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Olin College Joins Public Interest Technology Universities Network as Charter Member

Olin College has joined the Public Interest Technology Universities Network (PIT-UN) as a charter member. The PIT-UN is a partnership of 21 colleges and universities across the United States who have come together to educate a new generation of students to more effectively design, build and govern new technologies in ways that advance the public interest. 

The Network is supported by the Ford Foundation, Hewlett Foundation and New America Foundation.

“We are pleased to join like-minded institutions as a charter member of PIT-UN, as its goals are well-aligned with Olin’s mission of engineering education innovation focused on doing good in the world,” said Vincent P. Manno, Provost and Professor of Engineering at Olin. 

PIT-UN’s mission is important because of the growing consensus that the role of technology, platforms and services should be evaluated and considered in a social context, so that questions of impact and consequence are considered from the beginning of work and research.

“This effort fits with Olin’s desire to become a leader in placing an understanding of social context, ethics, values, diversity and inclusion at the heart of the undergraduate engineering experience,” said Erhardt Graeff, Assistant Professor of Social and Computer Science.  Graeff will be the liaison at Olin for this effort.

To build the field of public interest technology on campus, each institution commits to one or all of a series of activities including:

  1. Support curriculum and faculty development to enable interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary education of students, so they can critically assess the ethical, political, and societal implications of new technologies, and design technologies in service of the public good.
  2. Develop experiential learning opportunities such as clinics, fellowships, apprenticeships, and internships, with public and private sector partners in the public interest technology space.
  3. Find ways to support graduates who pursue careers working in public interest technology, recognizing that financial considerations may make careers in this area unaffordable to many.
  4. Create mechanisms for faculty to receive recognition for the research, curriculum development, teaching, and service work needed to build public interest technology as an arena of inquiry.

Ultimately network members aspire to develop graduates with multiple fluencies: the ability to weave technical skills and knowledge (e.g. expertise drawn from computer science, data science, information science, bio- engineering, environmental engineering, and other areas), capabilities to identify, characterize, and address the societal, ethical, legal, and policy implications of their design and use, and the skills of value-centered design, empathy and perspective-taking that enable an understanding of needs and an assessment of impacts.

The goal of the network is to ensure the public is better served by the design and implementation of policies and services which anticipates the implications of technology.

"Olin's commitment to public interest technology encourages me to believe that I can truly use my technical skills to make a difference in the world," said first year Shreya Chowdhary, who is the co-founder of an initiative to match Olin students with technical projects at social ventures and nonprofits that can enact positive change.

Olin already has several programs well-aligned with the Public Interest Technology University Network, such as the Grand Challenge Scholars Program and Affordable Design and Entrepreneurship. Projects are also underway this spring to develop additional curricular and extracurricular initiatives that more deeply integrate the mission of public interest technology with the undergraduate engineering experience at Olin.