Sketch Model

Sketch Model at Olin College has completed its first three years with a lively, evolving series of programs designed to awaken the political and cultural contexts for technology, both on our “lab school” campus for engineering education, and for our many likeminded counterparts seeking a probing, critical engagement with technology in civic life.

We, the Sketch Model team—a mixed group of Olin faculty and staff—did so by making a big investment in arts and humanities programs, each one designed to test the ideal conditions for truly hybrid research and teaching. Higher education is replete with claims for interdisciplinarity, but the status quo for engineering education asks so little of the humanistic disciplines: a little ethics here, a little history there, resting contentedly on an idea of well-roundedness that is too often anodyne, even anemic in the face of high-stakes sociopolitical times. 

We have spent four years building avenues for the arts and humanities to intersect in provocative, convivial, challenging ways with our small undergraduate college where all students major in engineering. Those years have served as “pilot” programming: a test case for building a very broad tent for the domain of technology. What might engineering education comprise in the future, far outside of skills-based knowledge? How might a 21st century engineering college resurrect and restore a civic vision for desirable futures? We think the arts and humanities are central to that vision.

Sketch Model’s early years enacted a set of experimental approaches that embody the exploratory spirit of ideas-under-construction inherent in “sketch models.” In engineering, sketch models are the early ventures into building what’s to come: a research-led, “looks like” or “works like” prototype made of readily available resources, with flexibility around the edges and the will to tinker and test in provisional commitments. What you’ll soon glimpse here on this website is the blossoming of that spirit: just a few of the many dimensions that made up our creative residency program, summer fellowships, faculty and staff partnerships with practicing artists—alongside its companion audio series about the ideas behind the work. We join other institutions in this pursuit, and we’ve been generously supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Please check back with us soon.

Sara Hendren, Principal Investigator
Benjamin Linder, Co-Principal Investigator
Debbie Chachra and Jonathan Adler, Senior Personnel
Sharon Breitbart, Senior Program Director for External Engagement
Kristin Casasanto, Program Director for External Engagement
Jonathan Stolk, former Co-Principal Investigator

Scenes from Sketch Model Programming

A group of engineering sitting on the floor amist large boxes

Two women talking to one another

A student works on a mural

A photo of a redrawn map