Making friends as a freshman at Northwestern is easy. You make friends with your orientation group (a handful of students who are also in your major), you bond with your floormates thanks to residence hall bonding activities, and you meet people with the same interests at the student activity fair, to name just a few opportunities. Or, if you’re two students who lived in 1835 Hinman, one of the residence halls on campus, you build a ball pit in your dorm room.
In 2012, two weeks into fall quarter, two freshmen had a still-undecorated dorm room, an interest in meeting as many of their fellow Northwestern students as possible, and a few hours to spare. Naturally, they ordered 2,500 plastic balls on Amazon.com, filled the room, and hung up a neon green “Open” sign in their window. What they got was a taste of campus celebrity status and a lot of new friends wading through their dorm room (and a vacuum… no shoes allowed in the dorm room ball pit, obviously). News of the dorm room experiment spread pretty quickly throughout campus — I was living in a residence hall across campus at the time and knew about the experiment the same day the ball pit went “live” — and the “ball pit kids” were heralded as adventurous free thinkers. A picture of the pit even had over one million views online and made it to the front page of Reddit.
The ball pit kids are perfect examples of the kind of creativity you find at Northwestern. Not everyone has to reinvent the wheel, but I think Northwestern students are particularly good at taking a traditional canvas or framework (like a typical dorm room) and turning it on its head. Our robotics team, for example, has one group of students work on a traditional functioning robot that can perform in competition, but two other groups get to pick a pet project at the beginning of the year and go to town working on it. This year they came up with a fully functioning robotic lacrosse goalie! So there you have it: More than one function for a robot, more than one way to make new friends.