Alumni and the Core

Responses from the HMC Core Survey

The July 2017 Core Survey, a collaborative effort of the Alumni Association Board of Governors, Faculty Executive Committee, President’s Cabinet and Core Review Planning Team (CRPT), was sent to all e-mailable alumni. Many respondents replied to the essay questions with long, passionate and thoughtful responses. In total, alumni wrote more than 200,000 words. Quotes from these responses have been featured in presentations at faculty, community, trustee and AABOG meetings during the fall semester.

It’s impossible to do justice to these alumni responses in the space available here. Nevertheless, we wanted to share a few quotes. This online version features more responses than we could fit in the printed magazine. Thank you to all alumni who shared their opinions.

“The HMC technical core was the single most crucial aspect of my development at Mudd, and after 20 years in a variety of academic and research environments, my breadth across technical disciplines is easily the most distinguishing feature of what I bring to the table versus peers from other institutions.” – 1995 graduate

“The point of the Core is to learn a little bit about everything, so when you reach difficult problems in your chosen field you have a larger toolkit to tackle them.” –2014

“The Core makes you an asset to your research team or your Company because you will be able to creatively solve problems by borrowing tools and concepts from other fields.” –2006

“Mudd has, in effect, been that personal trainer that demands that we do one more set, lift one more weight, do one more sprint. It has traditionally pushed students beyond our comfort zone, and in that quest to meet high expectations we have discovered just how much we are capable of. It is through being constantly uncomfortable that Mudders become exceptional.” –1983

“My years at Harvey Mudd were life-changing and defining. I made lifelong connections, and learned a lot, not least of which was my limits, and how to handle failure, defeat and frustration, and how to work individually and collaboratively.” –1977

“I think what I disliked most about Core was the sense that if you ever fell behind, you were almost doomed in some sense because it was impossible to catch back up … And because Core was always going at this break-neck pace, with so much content crammed in, I felt like I never really deeply understood or retained a lot of the concepts. I was putting everything I had into just scraping by.” –2016

“[The Core] set me up well for industry where I often face basically impossible deadlines but manage to finish enough content, well enough and on time, that I still succeed.” –2013

“While at HMC, I was simply unwilling to give up other parts of my life—being a part of the queer community, playing sports and music—and focus singularly on academics. But I wasn’t able to do well while doing this … The curriculum at HMC essentially says to students ‘if you have other cares, I will punish you.’ … The overall workload is too much.” –2007

“I got exactly what I wanted out of Mudd’s Core. I was pushed to my limit. I was struggling to keep up in some classes. I hardly did anything but work. It was exhausting. I wouldn’t change it. I would much rather have the things I learned during Core than any extracurricular activity.” –2013

“People should go to Mudd not because it will be easy, but because it will be hard. You will have to work the hardest you ever have. And as a result, you will get the best STEM education possible. You will learn more than you had imagined you could.” –2005

“I know for many of my classmates the workload exacerbated a variety of mental health issues, and I think finding ways to address that is important.” –2007

“[Mudd is] like Navy SEAL boot camp—I’ve never worked harder than I did at Mudd (including graduate school, getting tenure, etc). I was miserable (at times) while at Mudd, but I also learned a lot about myself in the process … Mudd was hard, extremely challenging, and stressful, but if I had to do it again, I definitely would.” –1994

“[The Core] gives you the shared foundation that all Mudders have—it’s like the forge you go through that both makes you stronger and binds you together.” –1999

“I found the Core extremely challenging, primarily because many of my peers had previous exposure (better high schools, additional pre-HMC education) to the material. By about 2nd semester sophomore year, the material was new for all of us and my (relative) performance improved.” –1994

“[D]epending on the preparation that the incoming students have, participation in extracurricular activities will certainly be easier for some than for others.” –1969

“[O]ne of the most valuable lessons from HMC was how to prioritize and manage time. If the Core is set so that the majority of students have overhead for a number of extracurriculars, the outstanding students will be far less likely to learn about time management.” –1996

