December 19, 2023
In less than two weeks it'll be a brand new year. To start 2024 off right, with the many accomplishments of our students, alumni, faculty and staff over the past 12 months in mind, we're taking a look back at some of the best Olin stories in 2023 about making an impact in the world.
New courses focused on outreach and community impact, redefining "entrepreneurship" with an eye to creating real-world value, faculty directing curriculum for PBS KIDS, alumni leveraging their Olin degree to create ethical, impactful technology, new milestones, engineering technology to improve healthcare - 2023 (and these stories) had it all.
Click on article titles or the images below to be directed to their full stories.
At the beginning of the year, we published a story featuring Olin's Shop and how its been transformed from a traditional machine shop into an active learning environment focused on inclusivity, accessibility, and creativity. “A big part of my role is getting as many students involved in the Shop as we can,” says Daniela Faas, associate professor of the practice and director of fabrication and laboratory operations.
Read more to learn all about the impact of the Shop, including the vision for the space, which as of the beginning of 2023, was offering more than 500 trainings a year!
On February 19, we published a story about a new team-taught course (co-taught by President Gilda Barabino, two faculty members and an alum) that offered real-world perspectives on leveraging the value of engineering. “Real World Lessons in Creating Impact,” was launched to help Olin students envision their own perspectives on how to create and capture the value of their work in a sustainable way.
In early March, we published the news that Associate Professor of Computing and Innovation Amon Millner was tapped to contribute his expertise on cultivating computational thinking skills in young children to a new PBS KIDS show called Lyla in the Loop.
On March 29, we published an article that told the story through a variety of multimedia of how six students from the Olin Plasma Engineering & Electric Propulsion Lab (PEEP) - now called OPEL - reached a major milestone at MIT’s Space Propulsion Lab by achieving ignition of an ion thruster (ion thrusters have lower fuel weight, much higher fuel efficiency, and longer operational life than conventional propulsion). Making them the first undergraduate team in the world to successfully design, build and fire a steady-state Hall-effect thruster.
Olin faculty member, Sarah Spence Adams’s new research focus culminated this year in the new course “Math and Engineering for Everyone.” Adams, professor of mathematics and electrical and computer engineering, recently transitioned her externally focused work from technical wireless communications research to K–12 education and STEM outreach. Adams spent several summers working with Olin students to investigate outreach models to help younger kids feel more confident and excited about STEM while also building on the Olin students’ strengths and interests.
Read this story from April to learn more about this exciting new course.
On Earth Day 2023, we marked the anniversary by highlighting and celebrating four Olin College alumni who are actively working to solve ecological and environmental issues and mobilizing change. Mariko Thorbecke ‘16, Izzy Harrison ‘18, Meg Lidrbauch ‘17, and Alisha Pegan ‘17, are each passionate about working to solve different aspects of the larger, ecological crisis. See what they are up to in this story from April.
Utilizing our 2022-2027 Strategic Plan as grounding and a guide, Olin focused in this year, working to advance the vision of Engineering for Everyone through impact-centered education. In practice, this meant developing new educational approaches, and working with organizations and people to create positive transformation not only inside Olin, but outside as well. Out of this effort came two new courses, with students from these classes presenting their final projects to the community at the end of the semester. We filmed the presentations and wrote about the event in this multimedia story from May.
In her role as a software engineer for Microsoft, Emma Pan ’21 is developing assistive technology with the Seeing AI team, leveraging her Olin degree to create ethical, impactful technology. Read more in this May 11 story.
Toward the end of May, we published a story about the new humanities course “Engineering in Context,” or EIC, which is focused on helping students to create their own personalized construct for understanding the societal implications of engineering.
As course creator and teacher Rob Martello, professor of the history of science and technology, says in the article, "with our new strategic plan and vision of Engineering for Everyone, we’re looking for novel and interesting ways to help our students understand the ramifications of their work as engineers.”
Keoni Mahelona ’07, a leader in indigenous sovereignty of data and technologies, is using his interdisciplinary engineering knowledge to help Māori people take ownership of preserving and protecting their indigenous language, te reo Māori. “With an Olin degree, there’s a lot you can do; find what you want to do to have a good impact, and you can be happy,” says Mahelona.
Olin’s multi-year and campus-wide effort to leverage more renewable energy reaches a new milestone in June as the solar panel project in Parking Lot A broke ground, after the Board of Trustees voted to approve the project at their May 2023 meeting. “Environmental sustainability is one the values highlighted in our strategic plan,” said Olin President Gilda A. Barabino. “Our community is deeply committed to interacting with the world around us more responsibly; not only is this commitment reflected in Olin’s strategic plan, it is already infused into so much of what we do.”
From January 2023 through the summer, Chhavi Goenka, visiting assistant professor of engineering, and a team of students, including Zi Xiong ’24, Maya McKone Sweet ’26, Aaron Codrington ’25, Akshat Jain ’26, Ian Eykamp ’24, designed a system that more efficiently—and less intrusively—diagnoses the disease using photoacoustic spectroscopy, which is a combination of optical and ultrasound technologies. We covered the Lab and its vital work thinking about diseases that haven’t been looked at yet or that can be looked at in a different way,” for this October article.