Olin College of Engineering
OLIN AS HOTBED FOR LEARNING INNOVATION IN STEM
“Engineers envision what has never been, and do whatever it takes to make it happen,”
Richard K. Miller, first employee and president of Olin College of Engineering
A unique start-up college near Boston, Olin has rapidly grown into a highly selective and respected undergraduate program in engineering. However its overarching mission extends beyond its walls to serve as a privately funded national laboratory for STEM education.
From the beginning, Olin has been a hotbed for educational innovation, with no departments or faculty tenure. Thirty “partner students” came in the fall of 2001 and spent a gap year working side-by-side with faculty and staff to create a powerful learning experience. Half of those students were women and Olin consistently graduates the highest percentage of women engineers in the country.
From day one at Olin, students are engaged in the practice of engineering and the quest for innovation through:
Learning by doing and team-based problem solving
Immersion in real-world problems under realistic constraints
Design thinking in which the engineering process starts with the desires and needs of people in the context of their lives
Developing an entrepreneurial mindset by instilling a “can do” attitude, encouraging risk-taking and offering a curriculum that requires all students start a business or other enterprise.
This approach culminates in a unique senior capstone project called SCOPE in which students tackle actual engineering challenges posed by sponsoring companies who pay $55,000 to engage a team of Olin student-engineers.
Olin’s approach is working:
In a decade it has become one of the 10 most selective colleges in the country.
It has a 95 percent 6-year graduation rate, the highest for engineering schools in the country.
Olin sits at the top of various rankings, including #1 for Classroom Experience by Princeton Review, a student-based survey.
A variety of companies from Facebook to Boeing compete for Olin graduates, whose average salary six months after graduation is more than $75,000.
37 percent of all alumni choose to go to grad school (75 percent in STEM fields). 26 percent attend or plan to attend MIT, Stanford or Harvard.
Olin has become a respected and trusted partner to other educators seeking to rethink their learning programs. More than 1,500 visitors from 530 educational and corporate institutions have come to Olin to learn from its approach, find inspiration, seek advice and begin the process of change.
Innovative Employee Driven Pathways
SCOPE is a unique industry-college collaboration, and the culminating experience of each Olin student’s education. Over the course of a full academic year, seniors work in multidisciplinary teams to provide innovative solutions to companies’ problems. Olin has conducted SCOPE projects for organizations around the country, including Fortune 500 companies, government research laboratories, product development companies and start-ups. SCOPE sponsors have included: Boston Scientific, Draper Laboratory, Microsoft, AGCO, Raytheon, TripAdvisor and Harley Davidson, to name just a few. Many companies recommit and there is generally more supply then there is demand.
Here’s what they say:
“We’ve hired students and graduates (from Olin), and they infect the teams that they work on. They bring not just the tools, but an unusual way of thinking about things. They challenge their peers, and they bring up the level of performance of everyone on the team,”
-Kurt Geitz, Vice President, R&D, Boston Scientific
“The program is very unique and a great idea, useful to students and sponsors, and the team approach adds a dynamic I had not seen when mentoring individual students,”
-Lou Poulo, Analogic Fellow, Analogic Corporation
“We gave our team a challenging open-ended problem and were extremely pleased with the results … and are excited to explore new problems with next year’s project,”
-Chris Marra, Project Manager, Facebook
SCOPE would not be possible without the foundation of three years of experiential, project-based and team learning, which ensures that every student completes and presents to the community many different projects. Olin’s focus on design-thinking helps students develop the skills needed to deeply understand the people, communities and companies for which they seek to engineer solutions. In addition, Olin faculty members function less as experts lecturing at the podium and more as coaches, mentors and champions, instilling students with a sense of ownership over their education and inspiring life-long learning.
In addition to SCOPE, Olin also offers senior students Affordable Design Engineering, a year-long program in which teams of students focus on the needs and problems of underserved communities and co-design solutions. Past projects have included a mechanized cassava grater to aid Ghanaian women and a maker space for youth in rural Mississippi.
When students graduate from Olin, they often do so with a calling or vision they want to pursue, such as enabling space flight through SpaceX or founding a start-up to provide better ways to gather vital medical data from people in wheelchairs.
Key STEM Programs
Olin’s senior capstone experiences (SCOPE and ADE, mentioned above) serve as a best practice for hundreds of educators around the world (see below).
The Collaboratory is Olin’s outreach arm--it disseminates the best practices from its learning laboratory to other educators seeking transformative change. Olin has worked with a wide spectrum of partners, from large public universities to small private colleges. The Collaboratory has helped local high schools introduce robotics and advised local governments seeking to start engineering colleges from scratch. The team has hosted high-level academic leadership seeking to overhaul curriculum, as well as frontline educators seeking to enliven a class through their Summer Institute program that hosts 80 educators on campus for a weeklong immersive program. The Collaboratory helped University of Illinois Urbana Champaign revamp its first-year experience for 1,600 students, guided University of Texas at El Paso in the creation of a new engineering leadership program and is advising Insper, a business school in Brazil, in the opening of a new engineering college. In all cases, Olin faculty members listen first to understand the unique characteristics of an organization and then work to co-develop a customized approach and plan.
- Grand Challenge Scholars Program
- Olin was one of three founders of the Grand Challenge Scholars program where undergraduates are recognized for their scholarships and efforts to tackle the world’s most pressing technical problems as defined by the National Academy of Engineering, in the areas of sustainability, health, security and joy of living. Olin has more GCS per capita than any other engineering school and has rallied 122 universities and colleges to commit to graduating 20,000 Grand Challenge Engineers in the future.
Communication and Social Media For Olin
Facebook page: FWOlin
Twitter page: @OlinCollege
Watch this video on Olin