“If even the top students don’t have time for extracurriculars, then the workload is too high. Obviously that hasn’t happened yet, because ASHMC still exists, dorm sports still exist, parties are still thrown, etc.” –2013

“Having had to work harder than anyone else did as a student has made me bulletproof in my professional life, and supremely confident that I can still make time for personal passions, even when life is busy.” –1994

“I did always feel overwhelmed, stressed out and sleep-deprived and did not feel that there was anytime to do anything else (even shower) … Looking back, though, I’m glad that I finished. I talk about HMC all the time.” –1998

“I certainly found time at Harvey Mudd for other activities once I learned how to do my work efficiently. I stopped procrastination and started asking professors and TAs for help – before the last minute. This allowed me to complete my assignments more efficiently and have free time … I played sports, joined 5C organizations, worked off campus and still got my work done and performed well.” –1994

“When I went through Core (I am in the graduating class of 2016) the Core went too deep and shattered all of my self confidence. There were too many times when I thought I would never graduate. It was harder at the beginning, when everyone put on a face and so I assumed everyone else was doing better than me. It wasn’t until Core ended for my classmates and I that we could open up and talk about how hard it was. I really appreciated the breadth of Core … The breadth was right, but the depth went too far.” –2016

“Work hard, play hard … [One of the founding professors] told my entering class that we would have more work than we could finish, and we would have to learn to prioritize and decide what to not do. That is an incredibly valuable lesson in life, and a skill I still work on.”  –1989

“[W]ithout a difficult, rigorous, time-consuming set of classes, one’s time-management skills will never be tested or improved. However, instead of letting skills like time and stress management be implicitly learned, perhaps it’s best to teach them explicitly in some context? Certainly I am far worse at stress management than I should be, and it would have been nice to have learned some techniques to deal with it.” –2014

“Passion makes time for itself. Ask anyone with a girl/boyfriend. No matter how much time is given, it will always seem like there is never enough. The frosh always feels like they have no time for any extra-curricular activity. Yet the seniors’ workload is usually greater, but by that time, they have learned how to manage that work better. I remember how crushing that workload was. But I also remember how much time I had to ‘fritter away’. It took time to learn how to better manage it, and to develop confidence in my own abilities.” –1983

“My own experience was that the workload was so high (late 90’s alum, FYI) that I had insufficient time to really understand a lot of the material in a way that was satisfactory to me or to reflect on what I learned. Even in my own major, CS 60 was really beyond me due to time constraints (I got a B but felt very unsure about my understanding). Now I’m a full professor of computer science and direct a research center, so it’s not like I wasn’t a smart and capable person. There was just too much going on that second semester. I began to feel that STEM was about pain and struggle, not exciting ideas or achieving mastery with different skills. So some reduction in the workload seems appropriate to me.” –1999

“The Core in my time (I graduated in ’06) was a firehose, in every class, as if each professor was afraid that this was the last moment I’d ever learn anything about Biology, or Chemistry, or whatever. (To be fair: they may have been right.) More time to breathe intellectually would have helped.” –2006

“The biggest thing I learned was that I could sit down and work through a problem that initially I had no idea how to solve.” –1987

“In my graduate school experience, it became very clear that I had much more experience outside my major than my classmates, even as someone who sometime struggled with the Core. I think this breadth is more important to making Mudders stand out among our peers, even at the expense of some depth.” –2009

“It’s important that the workload be relatively balanced across the Core so that there isn’t a time arms race among the faculty.” –2009

“[The Core] was a great experience and very helpful in my career. Learning how to learn, cross disciplinary boundaries and work with a team were key. After majoring in chemistry I worked in collaborative efforts in physics, materials science and engineering. These interactions led to me being elected to the National Academy of Engineering.” –1968

Visit the CRPT website at to find the available quantitative results from the alumni survey.