Every spring, in mid-April, Carnegie Mellon celebrates the tradition of Spring Carnival, a weekend of events that highlight student organizations, alumni connections, and the CMU community. The Cut, the colloquial name for the lawn that runs between academic buildings, is peppered with carnival rides, games, food stands, and tents where alumni reunions and student performances take place. The week rounds out with a large concert on Saturday evening.
Spring Carnival has happened in some capacity for more than 100 years at CMU’s Pittsburgh campus, with the oldest tradition being Buggy, an engineering and racing competition that runs its course from the bottom of Tech Street, around Flagstaff Hill, and back up Frew Street. Another popular attraction are Booths. Student organizations plan these one- or two-story buildings (or doghouses for canine guests) over fall semester and then construct and decorate them during Build Week, the week preceding Spring Carnival. The Mobot Races also draw a crowd to watch mobile robots navigate a specially designed course along a sidewalk outside of Wean Hall.
Many aspects of Spring Carnival are overseen and coordinated by a student organization called Spring Carnival Committee (SCC), a group of students who manage the logistics, finances, and website. One group within SCC is the lifeblood of it all: the Electrical Subcommittee. Every activity and attraction listed above requires electrical power, and most of them take place outside. So the challenge of providing power to everything during the weekend is given to a dedicated group that is overseen by three students.
This year, the Electrical Subcommittee had a head chair and two assistant chairs, all of whom are College of Engineering students. Alex Strasser is a senior wrapping up his undergraduate degree in electrical and computer engineering (ECE) and robotics who serves as the head of the subcommittee. The co-assistant heads are Iris Dong, also a senior completing a bachelor’s degree in ECE, and Ken Huang, a junior studying civil and environmental engineering (CEE).
The Electrical Subcommittee works with a wide array of groups around campus to make sure that everyone has the power they need during Spring Carnival: staff who put on alumni events and manage facilities, students who run Buggy, Booth, and the Saturday concert, and even outside vendors who bring the rides, games, and food stands.
“I interacted with so many aspects of CMU and organizations,” said Huang. “It’s a really great committee to be in just because you learn so much from those interactions and the connections you make. Those interactions are so valuable.”
For Booth in particular, the builders not only need power for things like saws and drills during construction, but as sources of light and power for electronic games within the Booths while they are being toured by guests. The Booths are real buildings, so their electrical layouts must be up to the National Electrical Code used for all structures in the United States. This code is hundreds of pages long, so part of the Electrical Subcommittee’s job is to break down the requirements to basics, teach them to the students actually doing the construction, train them with hands-on activities, and double-check their work when it comes time to approve the Booths.
“Last year we were definitely just kind of tossed in the deep end, and then we figured it out,” said Dong. “I’ve been carrying that knowledge this year. I think that’s the best way to learn; just to do it.”
Strasser, Dong, and Huang were all members of the Electrical Subcommittee last year in 2022, where they gained hands-on knowledge from their first in-person Carnival. The weekend celebration took a hiatus from its traditional form in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID-19. While there were digital reunions in 2020 and limited outdoor activities for students in 2021, it wasn’t until 2022 that the tradition started back up in a more full-fledged capacity. While the return to a fully in-person Carnival was exciting, it also presented challenges for students who had lost a lot of institutional knowledge. In 2022, Strasser, Dong, and Huang were teaching other students about Booth despite never having built one or even seen one in person themselves.
It was so much fun seeing and being able to just help these Booth organizations build and seeing the CMU community come together in a way that I had never really seen before.Alex Strasser, Head of the Electrical Subcommittee 2023, Electrical and Computer Engineering
The students in the SCC bridged the gap of institutional knowledge by consulting alumni who had worked with SCC as undergraduates. A few alumni who assisted were Perry Naseck (BESA Art/ECE’22) who had co-chaired the Electrical Subcommittee with Strasser in 2022, as well as Alex Gotsis (ECE’19, ’20) and Dillon Lareau (ECE’16, ’17). They were able to come back to volunteer with current students or talk to them virtually to get them up to speed.
The SCC is officially advised by Colleen Eagan, a coordinator in the Student Leadership, Involvement, and Civic Engagement office (SLICE). Other staff members who have seen their fair share of Carnivals also helped this year, such as Andrew Greenwald, previous SLICE coordinator, currently working in the Office of First-Year Orientation and Family Engagement; and Meg Richards, a senior systems software engineer with the Eberly Center who has been with CMU as a student and then staff member since 2003.
“It was so much fun seeing and being able to just help these Booth organizations build and seeing the CMU community come together in a way that I had never really seen before,” said Strasser.