History of Olin College


Franklin W. Olin (1860-1951) was an engineer, entrepreneur and professional baseball player. Raised in Vermont lumber camps and lacking a high school diploma, he qualified himself for entrance to Cornell University through self-instruction. At Cornell he majored in civil engineering and was captain of the baseball team. He even played major league baseball during the summers to finance his education. He went on to found the company known today as the Olin Corporation, a Fortune 1000 company.


In 1938, Mr. Olin transferred a large part of this personal wealth to a private philanthropic foundation. In more than six decades of philanthropy, the F. W. Olin Foundation awarded grants totaling more than $300 million to construct and fully equip 78 buildings on 58 independent college campuses. Recipients include Babson, Bucknell, Carleton, Case-Western, Colgate, Cornell, DePauw, Harvey Mudd, Johns Hopkins, Marquette, Rose-Hulman Institute, Tufts, University of San Diego, University of Southern California, Vanderbilt, and Worcester Polytechnic. The Foundation's commitment of $460 million to Olin College remains one of the largest grants in the history of American higher education.


Starting in the late 1980's, the National Science Foundation and engineering community at-large started calling for reform in engineering education. In order to serve the needs of the growing global economy, it was clear that engineers needed to have business and entrepreneurship skills, creativity and an understanding of the social, political and economic contexts of engineering. in the mid-1990s, the F.W. Olin Foundation decided the best way to maximize its impact was to help create a college from scratch that can address these emerging needs.


The Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering received its educational charter from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1997, the same year the Foundation announced its ambitious plans for the college. Planning and architectural design work for a state-of-the-art campus began almost immediately. By the end of 1999, the new institution's leadership team had been hired, and site development work commenced on 70 acres adjacent to Babson College. Olin's first faculty members joined the college by September 2000.

The founding faculty came well qualified to their task of inventing the new curriculum, but at a college dedicated to being student-centered, they could not do it alone. The college recruited student 30 student "partners" for a special pre-freshman year (2001-02) during which they worked closely with the faculty to create the curriculum and a framework for the student life programs.

In August 2002, the Olin Partners were joined by equally well-qualified classmates to form Olin's inaugural freshman class of 75 students. Other institutional milestones since the opening of the college include the first Commencement (2006), accreditation (2006-07), the establishment of the Babson-Olin-Wellesley collaboration (2009), the first Reunion (2011) and the 10th anniversary celebration (2012).

State-of-the-art facilities matched with first-rate students, nationally renowned professors and unbridled enthusiasm have made Olin an exciting whirlwind of activity and excellence. Olin's commitment to continual innovation and improvement promises to keep Olin College a place where the dust will never settle.

Read more about Olin's founding here.


The F. W. Olin Foundation, Inc., founded in 1938 in New York by Franklin W. Olin, established the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering in Needham, Massachusetts in 1997. In connection with the execution of an agreement between the Foundation and the College of even date herewith, which, among other matters, provides for the Foundation to make endowment and other grants to the College, the Foundation hereby sets forth the following precepts, all of which the College accepts and agrees to adhere to and abide by in perpetuity. These precepts reflect the principles upon which the College was established as well as the Foundation’s hopes for what the College will accomplish and the good that it will do. With respect to the Foundation’s reasons for establishing the College, let it be said that the Foundation does not seek to establish a generic undergraduate engineering college - one that will simply offer programs similar to many others around the country. Olin College is intended to be different - not for the mere sake of being different - but to be an important and constant contributor to the advancement of engineering education in America and throughout the world and, through its graduates, to do good for humankind.


Founding Precepts

The College shall, in perpetuity, be named FRANKLIN W. OLIN COLLEGE OF ENGINEERING, or in the event it shall be determined upon the written consent of two-thirds of the total number of the members of the College’s Board of Trustees that such name is no longer adequately descriptive of the College’s programs and courses of study, such name may be changed, provided, however, that: (1) the College’s name always shall include the name “Franklin W. Olin”; and (2) no other person’s name (or corporate or business name) shall appear in the name. It is also agreed that for marketing and related purposes, the name “Olin College” (or appropriate variations such as “Olin University” and “Olin School”), may be used in written material, provided that when practical there will always appear in such materials a reference to the College’s full name.

The College’s primary academic program always will be undergraduate engineering. As such, the number of its full time equivalent (herein “FTE”) students working towards an undergraduate engineering degree shall always constitute no less than two-thirds of the total FTE undergraduate enrollment.

Students shall be recruited on the basis of their academic merit, as determined by their scholastic records and appropriate test results, and other relevant achievements. However, from among the students who qualify on this basis, the College shall endeavor to develop as diverse a student community as is possible. Diversity of many kinds is desirable. Race, gender, creed, religion, ethnicity, economic background, home location, particular skills, talents and experiences, are but a few that are important for achieving a diverse and vital student community. Quality and diversity also shall be sought with respect to the College’s faculty and administrative employees. Because current pedagogy makes a low student/faculty ratio an important contributing factor for achieving academic quality, the College will maintain a low student/faculty ratio of about ten to one unless changes in pedagogy through technological developments or other improvements in education are developed which justify departing from this standard.

