The Explorer’s Program is a continuous experimental program at Olin that allows faculty the freedom to explore profound new ideas that can eventually result in major educational innovation.

The Program is funded by the late Dr. Sunlin Chou, who conceived of the idea in collaboration with Vincent Manno and Olin faculty. Dr. Chou’s generosity enabled two senior faculty members to devote time to exploring and documenting how to fuel future educational innovation. The inaugural “exploration fellows” – Rebecca Christianson, former associate professor of Applied Physics, and John Geddes, professor of Applied Mathematics – took on Chou’s charge: “to explore strange new worlds of education. To seek out new inspiration and new academic structures. To boldly go where no college has gone before.”

They engaged in a wide-ranging series of conversations both within Olin and in the global engineering education community to identify the program’s first research project. During a retreat of about 60 Olin faculty, staff and students, the professors asked attendees to sketch out what the world might look like in 2050 and how Olin might shape and respond to that world. This exercise generated rich responses, and Geddes spent months exploring several areas, finally converging on “doing good in the world” as the topic that most resonated with the Olin community and was most timely.

A Contexts and Ethics in Engineering Working Group of Olin faculty embraced the challenge in 2019 and started to bridge the gap between research and development. Six Olin faculty had the opportunity to spend concentrated time exploring how to move forward as faculty and as an institution, and how to bring together the work being done in areas across campus.

In the summer of 2019, five student researchers joined the group to work on curriculum development, with a focus on bringing context and ethics into existing and new Olin classes. Students also created a set of materials to help them conduct difficult conversations about topics related to ethics or areas that might be considered political, like climate change or sustainability.

Looking ahead, the faculty working group plans to launch prototypes, experiment with new curricular approaches, test them, give feedback and develop the next set of prototypes.