Announcing the Olin E:Sustainability Concentration

January 9, 2021

Olin College of Engineering is excited to announce the creation of the E:Sustainability concentration, beginning in the 2021-2022 academic year.

The E:Sustainability concentration will give students another area of interdisciplinary focus as they expand their engineering studies.

Alison Wood, Assistant Professor of Environmental Engineering, led the launch of the E:Sustainability concentration and answers a few questions about this exciting new opportunity for students.

Alison Wood, Assistant Professor of Environmental Engineering
Alison Wood, Assistant Professor of Environmental Engineering

An interview with Alison Wood, Assistant Professor of Environmental Engineering.

Why an E:Sustainability concentration?

Sustainability—as a disciplinary specialty and as a worldview that applies to every field and every aspect of life—is critical both in addressing the global climate emergency and in supporting our institutional priority of transforming higher education through a lens of equity. The E:Sustainability concentration provides scaffolding to students wishing to focus their studies on sustainability while indicating our institutional commitment. While many in the community are eager to continue working on additional sustainability initiatives in the curriculum and across campus, we are excited to take this important step in making visible the work and the learning we are doing in this space, in the form of this concentration. I think this is an exciting part of the work we are doing and hope to do together.

Describe the process of creating the E:Sustainability concentration.

On February 5, the faculty in attendance at the Academic Life meeting voted unanimously to approve the creation of an E:Sustainability concentration within the Engineering major. The nine-month proposal process involved more than two dozen students, staff and faculty in drafting a notional proposal that was presented to Academic Life in November 2020; feedback from students, staff and faculty was incorporated before the revised proposal was presented and approved.

How does this concentration enhance Olin’s mission and our “change the world” ethos?

Over the years, the Olin community has embraced a broad definition of sustainability, which includes both human and environmental wellbeing, and many Oliners are heavily invested in numerous aspects of sustainability. This concentration plays a visible role in imbuing our “change the world” ethos with specific values of equity and thriving for all. Studying sustainability provides students transformational education, helping them see themselves as embedded in systems that they have the ability and drive to shift toward equity and justice. Creating this concentration also reinforces our commitment to sustainability in our curriculum and throughout Olin.

Which courses will count toward the E:Sustainability concentration?

Each student choosing an E:Sustainability concentration will take our Introduction to Sustainability course along with one approved advanced sustainability course. Advanced courses that have already been approved include Biomimicry, Renewable Energy, Environmental Consulting at Olin, Sustainable Design, and Affordable Design and Entrepreneurship. For the rest of their concentration coursework, students will work with advisers and mentors to identify courses that best suit their interests and potential career paths. Concentration electives can include courses that are not primarily centered on sustainability that nevertheless support the student’s learning goals in sustainability, and they can be drawn from any disciplinary area, including up to four credits of approved research with a faculty adviser. They can also include cross-registration courses and courses taken during study away, if approved.

How will E:Sustainability aid and broaden opportunities for students once they graduate?

In addition to organizations and businesses that focus primarily on sustainability, increasing numbers of companies are recognizing the importance of incorporating sustainability into whatever work they do. Students graduating with a concentration in sustainability will be equipped to bring sustainability knowledge, skills, and mindsets to a huge range of work opportunities, along with the many other skills and experiences they gain through their time at Olin. Sustainability applies to everything; studying sustainability will prepare our students to contribute to understanding and addressing the challenges of our time.

What can students, faculty and staff look forward to in the next couple of years of E:Sustainability?

In the 2021-2022 academic year, we’ll see the first offering of a revamped Introduction to Sustainability course, revised to build on the successes of our past BOW course offering. We expect to see at least one brand new sustainability course in the biology space, as well. The creation of the concentration does not require the creation of new courses, because sustainability already exists in many places in our curriculum. However, in line with the systems thinking so integral to sustainability, we see the creation of this concentration as an important part of growing our ecosystem. We hope to see a virtuous cycle of increasing student, faculty, and staff excitement and involvement, coupled with more incorporation of sustainability throughout the curriculum and the institution.