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Student Matthew Hill, shown working on his art project, looks forward to Olin’s first
year of “real” courses.
production of “The Real Inspector Hound.” Jessica Anderson
and another student made the Babson Dance Ensemble, and
two others joined Babson’s
a cappella
singing group. (Olin
students also started their own outing, bowling, film, yoga
and CD listening clubs.)
Olin’s relationship with Babson is closely tied to its
mission. “It’s an ideal place to partner with because of our
entrepreneurial experience,” said Babson spokesmanMike
Chmura. “Babson business students will learn early how to
work with the people who will create the products they will
later help to market, develop, produce and sell. Likewise, Olin
students can bring Babson students on board to plan the
business aspects of selling the products they design.”
As a practical matter, Olin doesn’t have to build an athletic
complex; its students will use Babson’s. And Olin students will
use the Babson library for non-engineering materials. Olin
also pays Babson to provide dining, security and healthcare
services. Olin President RichardMiller serves on Babson’s
board of trustees, and Babson administrators are members of
Olin’s governing committees.
Holt encouraged a dozen students to enter a NASA
competition to design a greenhouse that
could operate onMars. Matt Hill, the
Frisbee fanatic, served as design team
leader. The Olin proposal was named one
of six finalists, beating out upperclassmen
fromCornell and other large established
universities. Olin’s team also created a
tongue-in-cheek online radio show it
calledThe History andMystery of Mars.
Around this time, students and faculty
started to become disenchanted with one
of the innovations Olin had proposed
to make: shortening the segments of the
academic calendar. The modules were proving frustratingly
short, and there was a consensus that half-semesters (called
“quamesters”) also wouldn’t necessarily work. It was agreed
that the curriculumwould be taught in sets of three linked
courses—calculus, physics and engineering design, for
instance. A group of, say, 25 students would take all three
of those courses together, and the instructors would jointly
design the curriculum and projects to be complementary.
Students would work on engineering projects that bring
together the basic concepts of calculus and physics.
After the winter holiday break, students and faculty tested
this idea. Their project: building a cannon that could fire a
golf ball far and accurately, with a budget of $300. The two
student teams were bested by the faculty cannon, the “Silver
Bullet,” which drove a ball more than 500 yards with greater
accuracy.
The curriculum also will include art, philosophy,
psychology, language, and other electives, most of them
provided by Babson, Brandeis, Wellesley and other nearby
schools. Students proposed, and administrators agreed, that
credits should also be awarded for “passionate pursuits” like
dance or music.
“They really are walking the walk of saying engineers
need to be much more well-rounded,” Jessica Anderson said,
returning to the “trailer park” one morning after boning
up on her French with fellow students over breakfast. The
entire class was preparing to spend a month at the Georgia
Tech campus inMetz, France—part of Olin’s philosophy
of exposing its students to other cultures in an era of
globalization.
Anderson was on a restructuring committee at the high
school she attended. “I had been allowed a little bit to express
my opinion,” she said. “I wouldn’t say it’s a shock, but it’s been
a relief. I envisioned college as a place where you could have
nerdy conversations about random things, and that’s what we
get to do here. We’ve gotten so used to being able to express
our opinions and having them listened to for the most part.”
It was the students, for example, who polled the faculty
about what math prerequisites were necessary for their
disciplines. As a result, the subject of statistics will be
introduced far earlier at Olin than at other engineering
schools. Students also comprised most of the residential life,
honor code, orientation and student government committees.
They voted on a mascot, rejecting a dragon, a sprocket, a
resister and other suggestions in favor of a phoenix—because,
they said, the intention of the college is to continually reinvent
itself. They even shared their opinions about the menu with
the school’s food service company. “We joke about asking for
featherbed mattresses,” Anderson said. “We’re awed at how
spoiled we are.”
But students also admitted to some exasperation.
Accustomed to being at the top of their classes, they were
being used as guinea pigs to test new courses, some of which
were based on material they had not yet studied. “It’s like
building an airplane while you’re flying it,” said Anderson. “A
lot of this year has been testing out balances and testing out
limits.”
Julianna Connelly added: “At times it has been frustrating
when a faculty member gives an assignment to do something
I’ve never done before and don’t know how to do.” Matt Hill
said Olin felt more like a corporation than a college. “We don’t
feel like students at all.” But he admitted: “I’m looking forward
to the structure” of the coming academic year, when the
courses will be for real. He is also looking forward to seeing
The Franklin W. Olin
Foundation has
pledged its entire
substantial financial
support to making
the school a success.