Franklin W. Olin
| The Olin Foundation
The Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering
The Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering is America's newest engineering college.
It is "new" not only in the historical sense, but also in the freshness of its vision. The roots of
that vision stretch back to the philanthropic leadership of the F.W. Olin Foundation, and ultimately
to the personality and interests of its original donor, Franklin W. Olin.
Franklin W. Olin was a person of immense and varied talents.
Born in modest circumstances, he rose through talent, hard work, and education
to head one of the nation's leading enterprises and found a major philanthropic
organization. Along the way, he showed an extraordinary commitment to innovation
and entrepreneurship. He also never forgot where he came from, and sought throughout
his life to empower others to attain their dreams.
Franklin Walter Olin was born in 1860 in a primitive lumber camp in Woodford, Vermont,
where his father was a builder of waterwheels, mills and dams. He had little formal
schooling beyond age 13, but after reading an article about the rising technology of
the day-steam power-he decided to become an engineer. To prepare for college, he studied
on his own and earned money as a school teacher and farm machinery repairman.
He qualified for entrance to Cornell University, where he studied civil engineering and indulged his second passion, baseball. It was as captain of Cornell's team that he first showed his talent for innovation by introducing the first indoor batting cage in college baseball. This improvement, which helped his players get more batting practice, made his team so unbeatable that rivals suggested Cornell drop out of the conference to give them a chance. He also made his own slightly concave bats, to better deal with curve balls. His 180-yard homer still stands as a record at Cornell.
Mr. Olin also played major league baseball during the summers to earn money for his studies, before this practice was prohibited to college athletes. He played two seasons as an outfielder for Washington and Toledo in the old American Association, amassing a career batting average of .316, according to The Baseball Encyclopedia.
After graduating from Cornell in the Class of 1886, he worked in a patent attorney's office and as a designer of textile mill machinery, before getting his big break: the chance to take over the contract to build a gunpowder mill. After successfully completing this assignment, he built powder mills on contract for five years. Then he decided to go into business for himself in an industry that was highly profitable, but also highly risky, due to the possibility of accidental explosions.
Here again, Mr. Olin showed a knack for innovation, as he devised changes in the manufacturing process that considerably improved safety. His first entrepreneurial venture, the Equitable Powder Manufacturing Company, was built in East Alton, Illinois in 1892. His wife, the former Mary Mott Moulton of Toledo, whom he had married in 1889, moved with him to Illinois to establish a home near the East Alton plant. This plant was to be the first of an increasingly diversified group of enterprises.
Mr. Olin kept his business growing by focusing on innovation and product quality. When his rivals tried to freeze him out by denying him materials, Mr. Olin vaulted to the lead in a competitive business by inventing a loading machine that turned out complete rounds of shotgun shells twice as fast as existing machines.
During World War I, Western Cartridge became a major supplier of ammunition for the war effort. After the war, the brass manufacturing operation that had supported the cartridge making became Western Brass, which evolved into one of the company's most successful businesses.
During the Second World War, a Western subsidiary, United States Cartridge Company, became the greatest small arms ammunition maker in U.S. military history, producing more than 14 billion rounds. At the end of the war, in recognition of the company's diversification into paper, chemicals, and other product lines, all of the Olin properties were consolidated, and the company was renamed Olin Industries.
By the time of his retirement in 1944, Mr. Olin had developed his family-owned enterprise into one of America's great companies. It exists today as Olin Corporation, a Fortune 1000 company. Mr. Olin passed away in 1951 at the age of 91.
In 1938, Mr. Olin used his personal wealth to create a private philanthropic foundation, the Olin Foundation. During his lifetime, the Foundation's giving consisted mostly of small gifts and concentrated on his personal philanthropic interests and those of his wife Mary. Two exceptions were a 1940 gift to Mr. Olin's beloved alma mater, Cornell University, for a chemical engineering building, and a grant in 1949 to construct a vocational high school in Alton, Illinois.
It was in making the gift to the high school that Mr. Olin, always a very private person, gave a clue to his philanthropic impulses. Remembering educational roadblocks his rural upbringing and modest means had created, he said, "I don't want the youth of the present generation to encounter the same difficulties in obtaining a useful education that I had to overcome when I was a boy."
For the management of the Foundation, Mr. Olin turned not to family members, but to three outsiders. They were Charles L. Horn, a Minneapolis businessman and president of Federal Cartridge Corporation, a company which was wholly owned by Mr. Olin until he transferred it to the Foundation in 1938; James O. Wynn, a prominent New York City tax attorney; and Ralph Clark, a financial consultant. The three became affectionately known as "the three musketeers."
Following Mr. Olin's death in 1951, the Foundation's directors were faced with the challenge of providing direction for the grant program, which had no formal policies. They decided they wanted to personally administer the program, rather than delegate the work to outside professionals. The grant program evolved throughout the 1950s.
By the beginning of the 1960s, two common themes had emerged in the Foundation's giving: education and facilities. The directors formulated giving policies that would become the Foundation's hallmark. They determined that buildings at independent colleges and universities would become the major focus of the Foundation's grant program. They also decided that the foundation would provide funds covering the total cost of each building, including the furnishings and equipment needed to support the building's activities from the first day of its use.
These policies resulted in relatively large grants with a potentially transformative impact on recipient institutions. Experiences with grant making in the 1950s had made it clear that such grants could energize an institution and accelerate its development.
