Combining liberal arts with Engineering

Pyae Sone (Patrick) Aung

HOMETOWN: Yangon, Myanmar
MAJORS: Computer Engineering, Economics

Pyae Sone (Patrick) Aung

Though more than 8,000 miles away from his South Asian hometown, Patrick Aung didn’t take long to find his niche at Union. With a variety of interests ranging from haiku to robotics to soccer, he jumped into campus life. He loves the rigor of working on the Union Robotics Crew and also enjoys sharing some of his native traditions.

What made you choose Union?

I applied Early Decision 1 to Union because I believe in a liberal arts educational system. There are only a number of private liberal arts colleges in the U.S. that offer engineering programs, and Union is one of them. Union has all the qualities of my ideal college – liberal arts with engineering, innovation, and small city life with a global perspective.

How has Union encouraged you to pursue your interests?

Ours is a close-knit college that allows students to build meaningful relationships. The professors guide me along the process of exploring my interests and making sure I succeed. Alumni are also supportive of students. I talk to a number of recent graduates to seek technical and social advice.

What, in particular, has captured your imagination?

I am working in a team of four students to build an autonomous, maze-solving robot, also known as micromouse, not larger than 20 centimeters in length, width or height. Twice a year we represent the College’s Robotics Crew in IEEE micromouse competitions, one with Brown University and one regional. A micromouse is a self-contained robot that operates without remote control for the entire duration that it navigates the maze. There are a lot of strict design requirements. The ultimate goal is for the micromouse to travel to the center of the maze in the shortest possible time.

That sounds like fun.

It is – and it’s quite rigorous, too. There’s a lot of research, interdisciplinary design and implementation involved. My team must learn both the hardware and software makeup of the micromouse. Our design must consider aesthetics, ergonomics and innovation, and we have to learn maze-solving algorithms. We collaborate with other teams from the Union College Robotics Crew and submit abstracts for the Steinmetz Symposium, Union’s big research day.

What do you aspire to be or do one day, and how is Union helping you?

Coming from a developing country, I have always aspired to be a social entrepreneur in countries that lack direct access to modern technologies. Union is equipping me with critical technical engineering skills. I also broadened my knowledge of entrepreneurship through Union’s Silicon Valley Summer Internship in Innovation and Creativity. This program combines an internship with a course in culture and entrepreneurship. We did academic readings and field notes under Anthropology Professor George Gmelch. I worked at Santa Clara University, researching straw bale construction in California.

Can you describe one of your best college experiences so far, outside academics?

Organizing a trip to the Mayor’s Cup, the men’s ice hockey game between Union and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. I had never seen ice before I came to Union so I had no idea how big ice hockey is here.

Do you share your country's stories and traditions with others in the Union community?

Last year, I joined several friends in cooking traditional Burmese soup noodles during an international food festival hosted by World Around U. The classic Burmese symbol I introduce my friends is Pyit Taing Htaung, an oval-shaped traditional paper toy whose base is heavier than its upper body, so it always stands upright when thrown. Its attempt to stand again is so amusing for children that no Burmese children pass their childhoods without it. Pyit Taing Htaung is not merely a toy, however. It symbolizes struggle, determination, persistence and resilience, much like how a nation under dictatorship has struggled its way to become a transitioning country.

Icon of the Nott Memorial