Welcome to Sketch Model at Olin College. We're exploring how the humanities and arts show up in the STEM classroom, beyond easy claims for STEAM-style interdisciplinarity - in residencies, summer internships, and STEM-arts collaborations. We're seeking the much deeper "why" and "should" questions and how they shape the technologies we build. Our work between 2018-2021 has been supported by the Mellon Foundation.
Sketch models are early ventures into building what’s to come—research-led, “looks-like” or “works-like” prototypes made of readily available resources. An idea that is made concrete but remains rough around the edges immediately communicates what’s key and simultaneously invites tinkering, testing, and redesign, in ways both focused and playful. The first years of Sketch Model enacted a set of experimental approaches that embody the exploratory spirit of ideas-under-construction inherent in its name.
There are two kinds of documentation on this page: this synopsis in text and images, and a six-part audio series of interviews, below. Read on for more context about our work and how you can get in touch.
Sketch Model / Presented by Olin College of Engineering
Sketch Model is a new audio series presented by Olin College of Engineering. It is created, hosted, and produced by Sara Hendren and edited by Brian Funck. The series delves into the engineering classroom and looks at how perspectives from the arts, humanities, and social sciences shape the why and should questions about the technologies we build. Whether in code or with robotics or AI.
How is it that social and political concerns are so easily cut out of technical training? And what would it look like to bring them back in? Sara and seven guests to the podcast zero in on these questions and more while exploring engineering education and the classroom as a formative site that shapes the ethics of technology.
Listen to the 6-part series in-full below and on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts + Amazon Music.
Sketch Model /
is a new audio series presented by Olin College of Engineering about the engineering classroom and how perspectives from the arts, humanities, and social sciences shape the "why" and "should" questions about the technologies we build.
There are lots of podcasts about the ethics of technology, but Sketch Model is different. During this special 6-part series, host Sara Hendren and her guests will zero in on engineering education and the classroom as a formative site that shapes the ethics of technology. How do students in the much lauded STEM field learn to address the humanistic concerns about technology? The why and should questions about what they make, whether in code or with robotics or AI. How is it that social and political concerns are so easily cut out of technical training? And what would it look like to bring them back in?
In episode one of Sketch Model, Sara is joined by Erin Cech, associate professor of sociology at the University of Michigan, where she also has an appointment in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. Cech, who's been looking under the hood at engineering education for a long time, has found some counterintuitive and troubling things happening in the engineering classroom. In this episode she'll tell us about it: how engineering students grow less interested in social and civic matters over the course of a four year education and what it might mean to redress those trends.
In episode two of Sketch Model, Sara is joined by scholars Matthew Wisnioski and James Malazita, as the series takes a look at the history of engineering education to find some clues about how we got to the familiar pattern of depoliticization in engineering education. Why do social and political concerns about technology come up regularly for engineers only to be smothered pretty easily, by a sense that technological progress is inevitable and impossible to tame?
Wisnioski is an interdisciplinary historian in science technology and society at Virginia Tech, a senior fellow at the Institute for Creativity, the Arts and Technology and a co-founder of the Human Centered Design, Interdisciplinary Graduate Education program. Malazita is assistant professor in science and technology studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute with an appointment in the program in Games and Simulation Arts and Sciences.
In episode three of Sketch Model, Sara is joined by Olin College's Lynn Andrea Stein, professor of computer and cognitive science. In this episode, the podcast takes a look at the origins of our own institution: Olin College of Engineering.
Olin was started a little over 20 years ago to reinvent engineering education for the 21st century. What would engineers need to know and experience? And then what kinds of curricular structures might bring those ideas to life? There was a partner year before the college even opened its doors, where students came to a not-yet-finished campus and thought it through, alongside faculty with a wide latitude and a lot of imagination. We wanted to hear about what that felt like in the 1990s from one of our founding faculty members. Stein takes us to that moment in engineering education more broadly: startup culture, the early days of the internet, and the need for design in engineering education.
In episode four of Sketch Model, Sara is joined by Mimi Onuoha, an artist and creative technologist who also held a creative residency at Olin as part of the Sketch Model program on Olin's campus. In the episode, Sara and Mimi explore what happens when technologies find their way into art forms, and when questions—strong, open-ended questions—are a hallmark of creative practice, in the things we build and in classrooms where we teach.
In episode five of Sketch Model, Sara is joined by Olin colleague Amon Millner, associate professor of computing and innovation and director of the EASE Lab (i.e. extending access to STEM empowerment). In the episode, Sara and Amon talk about how Amon got his start as a young person, why the performing arts mix so well with code, and how he's built a technology lab that reaches both college students and school-aged kids. Millner trained at the University of Southern California, at Georgia Tech and at the MIT Media Lab where he was the co-creator of the Scratch platform, which is a visual and graphical medium for teaching coding widely used in playful ways among young people.
In episode six of Sketch Model, Sara is joined by Olin colleague Erhardt Graeff, assistant professor of social and computer science. In the series so far, we've talked with theorists and historians about why engineering education struggles to include contextual and ethical concerns and about what it looks like in concrete practice to mix ideas in the arts and humanities with engineering in the classroom. In this final episode, Sara and Erhardt discuss the horizon for engineering education as a formative site for "civic professionalism," about Public Interest Technology, and about what happens when students have to face the possibility of not building anything at all.
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, Senior Personnel
- 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
- Adina Karp, Production Consultant, Sketch Model audio