Denmark’s America

As I sat in the Studenterhuset (the Danish student center) on January 20th, watching the inauguration of Donald Trump, it was silent. While I heard conversations in english here and there, the crowd was mostly Danish. All around me they stared straight ahead as the commentators spoke, hanging on to every detail. I had been in Denmark for only a week, but it was already clear that I was no further from U.S. politics than I was back in Massachusetts. It all seemed so close and yet foreign at the same time.

A few weeks later, after dinner with a Danish family, I got the question I had been warned was coming. “So, what do you think about the new president?” We sat with our coffee and discussed the ins and outs of the American election system, the political climate, and the future of the U.S. After an hour, I sheepishly asked, “So, how do elections work in Denmark?” While these two Danes had been talking about the most complex details of the entire American political system, I hadn’t the slight idea about how any of that worked in Denmark. More recently, I spoke with some of the Danes I live with in my kollegium (Danish student housing). They spoke with the all the confidence of informed citizens, but also with a understanding that it was a one way street. What happened in the U.S. had a large effect on their lives, but there was little they could do to affect it.

It feels like a strange time to study abroad. When I wake up each morning, I see a list of news notifications on my phone about what happened in Washington while I was sleeping. I too start to feel like the Danes. I read the news and listen to the radio but then I walk outside and it all seems so foreign. I get an email that says “Call your senator” at least once a day but I shake it off, thinking, “I can’t call, I don’t have an international plan” or, “Postage to the States is real expensive.” Even so, what happens in the U.S. is impossible to ignore. I have never watched a Danish prime minister inauguration. Even while living here, I have heard little discussion of Danish politics. And yet, every day the front page of the Danish newspaper is something to do with the U.S.

Last weekend I went to the Science March in Copenhagen. I couldn’t help but find it strange that this march, inspired by marches being held around the U.S., was happening so far away from where it’s impact was suppose to be felt. Countless people held signs and listened to speeches as if they were on the mall in DC. I flew across an ocean and, even here, there were people who were committed to American politics that didn’t even have a say. More committed, I’m ashamed to admit, than I have been at times.

Studying abroad at a time like this has been strange and even frustrating at times. But living in outside the U.S. has given me a new view of American politics. What happens in the U.S. does not stay in the U.S. People all around the world are watching and waiting. If a Dane can make a sign and march in the cold to send the U.S. a message from across the Atlantic, as someone that has actual power to make change, I better do a heck of alot more than just call my senator.

Our Time at South by South Lawn

Only good days start with a 3:45am wake up time. Then a 4:15 Uber ride to the airport. Then an hour and a half plane ride, which happens to only be about a third full. Then an airport taxi to our destination, you know, The White House. But let’s back up here. Why exactly were we at the White House? We were there for South by South Lawn. Inspired by South by Southwest (which President Obama attended this past spring), SXSL brought together innovators, creators, and organizers working with social justice and environmental issues in an all-day festival showcasing their work. So, again, why were we there?

Our involvement at SXSL was a collaboration of two labs on campus. Sara Hendren was invited to present her work with a+a at SXSL, and came to us folks in Return Design for exhibit design and fabrication help. Return Design is Tim Ferguson Sauder’s lab at Olin where student designers produce commissioned work for people who help people, including non-profits and art organizations. That’s where we come in… We’re Keenan, Aaron, and Gaby, juniors and student designers at Return Design.

At the White House gate, we were greeted by two of the SXSL organizers, as well as two Secret Service members, fully equipped with all of the tactical gear you can imagine. An adorable German shepard, most likely one command away from tearing out our windpipes, sniffed our equipment-filled bags. It turns out only Sara was on ‘the list.’ The two organizers were at the ready to tackle the situation, and quickly collected our IDs and added us to said ‘list’ via pink-cased smartphone—very official and secure.

After around 20 minutes, the additions to the list had been processed and we were all let through the first gate. All except Keenan, that is, since his birth year was incorrectly entered as 2016. He may have a baby face, but that is a little extreme. So as the rest of the team entered the premises, Keenan had the unique opportunity to stand alone for another 20 minutes with the unflinching Secret Service men before he was reinstated to his rightful age and allowed on the lawn. The two organizers assured him and reminded him to “not lose faith in the government.” Not yet.

Once we got in, we got right to work finalizing the booth and prepping for the press and attendees. Some kind folks from the coffee bar at the event brought us iced coffees to get us going, and soon the last of the vinyl was up, we (finally!) got a power hook-up, and we had the project prototypes arranged.

“I hit something hard when I was putting in this stake. Is there a bunker under here?” – Jeff
“I can neither confirm nor deny those allegations.” – the grinning Secret Service guy

When the SXSL guests arrived, we found ourselves busily engaged in good conversation. Some attendees strolled by, while others were quick to be active in discussion with us. We were excited by how many people we somehow connected to the lab, through personal connections or otherwise.

Although we had numerous interesting conversations with many interesting people over the course of the day, there were a few people who stood out. Adam Savage, with his film crew from Tested, stopped by and interviewed Sara. He was a super genuine guy, very engaged with the project, and was happy to take a photo with us afterwards. Valerie Jarrett, a senior advisor to President Obama, also stopped by with a large Secret Service member in tow. She was sweet and showed a nuanced interest in Sara’s work as well. Both NowThis and Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls dropped by the booth to film Sara talking about the project. The NowThis video, broadcasted live on Facebook, racked up over 100k views. Gaby got to talk to Bob Boilen, host of NPR’s All Songs Considered and the Tiny Desk Concert series, which was awesome. Bob was a cool guy, and even though he was very interested in the booth, we were unable to secure an invite to the next Tiny Desk Concert… Bummer.

