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SCOPE 2020-2021: COVID-19 Can’t Stop These Students from Making an Impact

This year, Olin’s Senior Capstone Program in Engineering (SCOPE), in which teams of seniors embark on a year-long project for and with a corporate or nonprofit sponsor, is truly exceptional. The sponsors and the SCOPE leadership saw an opportunity to create impactful, important learning experiences that not only transcend the challenges of collaborating during a pandemic, but also, in some cases, address the very challenges associated with emergencies and unpredictable situations.

Eight sponsors returned to work with student teams again this year, including longtime collaborators Boston Scientific, the Santos Family Foundation, and Amazon Robotics. In addition, three new sponsors have signed on to work with student teams. The projects have all been designed and adapted to be compatible with remote learning.

SCOPE sponsors represent different industries and while their projects vary widely, many of them share a similar goal: to bring real benefit to people who are excluded or who have unmet needs. This is in close alignment with Olin’s mission to spur the technical innovation necessary to take on society’s big challenges. 

Making an impact in the world by making it a better place is an intentional SCOPE theme that’s become more significant each year, according to Scott Hersey, Director of SCOPE and Assistant Professor of Chemical and Environmental Engineering. When the SCOPE leadership team selects sponsors, they take into account the specific skills and interests of the senior class to make sure that projects fit specific learning outcomes. The other piece is asking: Who are we excited to be partnered with as an institution? What projects will students be invested in? “Students get motivated when they know that what they’re doing can achieve impact,” he says. “And a big part of what drives student motivation is the idea that the thing that they’re working on matters to them, matters to the sponsor, and matters in the world.”

An Olin College student presents in front of an audience of peers and corporate sponsors on May 2019 during Olin's annual SCOPE Summit.

An Olin student speaks in front of an audience of peers and corporate and nonprofit sponsors in Norden Auditorium during SCOPE Summit in 2019.

Several of this year’s projects set out to address concrete societal problems. Pfizer, for example, is enlisting students to help them create devices that ensure the quality of therapies in clinical drug trials. Boston Scientific’s student team is working to make a common device for endoscopic surgery more user-friendly and environmentally sustainable. The Dassault Systemes Foundation sponsored SCOPE project, supporting collaboration with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute’s virtual reality project, is centered on enabling better ocean research and conservation.

Students are helping to develop low-cost broadband internet to increase connectivity for people in the developing world with Mangata Networks. Another team is working with Microsoft to develop uniform strategies to improve accessibility of websites for blind and visually impaired individuals. For the Santos Family Foundation, students are working on an app that standardizes the collection of automobile crash data that can be used to improve consistency of data and reduce roadway fatalities.

Companies are now seeking out Olin SCOPE teams with the starting point of making a positive difference. Communication software company Twilio approached Olin in hopes that its cloud communication platform could be put to use to aid quicker, more effective, and better-coordinated disaster response. A student team is leveraging Twilio’s existing technology to come up with a way to make it easy to deploy during disasters, like a forest fire, so relief agencies can better communicate and work together. “It’s a good example of a company that is committed to using its technology for good through Twilio.org, and who reached out to us with a project idea when they saw the kind of work we’re doing at Olin,” says Hersey. “They know they can’t put a lot of their own internal resources into this particular project but they think it’s a huge opportunity to make a beneficial impact if the team comes up with a solution.”

Our 2020-2021 current sponsors are:

See details on the 2020-2021 SCOPE projects.