how I choose to take a break. Some people choose to participate in clubs or other organizations, but the physical exercise helps me to relax and relieve any stress I have. I have become so used to having practice at the same time every day since freshman year that it is no longer something that I have to balance, it is part of my routine. Eventually you learn to get things done earlier so that you are not put in the position of having to choose between classes and practices.

Track skills that translate to class:

Persistence to try and break a personal record is analogous to trying to attain a high grade. Working with other runners on a relay team can be beneficial when you have to work with other students in a lab setting. Basically all your experiences in sports can somehow be related to experiences in the classroom.

Favorite professors:

My favorite professor, hands down, is Professor James Hoburg. I learn really well from his straightforward, organized style of teaching. He plans out the entire semester and sticks to his plan. I have taken all of his courses since I have been here. He is one of the most knowledgeable professors I have ever met, yet when he does not know the answer on the spot, he is not afraid to admit it. It really gains students' trust, which I really respect. He prioritizes helping students during office hours, and even when I am so confused about a topic that I am not able to word my questions well, he is able to voice my concerns for me and answer them.

Professor Jim Bain is another professor for which I have a lot of respect. He is my undergrad mentor/advisor, and I have learned that his fresh perspectives are helpful when I have questions about engineering issues outside of the classroom. He is very involved with research which is a good characteristic to have in a mentor.

If you find a professor that you learn well from, take advantage of that.

Favorite ECE courses:

Engineering Electromagnetics, 18-303, taught by Jim Hoburg. Signals and Systems, 18-396, taught by Tsuhan Chen.

Final thoughts:

If you really want a sport to be part of your college experience, then go for it. There are so many athletes at Carnegie Mellon of all different backgrounds and majors, so obviously it is possible to handle both school as well as extracurriculars.

Being involved in a sport is a great way to get in shape and meet a lot of different people that you would not meet in your classes. It is not easy, but once you get used to it, it is a lot of fun. I have never regretted it.

Olivia starting the sprint.

Olivia at the track.