Building grants for higher education have continued to be the signature of the Olin Foundation since that time. Over the years, the Foundation created other, specialized grant programs, such as the Centers of Educational Excellence program.
By the mid-1970s, the era of Horn, Wynn and Clark was ending, and the torch passed to a new generation of board members. The transition in leadership began in 1974 with the election to the board of Carlton T. Helming, an officer of Federal Cartridge Corporation, and Lawrence W. Milas, a law partner of Mr. Wynn. At about the same time, William B. Horn, Charles L. Horn's son, joined the board. Mr. Helming served as president until 1982, when he stepped down from that post. He remained a director until his death in 1989. Mr. Helming was succeeded in the presidency by Mr. Milas. In 1988, William J. Schmidt and William B. Norden joined the board. Mr. Schmidt is a former Federal Cartridge officer who had served as treasurer of the Foundation since 1983, and Mr. Norden is a New York City lawyer who had served as secretary and counsel of the Foundation since that same year.
In 1987, the Foundation formally changed its name from the Olin Foundation to the F. W. Olin Foundation to better recognize its founder. By the mid-1990s, the Foundation had an unparalleled record of success in promoting innovation in higher education. Many of its grants had supported science and engineering projects. So, when the Foundation began to consider new directions in its grant program that would have the greatest impact on society, it was natural that it should turn to these areas.
As the deliberations about the Foundation's direction were going on, a parallel discussion was taking place in the engineering community about the future of engineering education. The National Science Foundation, concerned that the nation was losing the educational underpinnings of its technological superiority, initiated a dialogue among engineers, business leaders and the academic community aimed at reforming engineering education. Among other things, they called for more emphasis on business and entrepreneurship, teamwork and communication skills in engineering education.
The Foundation's directors, led by Mr. Milas, saw their chance to make a major contribution to the nascent reform movement. They decided they would found a college that could provide a new model for engineering education. They based their thinking on Mr. Olin's career-long support for education and innovation, and discovered that he had once voiced support for starting a new institution of higher learning. Thus the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering was born.
When the F.W. Olin Foundation announced its intention to create a new engineering college in 1997, the boldness of its plan was stunning. The board was prepared to establish and fully fund the new college with a major gift, today estimated to be worth $400 million; the college would offer an outstanding engineering education to top students at little or no cost; the college would be dedicated to continual innovation; and, most important, the new college would offer a "clean slate" for the reform of the engineering curriculum.
"The new school will be dedicated to developing a new paradigm for engineering education consistent with the goals established by the National Science Foundation and the greater engineering community," said Foundation President Lawrence W. Milas. "A totally new college will provide an exceptional opportunity to innovate."
To capitalize on this opportunity, the college launched "Invention 2000," a two year effort to fundamentally rethink engineering education and college operations. This effort examined nearly every aspect of college life, from curricula to student life issues, to see if there was a better way to deliver undergraduate engineering education. The effort was guided by the NSF reform recommendations and best educational practices from around the globe.
Invention 2000 also provided a framework for the development of the college's physical and human resources. During the time frame of Invention 2000, from fall 2000 through fall 2002, the college constructed a 300,000 sq. ft. campus, consisting of state-of-the-art academic, administrative and residential space supported by the most advanced communication and instructional technologies. The college also hired an outstanding administrative staff, and appointed the founding faculty, receiving some 2,000 applications for the 20 academic slots open at the college.
The founding faculty came well qualified to their task of inventing the new curriculum. Many had left tenure or tenure track positions at leading universities around the country, such as MIT, Vanderbilt, and Berkeley. One was the former director of space sciences at NASA; one was a concert pianist turned Ph.D. engineer; one had played a key role in the human genome project. They had credentials such as Rhodes Scholarships, professional awards and patents.
Despite their stellar backgrounds, the faculty could not invent the new curriculum alone. As a college that intended to be unusually student centered, student feedback and assistance in curriculum development would be imperative. The college decided to recruit student "partners" for a special pre-freshman year in which they would work closely with the faculty to create the curriculum. They would also help develop the student life programs.
The 30 "Olin Partners" were an exceptional group of fearless, enterprising students. Recruited from around the country, they received offers of admission from the top universities and engineering programs, such as Harvard, MIT and CalTech. They chose Olin-despite its lack of a track record-for the unprecedented opportunity to shape their own college experience. "Other colleges may offer credentials," said Olin Partner Que Anh Nguyen. "We have the chance to make history."
In August 2002, the Olin Partners were joined by equally well-qualified classmates to form Olin's inaugural freshman class of 75 students. As a class, they represent 34 states and one foreign country; they have an average GPA of 4.3 on a 4.0 scale; 29 are National Merit Finalists; three are U.S. Presidential Scholars; 41 were recognized by the Advanced Placement program for academic excellence; 29 were valedictorians or salutatorians; and, in a rarity for an engineering school, the class is gender balanced.
This outstanding class is pioneering Olin's innovative, hands-on curriculum, which is built around the "Olin Triangle" of engineering, business study, and the arts. The aim of the curriculum is to prepare technological leaders who are well-rounded "Renaissance engineers" in the tradition of Leonardo da Vinci-and Franklin Olin. Unlike students in traditional engineering programs, Olin students spend an unusual amount of time doing projects in interdisciplinary courses that emphasize teamwork and communication skills. The Olin curriculum produces just the sort of versatile, creative problem solvers the NSF had in mind years ago when it recommended revamping engineering education.