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.

A pic grid of 12 different images.

New courses focused on outreach and community impact, redefining "entrepreneurship" with an eye to creating real-world valuefaculty 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.

Olin’s One-Stop-Shop for Accessible Learning and Creating

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!

A faculty member can be seen walking in a classroom hub.

Helping Students Redefine "Entrepreneurship"

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. 

Olin President Gilda Barabino pictured seated in class talking to students.

Millner Directing Curriculum for New PBS KIDS Show

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. 

Professor Amon Millner helps a community member with a coding project in Roslindale, MA, in 2016.

Olin Students are First Undergraduates to Achieve Sustained Fire of Ion Thruster

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 weightmuch 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.

Braden Oh '23 poses with an ion thruster at MIT's Space Propulsion Lab in 2023.

New Course Focuses on K–12 Outreach, Community Impact

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.

Meredith Alley, Co'25, and Boys & Girls Club students posing with their spaghetti tower during the programs second exploratory visit.

On this Earth Day, Meet Four Alumni Working to Solve Key Ecological Issues and Mobilizing Change

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.

A collage of four Olin College alumni who are working to solve the climate crisis.

Two Student Teams Present Final Projects from Impact-Centered Olin Courses [Video]

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.

(L to R): Students from the Environmental Consulting at Olin (ECO) course pose for a photo. ECO Team member, Camden Droz '26 was out on the day the photo was taken. On the right, the team from Change at Olin are pictured after giving their presentation.

Alum Creating Microsoft Assistive Tech for Users with Visual Impairments

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.

Image of Emma Pan'21 in the Collaborative Design Classroom.

New Interdisciplinary Course Helps Students See Engineering’s Big Picture

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.” 

Maya Lum'23, Tigey Jewell- Alibhai'23, Allison Li'24, Cara Mulrooney'24 pictured left to right respectively working on Engineering in Context group activity.

Olin Alum Using AI to Preserve Te Reo Māori

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.

Keoni Mahelona '07 seen collaborating with members of the Māori community.

Olin to Break Ground on Solar Panel Project

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.”

Olin College's Needham, MA campus. Drone image by Alex Carita (2022).

Olin HEAL Lab Developing Less invasive Diagnostics for Endometriosis

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.

HEAL Lab team: Zi Xiong ’24, Maya McKone Sweet ’26, Chhavi Goenka, visiting assistant professor of engineering (left to right; bottom) Ian Eykamp ’24, Aaron Codrington ’25, and Akshat Jain ’26 (left to right; top).