August 28, 2018

Dear Friends,

As the Olin academic year begins, I want to share some important observations and news about the College.

According to Olin’s Founding Precepts, the purpose of Olin is to “…become an important and constant contributor to the advancement of engineering education in America and throughout the world ….”  This goal was incredibly bold and very difficult at the time — especially for an unknown start-up institution.

However, this year — less than twenty years since teaching our first classes — Olin was identified in the recent MIT benchmark study as #1 or #2 in the world in undergraduate engineering education.  We have arrived!  We are clearly regarded as an important contributor now, so the challenge is to stay that way. With MIT and others crediting Olin for inspiring the transformation of their curriculum, a good case can be made that the heavy lifting we began in 2002 appears to be well underway.

Perhaps the most exciting news, though, is that because the heart of Olin’s innovation is focused on how we teach, many other disciplines are looking to Olin for inspiration in how to innovate in higher education more broadly.  The recent Mellon grant to explore combining the arts and STEM is an early example of this.  I am excited to see where this takes us, as new opportunities present themselves to inspire innovation in teaching and learning methods in many fields in the next twenty years — while we continue to focus on engineering education as the platform for experimentation on our campus.

In many ways, we stand at an inflection point full of exciting opportunities for expanding our impact and leadership as an institution, not only in the transformation of engineering education, where the work is not finished, but in other areas as well.  For Olin there is more — and new — work to be done.

As we have already seen, the possibilities for Olin when we work together are endless, but there are some realities too.  Olin’s progress has not depended on any particular individual, but rather on the continuing influx of people who are inspired by our mission and who bring about the innovations that set Olin apart.  Given where we are, it is time to engage the next generation of Olin leaders in charting the course ahead.

With this perspective as background, I have some news to share about leadership transitions that will be taking place in the not-too-distant future.  While these transitions have long been contemplated — and planned for — the timing is the result of recent observations and events — like the MIT report.

My Plans 

The first item of news is about my own plans.  After much thought, it is my intention to continue as President of Olin College through June 30, 2020, at which time I will step down as President and begin a one-year developmental leave (the first in my 45-year academic career).  I plan to use the time away to reflect on my continuing passion for innovation in higher education, explore future options and spend more time with Beth and my family.

These next two years should provide adequate time for the Board to plan ahead and for me to help in shaping the discussion of the expanding opportunities and evolving priorities and goals on the horizon for Olin.

There will be plenty of time to talk about what this will mean in terms of the mission and day-to-day operation of the College, but I wanted you all to know about my decision as soon as possible.

Provost Vin Manno

Vin has informed me that he will step down as Provost effective July 1, 2019, at which time he will begin a one-year developmental leave.  This will be the first time in his nearly 35-year academic career that he will be taking a break for reflection, exploration of new possibilities and the opportunity to share more unstructured time with Mariann and their family.

I will be consulting with the faculty, the Academic Life leadership team and others for their advice on how best to navigate this transition in leadership at the Provost level.

Executive Vice President Steve Hannabury 

After nineteen plus years of service to Olin and nearly 34 years in higher education, Steve will begin a well-deserved one-year professional leave on April 1, 2019, after which he will retire.  Steve is Olin’s employee #4 and the longest serving Vice President in Olin’s history.  During the leave, Steve will remain engaged with the College, albeit on a much more limited basis, advising me and other members of the leadership team as the need may arise.  While on leave, he will carry no supervision or operational responsibilities at Olin but he will increase his leadership commitment at edHEALTH—working to lower health insurance rates across all of higher education.  Patty Gallagher will take over most of Steve’s management responsibilities, starting with Human Resources on September 1, 2018. 

Looking Forward

We should all be enormously proud of what we have accomplished.  Olin is in a great position as an institution and is ready for these transitions.

We want you to know that alumni, students and parents will also be receiving an email about this news later today.  We plan to communicate more about what this will mean for faculty, staff departments, academic life, students and others as often as we can, starting with our regular Town Meeting on September 26 in the Norden Auditorium, where we invite you to come with your questions.

As this period of transition unfolds, we will rely on the engagement and input of the community to shape the process and help define how Olin can continue its leadership role in educational transformation.

As always feel free to reach out to me, Vin, Steve or Patty and we will all do our best to answer your questions, or if we don’t have the answers, to seek them out.

Best wishes for a successful academic year!

Rick