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Olin Expo Shows Value of Engineering in Context

One of the central tenets of Olin’s curriculum is teaching engineering in context. Faculty teach in interdisciplinary teams and make sure that budding Olin engineers consider not just the technical requirements, but also the social, cultural and artistic aspects of their inventions. Most important, their creations must focus laser like on the needs of the people they are designing for.

This approach was very much on display at the recent Olin Expo, the semester-end celebration of student learning. In Expo, students present the projects they are most proud of to an audience of parents, alumni and interested outsiders. Many students used the opportunity to showcase how an engineering mindset, combined with a passion for serving people, could inform fields from game design to the creation of new social services.

One hub of activity was a penny arcade, the final project in the Elecanisms class, complete with four different games. Excited fifth graders operated a lunar lander, played jump rope, steered a space ship and shot down careening “space balls.”

“This is a multidisciplinary class in that we’re covering topics around mechanical design, electrical and electronic design and, in computing, microcontrollers,” said Assistant Professor Aaron Hoover. “It’s the last opportunity seniors have to work on a multidisciplinary team on a real finished project that integrates all those concepts.”

Standing near the space ship game, senior Amanda Sutherland said she learned a lot from having to create a finished product that not only worked well, but looked good, too.

“I really appreciated the opportunity to think about form and how do you make something that someone really wants to walk over and play with and that they can understand without you having to tell them how it works,” said Sutherland.

Senior Sean Lowen, a course assistant in the Products and Markets Class, documented the class in pictures and video and made a documentary about it as an independent study—an effort he doesn’t mind telling you he’s “pretty proud of.”

“I created the video as a way to showcase some of the highlights of the semester and show what students can get out of the class,” said Lowen, who views his work as a “promotional video” to boost the class’s reputation among students.

First-years Emma Price and Gwen Phelps did a Foundation in Wheel Throwing class at Babson as a Passionate Pursuit. They stood behind a table of beautifully glazed and finished creations—part of their output of 45 pieces made on a spinning potter’s wheel during the semester.

The experience, to which Price devoted as much as 12 hours a week, is influencing her plans for her Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences capstone. “I’m definitely leaning more towards studio art than I had been before,” said Price.

Sophomores Trent Dye and William Lu showed off “Care Spaces,” a concept for a service that provides assistance for people caring for aging loved ones. The idea for a center where older loved ones could be cared for in the workplace grew out of their work in User Oriented Collaborative Design (UOCD). The class asks students to use their engineering skills to model a device that would improve the lives of a distinct “user group,” in this case the caregivers of older adults.

“Instead of engineering for engineering’s sake, I’m going to design and build something that will have an impact on someone,” said Lu of his UOCD assignment. “The toolkit of skills that you learn from UOCD is something I know I will be constantly be pulling out for use in future projects when I have to work and interact with people.”

Sophomore Mimi Kome was part of a team of four—including a Babson student—who developed a framework for a skill share program for use in addiction rehab centers. The idea was their class project for Assistant Professor Amon Millner’s Designing Resources for Empowerment and Making (DREAM) class. So far, they’ve come up with a website pointing to resources, and they plan to keep working on their first-of-its-kind framework.

“We’re all really super-invested in this, which is really good,” said Kome. “It was really compelling because this thing we wanted to share with other people didn’t really exist yet, and it’s always really cool to find something that you’re bringing to the table that’s new.”