Personalizing Your Olin Education

Olin's a really small school, and that might make you think that it would limit what you can do with your education. After all, there are only so many faculty members, students with matching interests, and resources/spaces in which to work (though, it's worth noting that Olin has an impressive amount of resources for students). Amazingly, Olin students have a lot of freedom to create and personalize their own learning opportunities both in and outside of the classroom.

For example, I'm really interested in embedded software and radio. Traditionally, Oliners don't work with this material until sophomore year, because that is where these topics fall in the curriculum. I don't really want to wait a whole year before pursuing the topics I am interested in. Luckily, I don't have to do that - from working on firmware for the Formula Electric Vehicles team to writing a software-defined radio controller for my passionate pursuit*, there are plenty of ways in which I can get support for pursuing my personal interests. Furthermore, I like hackathons, and I was able to reach out to my classmates and start a hackathon club, with club funding and official recognition, less than a week after we arrived on campus! Similarly, some of my friends who are interested in aerospace have already been able to get a rocket-building project team made up of first-years off the ground. I decided to join them to work on radio communications and collecting and interpreting telemetry data, and we're having a blast!

Classes are also extremely flexible - most projects are really open-ended, so you can pursue your specific interests deeply. For example, in our Modeling and Simulation class, some of my friends studied the spread of memes on campus while others accurately modeled the behavior of systems relevant to their lives like the rocket for the rocket team and the Formula car. As we gain more skills and comfort, what we can do expands even farther: classes provide context and instructor support, and the path we take is self-directed. The freedom this offers is incredible, and this type of flexibility in the classroom is not something you can easily find at any other school.

The ability to pursue your interests as directly as you want expands beyond technical fields as well, and not all activities necessarily have to be formalized. For example, two of my friends recently started playing the otamatone (if you have not heard of it, look it up, seriously) in the dorms at night - they're both surprisingly good at it, and they're even putting on a charity concert in the auditorium. Similarly, people work on murals on campus and start musical ensembles, and the activation energy required to make this happen is minimal.

People will often talk about how college changes you - and growing as you enter new physical environments and stages of life is definitely natural. At the same time, college should not be about carefully shaping yourself to meet some predetermined standard. And at Olin, with all of the opportunities and resources to pursue exactly what you care about, college is really about becoming a more authentic version of yourself. 

*Passionate Pursuit: One-credit projects students propose, get funding from the school for, and work on (with the guidance of a professor) over the course of a semester.

Posted in: Anusha '21, Class of 2021