The National Science Foundation and other credible voices from engineering schools and industry have advocated changes in how engineers are educated. Some of the major themes of the changes advocated include interdisciplinary and integrated teaching, hands-on learning and research opportunities for students, improved communication skills, students working as members of teams (the way that engineers in industry work), exposure to other cultures or an international experience, and a better understanding of business and management practices. But for many reasons, including the very simple reason that many, but not all, faculty are resistant to change, progress has been slow and disappointing. The Foundation’s decision to establish the College was based in large part on a determination that the need to reform engineering education could be accomplished more easily at a new institution that is not burdened with people and existing programs resistant to change. However, even a new institution can, with the passage of time, become resistant to change. If this were to happen at the College it would be a tragic loss of opportunity for engineering education, generally, and a terrible disappointment to the Foundation. The need for the College to be continually open to change and to encourage and support a culture of innovation is paramount. Risk taking with respect to new programs or the manner in which engineers are taught should be routine. The College acknowledges that a culture of innovation is a fundamental precept of the planning for Olin College. The College commits itself to the need to be open to change and to support a culture of innovation and constant improvement in every aspect of its operations and programs.

The Foundation believes that the College must care about its students - not only as scholars and engineers but also as people. Students must be encouraged and given the opportunity to grow both intellectually and socially. Student life policies must assure that no student is forgotten or ignored. A commitment to support the education of students with programs in the arts, humanities and social sciences is vital to the fulfillment and potential of their lives. The College also should nurture a student’s appreciation of the role of philanthropy in America. Students should be encouraged to contribute their time and wealth to support philanthropic endeavors of their choice. The College, itself, the product of philanthropy, should find ways to contribute to its community, and beyond, with services natural for it as an educational institution. Policies must be maintained that support these outcomes.

The College will always endeavor to operate by offering full tuition scholarships to all regular full time students enrolled in its undergraduate degree programs. The solicitation of additional endowment gifts and annual giving to support tuition and scholarship aid shall be an important goal. In order to provide full tuition scholarships to all students, the College shall adjust its undergraduate enrollment to a number that can be supported by the projected operating budget revenue. Beginning in the 2021 academic year, upon the written consent of ninety percent of the total number of the members of the College’s Board of Trustees, the College may elect to reduce full tuition scholarships to an amount that will leave the portion of tuition payable by regular full time students enrolled in its undergraduate degree programs equal to an amount that is not in excess of the average cost of tuition for resident engineering students at the following institutions: the University of California – Berkeley, the Georgia Institute of Technology, the University of Illinois – Urbana, the University of Massachusetts – Amherst, , the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor, and the University of Texas – Austin. The decision to reduce full tuition scholarships shall be based on substantial business needs and a determination that the endowment take and other revenue cannot support the number of students needed to sustain the College’s academic programs. During such period of time as the College shall only offer partial scholarships, the College may award financial aid to students based on need. After reducing full tuition scholarships, the College’s Board of Trustees may thereafter, by a simple majority vote, at a meeting of the Board called for such purpose, restore full tuition scholarships. Tuition scholarships, whether they fully or only partially cover tuition, always shall be awarded to all students who are admitted to the College regardless of need. This Precept shall not prohibit the College from charging for or providing need-based aid for non-tuition charges such as room, board and student fees.

The conceptual planning for Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering made collaboration with Babson College an important element. Babson’s recognized excellence in management and entrepreneurship education were considered to be potential resources for the College’s own innovative programs. The College shall endeavor to always work closely with Babson College to develop programs and operating and administrative procedures for their mutual benefit. Similar collaboration with other neighboring colleges, particularly Brandeis University and Wellesley College shall be actively sought.

Knowledge of science and technology is not static but is continually evolving. The ability of the College to offer its students a faculty that is competent in the latest advances in knowledge and in newly emerging fields of science and technology is absolutely essential to the College’s goal of offering academic programs with the highest possible quality. The College will, therefore, strive to strike an appropriate balance between the legitimate concerns of faculty for employment security and the College’s need to achieve and maintain the quality it seeks. It will do this without offering traditional tenure.

The College shall remain a privately supported institution committed to supporting itself from private, rather than government or public resources. However, government grants from programs subject to peer review and open to other institutions on a competitive basis may be sought. Grants from so-called earmarked funds will be rejected.

The College’s policies and operations shall be consistent with and supportive of free enterprise and a capitalistic economy within a democratic nation.

Founding Core Personal Values

I will represent myself accurately and completely in my work, my words, and my actions in academic and in non-academic affairs.

I will be patient with and understanding of fellow community members, and considerate of their inherent dignity and personal property. I will care for community resources and facilities so others may effectively use them.

I will be a steward for the welfare of Olin College through a spirit of cooperation, concern for others, and responsibility for the reputation of Olin College.

I will be receptive to change, supportive of innovation, and willing to take risks for the benefit of the community.

I will strive to better myself and my community and take responsibility for my own behavior. When I become aware of a violation of the Honor Code or an issue within the community, I will take action towards resolution of the situation. I expect others to do the same.

Founding Core Institutional Values

Olin College will strive for quality in all that it does. It will also strive for continuous improvement in all areas, and will measure its progress with appropriate national standards.

Olin College is a student-centered institution. It will strive to provide educational experiences of exceptional quality and a student life environment that provides for healthy personal development.

Olin College will strive to develop long-term relationships based on honesty, fairness, and respect. It will further strive to provide a safe environment that supports freedom of inquiry, protects diversity, and fosters a sense of well being.

Olin College will strive to minimize bureaucracy, cost, and institutional inertia in all forms. It will further strive to accept appropriate risks in pursuit of opportunity.

Olin College will strive to provide responsible stewardship of all its resources while encouraging a spirit of service to society and a life style of philanthropy.