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New E: Sustainability Concentration Launches Fall 2021

Starting in fall 2021, Olin students can now choose a new concentration focusing on sustainability, equity, and social justice through engineering.

The creation of the E: Sustainability concentration was led by Alison Wood, assistant professor of environmental engineering, and this new program is helping Olin to fill the space previously occupied by the Babson-Olin-Wellesley (BOW) Sustainability Certificate, which has been offered since 2011.

Olin College of Engineering Professor Alison Wood

Alison Wood, Assistant Professor of Environmental Engineering. Photo by Leise Jones. 

“The certificate program was designed to allow students to capitalize on the different resources from all three schools,” says Wood. “After the difficult decision was made to sunset the certificate program, we took advantage of the newly available resources and growing expertise to create our own, school-specific program. We invested time and institutional resources into making the E:Sustainability concentration happen.”

The E:Sustainability concentration is a natural step aligning with Olin’s mission to do good in the world. Importantly, this also embraces a more modern understanding of sustainability, which means more than just keeping plastics out of the ocean and reducing carbon emissions; at sustainability’s core are equity and justice.

“A few years ago, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a definition of sustainability that encompasses ‘[a] just, equitable, tolerant, open and socially inclusive world in which the needs of the most vulnerable are met,’” says Wood. “For the past year, President Barabino has been helping Olin to rearticulate our vision around reducing inequities through engineering education. The two ideas are perfectly aligned.”

To that end, many courses will also have a substantial component addressing one of more of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. To complete the concentration, students will take an intro course, several electives, and an advanced course with lots of flexibility to enable them to customize their education for their unique needs and interests.

“Students can choose how to define sustainability for themselves and their careers,” says Wood. “They’ll also work with mentors to understand what academic path will suit their goals. Any kind of engineering offered at Olin can be married to sustainability, from software design to robotics to bioengineering.”

With sustainability programs being offered at schools around the country, Olin’s E:Sustainability concentration stands apart from the crowd in the broadness of its definition of the term and the types of classes open to students.

“At Olin, we consider equity and justice to be at the core of what we do,” says Wood. “Being an engineer means considering how all people are affected by the projects and products we create, and Olin is among the leaders in moving academia forward in that way.”

An image from a previous environmental course taught by Professor Wood and Professor Scott Hersey.

An undated image from a previous environmental Olin course taught by Professor Wood and Professor Scott Hersey.