Are you planning to increase your student body size?

Emily "Pete" Petersell

When I’m telling prospective students and families about Olin for the first time, one of the first questions they typically ask is “how big is the college?” I usually respond with the following:

“We are a small college; we have about 350 students total in our student body. We aim to enroll about 84 new students each year.”

At this point, the person who asked me the initial question will usually react like this:


Or this:


Or even this:

Puppy What

And then, inevitably, they ask the follow-up question:

“Are you planning to get any bigger?”

This is a fair question. After all, Olin is very small compared to many other four-year institutions, and when you consider the fact that Olin was just founded fewer than 20 years ago in 1997, it seems inevitable that we would be planning to grow, right?

Not so! Olin has grown a bit over time, but is intentionally remaining small, and we do not have any plans to increase the size of our student body in the near future. The reason we choose to remain small is because our size is conducive to achieving our institutional mission: to transform engineering education.

Olin was founded to be a place where engineering education would be continuously re-imagined and re-created. At Olin, we are always reflecting on and refreshing our curriculum and pedagogy. We continue to ask ourselves what it means to be an engineer today. We frequently question which skills are most relevant for students to have in order to become engineers who will change the world for the better. We are always experimenting and changing things at Olin, because no matter how great a course’s syllabus seems or how impactful a particular project may be, there is always room to improve. There is always room to look at something from a new angle, or try something different. I like to say that we have a “healthy mistrust of tradition” at Olin, because tradition means staying the same. At Olin, something is always new and improved.

In order to continue transforming engineering education over time, we have to remain flexible and agile, so it behooves us to be a small community. In a small community, everyone’s voice can be heard and incorporated into decision-making, and all of the stakeholders can get on board quickly to make a big change. The institution can be truly dynamic.

At Olin, our students are our major stakeholders, and are considered partners of the institution. Their voices, opinions, needs, and values matter, and they really do inspire and initiate changes at Olin and beyond. Each student is more than 1% of his or her graduating class, so each student really does have an impact on the institution and the community.

We’ve found that with 350 students, we have enough people to keep things interesting. We have students with diverse perspectives, interests, backgrounds, and skill sets, who are all bringing something cool and exciting to the table. But we’re still small enough to keep things moving. We’re still small enough for everyone to be a true Olin partner.

So when we think about growth or expansion at Olin, we don’t think about it in terms of adding more students to our student body. Instead, we focus on sharing what we’ve learned at Olin with other educational institutions, so that they can create innovative learning spaces and experiences for their own students. Part of Olin’s mission is to “co-develop educational transformation with collaborators around the globe.” To achieve this, we have a department called the Collaboratory that is entirely dedicated to connecting schools and colleges with Olin, to collaborate on education innovation. Just as our students are involved in curriculum innovation and making changes at Olin, they are also active partners in Olin’s Collaboratory work. You can read about Mackenzie's experience as Student Coordinator for the Collaboratory in the OLINsider

So, if you think you could be a good Olin partner, I hope you apply! And remember:

good things small packages   

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