Engineering for Social Impact, A Chat with Caroline Condon ‘13

Allison Basore ‘20
achellakere 

 

Caroline Condon graduated from Olin with a degree in Mechanical Engineering, and is now a working on a master’s degree at Stanford University. Her fantastic career between Olin and Stanford has been in the technology for social impact space.

 

“That is why I wanted to be an engineer.”

 

In high school, Caroline liked and was good at math and science. She had this desire to seek a technical career with social impact. At first, she did not consider engineering because she had the impression that engineers only worked to make weapons in the military. It was not until she saw a social good engineering project produced by the MIT Media Lab that she became excited about the idea of engineering. This project was a bike-powered corn processing machine, and . was used in rural African areas.  This machine helped young women spend less time on their farms, which in turn gave them more time for school, which ultimately significantly raised their graduation rates. Caroline was thrilled to discover that you could engineer cool products and still be helping the world.

 

“It felt like cheating to be able to play with tools all day and still help people.” Today, Caroline says she still feels lucky to be working on exciting technical projects that are making a real impact.

 

“Spent a lot of time talking to partners...”

 

After Olin, Caroline knew she wanted to work for a company that was involved in social good. She found a software startup based in South Africa called VOTO Mobile - a fellowship funded by Engineers without Borders, Canada. They make software for automatic interactive voice calls for people who need information but do not have access.

Caroline working in Kumasi, Ghana

For example, one of their partners was a health system where women could get pregnancy information and consultations. There was a major problem at the time where women who wanted to get information would be sent texts written in English. Many of the women could not read confidently or understand English, and therefore most of the users were not able to easily read the information. VOTO Mobile’s solution was to send voice messages. With this solution, women could hear important information instead of having to find someone who could translate the  English texts.

 

At VOTO, Caroline was mostly doing project management and building custom software for their partners. She spent a lot of time talking to these partners about how to design good messages and facilitate the best experience for their users.

Caroline testing a new design

Caroline says working at VOTO was a lot of fun, but since her background was in mechanical engineering, she missed the physical nature of building projects. Her next job was at myAgro, a small company based in Bamako, Mali that made agriculture equipment and high-quality seed for small farmers. Here she did design work, fabrication, and even quality control with a factory in China. She also helped the marketing and sales team while using her design skills to develop products based on the user’s need. One of her projects was redesigning a corn harvester machine to be able to harvest both peanuts and corn while reducing the cost of manufacturing.

 

“I try to be in the machine shop every day.”

 

Currently, Caroline is working on her Masters in Design Impact at Stanford. She is loving her fabrication class, and tries to work in the campus shop at least once a day. She’s been pleased to discover that this program is a lot like Olin. It is a relatively small group of students living on campus. She spends a lot of time in their workspace, the Design Loft, talking with peers and working on projects.

 

“I propose a lot of quick tests and prototypes.”

 

From her time at Olin, Caroline felt that she was able to develop an instinct for proposing a lot of tests and quickly making prototypes. She is able to bring a “stop debating and start making” perspective to her work teams. From her project work at Olin, she also learned about being a good manager - one who communicates project assumptions clearly to the team. She specifically worked on this skill while in her Affordable Design and Entrepreneurship (ADE) Olin Capstone.

 

“Stick with projects that seem difficult and overwhelming...”

 

Caroline found Olin to be a special place with impressive projects that prepare you for the real engineering world. Her word of caution for Oliners? “Get experience working with non-Oliners,” she says. She goes on to encourage students to stick with projects that seem difficult and overwhelming at the time. “Sometimes it’s hard to see through the weeds,” she says. She recalls her work in Mali on the farming tooling project where she often felt discouraged by the job while in the field. It wasn’t until she got back to California that she realized what a meaningful project it had been.

 

Caroline reminds us that doing good in the world can be difficult but ultimately worth it for the positive impact you know you’re making.

 


Caroline in Koalack of Senegal, Africa.  

Posted in: Alumni Speak; Making a Difference; A Broader World View