campus encounters

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Olin College of Engineering

Olin College of Engineering (visited 4/14/14)

Collaborative lab space with stickies as students work through problems

Collaborative lab space with stickies as students work through problems

“Olin in a nutshell: students take ideas, develop them, share them, and improve the community.” Group work is highly valued here, and all students complete a minimum of 10 major group projects tackling real-life problems. It’s a creative, collaborative place. “You can learn anywhere, but if you want to be in control of that learning, come here! You can go into Boston, India, wherever and put things into place.” Twenty percent of students study away at some point. There are Direct Exchanges in South Korea, Belgium Germany, France, Thailand, Chile, and across the US.

The academic complex

The academic complex

The university was chartered in 1997 by the Olin Foundation (which has built landmark buildings on 74 campuses across the country) after a study came out that said that engineers were not being educated in a way to be competitive in the work-place. The first 30 students, dubbed the “Olin Partners,” came in 2001 and graduated in 2006 when the school also became accredited. Now with a full-time enrollment of 350 students (with a gender balanced student population!), Olin has redefined engineering as a profession of innovation with an education based on 1) a curriculum that emphasizes teamwork, project-based learning, practical skills, business knowledge, and a multidisciplinary approach to engineering; 2) developing leadership and communication skills; 3) emphasis on undergraduate teaching and learning in a small supportive community. They offer majors in Mechanical, Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Engineering with concentrations in Bioengineering, Design, Systems, Computing, Materials Science, and a self-designed option.

Student projects

Student projects

Olin has been ranked #2 for “Students who Study the Most” and #11 for “Best Quality of Life” – a good combo! Students are doing what they love. Students can complete research and self-study topics that interest them. One of the tour guides is working in a group to develop a Rubiks cube that solves itself. “It’s completely ridiculous and probably impossible, but we’re doing it anyways because it’s awesome!” The Robotics team is creating an underwater robot that mimics the tuna. They also have a Robotic Sailing Team. “The Hopper” is one class project in which students have to design a plastic toy that hops – and kids judge the results.

SCOPE (Senior Capstone, Program in Engineering) put teams of 4 or 5 students to work on a project for a company like Bose, DePuy Mitek, Facebook, Intuit, Harley-Davidson, Trip Advisor, Raytheon, HP, IBM, Boeing, AGCO, or Army Research Lab. They have to figure out what the problem is, how to fix it, and implement the solution. Projects could be anything from designing a lighter airplane seat or a better vending machine for Pepsi to figuring out how to use the revving on motorcycles for better power.

Students must take a year of Calc and a year of Physics before coming to Olin. They do not take any AP, IB, or transfer credits. Olin has a unique and rigorous program; because of that, the first year is graded on a Pass/No Record system; starting sophomore year, they get traditional grades. “Sometimes that first C is hard to swallow,” said the rep. The lack of grades in the first year gives students a cushion to adjust to the Olin way and to take some risks. They graduate 96% in 4 years and 99% in 6 years.

The 2 dorm buildings

The 2 dorm buildings

Accepted students have a 2190 median SAT or 34 median ACT. Applicants attend a Candidates’ Weekend if they want to come to Olin. Group exercises and individual interviews are evaluated – everything else is for fun. Parents are welcome, but not required. Of the 998 applications last year, 220 were invited to Candidates’ Weekend; 102 were admitted and 30 placed on waitlist. Waitlisted students can opt to enroll at Olin the following year. They enrolled a class of 84, 20 of whom deferred from the year before. Students can also defer for military service or religious missions.

campus map.  Babson is in the upper right corner.

campus map. Babson is in the upper right corner.

The campus is small and runs right into Babson’s campus which whom they share athletic and health services (the health service building is closer to Olin dorms than to Babson dorms). There are only two residence halls on Olin’s campus: West Hall houses freshmen and sophomores; East Hall has juniors, seniors, and exchange students. There are fully stocked kitchens in both dorms. Students can cross-register at Brandeis, Wellesley, or Babson, and shuttles run between these campuses every 20-30 minutes. One student created a solar-powered trash compactor with a student from Babson. Olin also owns a van that students can use for any academic reason (or other school-sponsored event). There are 71 clubs on campus and they can also join clubs at the other two universities. Olin has club-level sports, soccer and Frisbee, and they can play on Babson’s teams (and women can play at Wellesley).

Students are quirky, funny, and think outside the box. As we started the tour, one of the guides said, “Please don’t feed the students, and keep your hands and feet inside the tour at all times!” Olin is home to the only collegiate level conductor-less orchestra. “It’s the only varsity sport on campus,” said the tour guide, and students have to try out, but there are other musical groups to join and even sound-proof practice rooms. The culture on campus allows the students to pursue passions, even if it isn’t dealing with engineering. For example, one student loves making truffles and can see going into chocolate-making. They even have a Fire Arts Club!

Teachers see it as coaching rather than teaching. They ask questions. Students ask questions, build relationships, etc . Students have the skills to start a business or go into a field that’s not exactly engineering. Some go into MBA programs. Top Grad schools are Harvard, MIT, CMU, Babson, Stanford, and Cornell. They’ve had 41 NSF Fellows, 11 Fulbrights (one of the top producing universities in the country), 2 National Defense, and many more major scholarships and competitions.

© 2014

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