In addition to talking about our booth, we were able to see some of the other happenings at SXSL. The National Park Service booth was an interactive installation: a 14 foot diameter compass with a moveable needle. When the needle points toward a national park, the compass emits a joyful ding and displays information about all NPS-maintained land in that direction.

While we did not get to hear many of the panel discussions (we were so busy at our booth!), we did get to see Congressman John Lewis and his powerful, emotional introduction to a panel. After the booths closed at sundown, we were able to catch the performance by The Lumineers. At one point the guitarist climbed up onto the 12-foot stack of speakers and played for a while before jumping off, guitar and all. (He was OK, don’t worry!)

After a long, amazing day at South by South Lawn, we had a delicious picnic dinner and listened to the POTUS talk with Leonardo DiCaprio and Dr. Katharine Hayhoe about climate change. After, we lay down on blankets on the South Lawn to watch the premier of Leo’s film on climate change, Before The Flood. For those of us who had enough energy left to stay awake for the whole thing, it was an interesting film showing the destruction of climate change and calling for climate action.

Our time at SXSL was an amazing experience. We were able to not only help design and fabricate a kick-ass booth, but we were also able to have interesting conversations with inspiring people and learn from some of the most impressive innovators, creators, and organizers. You can read more about our time at

Divesting Olin

Divesting Olin
By Aaron Greiner and Izzy Harrison on behalf of GROW

So, What is Divestment?
According to Wikipedia, “Divesting is the act of removing stocks from a portfolio based on mainly ethical, non-financial objections to certain business activities of a corporation.” One of the first times that divestment was used as a means to promote a social change was during apartheid, the extreme system of racial segregation, in South Africa. Companies, universities, organizations, local governments, and individuals took their money out of apartheid-affiliated businesses and are partially credited with helping to dismantle the system.
Today, there is a new divestment movement. Five hundred and seven institutions and 3.4 trillion dollars have been divested from the oil and gas industries. The goal of this movement is to put financial pressure on the largest contributors to climate change and other environmental disasters in an effort to get them to behave in a more socially and environmentally responsible manner. Sixty-one colleges have already divested in some meaningful way, and we hope Olin will join the movement.

Why Should Olin Divest?
Olin was founded on the principle of making the world a better place. Fossil fuels are unsustainable (they will run out), and are the single greatest contributors to climate change, so we believe it is against Olin’s founding principles to support fossil fuel companies We believe that continuing to profit from the destruction of the environment through knowingly investing our money in companies that are accelerating the pace of climate change is fundamentally against Olin’s core values.
The scientific consensus is clear and overwhelming; we cannot safely burn even half of global fossil fuel reserves without dangerously warming the planet with disastrous effects. Furthermore, as the market inevitably shifts towards more renewable energy sources, we believe an innovative institution such as Olin should be on the forefront of this change.
We believe progressive action towards divestment will be a sound decision for the wellbeing of Olin’s alumni and current and future students. We deserve the opportunity to graduate with a future unimpaired by climate chaos.

What Have We Done so Far?
A little over a year ago, we started meeting with our CFO Patty Gallagher and Chair of the Investment Committee Doug Kahn to explore what it might look like if Olin were to divest. They were incredibly receptive, and we formed a close partnership. Over the past year, we have had many meetings and are making positive progress towards a solution that we can all get behind. In addition, we had a meeting with the investment firm that manages Olin’s money to get a sense from them about what divestment could look like while, of course, keeping the best financial interests of the school in mind.
We are very fortunate that we are at a place like Olin where we can have meetings like this, and our collaborative approach has had positive results. The Investment Committee has begun to have discussions about the topic of divestment. We will continue to work with Doug and Patty to advance the conversation towards a mutually acceptable resolution.
Before we move forward, we want to be confident that this is something that Faculty, Staff, Board Members, and Students, can all get behind. We are looking forward to continuing the progress in the fall and hope to keep the community updated.

Want to get Involved, or have Questions/Concerns?
Shoot us an Email!

PNR Olin

At Olin, we strive to be motivated by our interest in learning, and our desire to do our best work. Yet all too often, we are instead encouraged to be motivated by a single number that we are conditioned to think is an accurate representation of how well we are learning.

This is why, since coming to Olin, I have not once looked at my grades.

The idea of “Pass No Recording” Olin is to stay motivated by our interest in learning and our desire to do our best work by simply not looking at our grades. With this mindset we can continue the motivation we all had during our first semester, where we would go above and beyond on a project not because our professor would give us a good grade, but because we had a passion that we were excited to work for.

Once we start to look at and internalize letter grades and GPA’s, we slip into the mindset of distributing our time and effort in order to receive that maximum number of points, even if that means spending less time on a project we are passionate about because we know that if we go above and beyond, it won’t make a difference on our transcript. When we do this, we start to lose that passion that makes Olin different.

Not looking at letter grades and GPA’s, however, is only one side to “Pass No Recording” Olin. The other, equally (or perhaps more) important side comes in the form of a reflection. While a letter grade can not attempt to distill all the work you have done over a semester, a written reflection (whether it is written by the student or the professor) can get much closer.

A written reflection can highlight the project you went above and beyond on, all that you contributed in class, and how much you progressed over the semester, but it can also show your weak points and how you can improve.

When collected together, all these reflections, or evaluations, provide a comprehensive picture of your journey through Olin. They allow you to take pride in your successes and learn from your failures. These are attributes that a number simply can not even start to encompass.

Deciding to not look at your grades is not without its challenges though. When my parents asked me to send in my transcript so they could get the good student discount from the car insurance company, I physically covered up my screen so I could only see the download button, attached the document in an email, and immediately deleted it from my computer. I am still unsure what I will do when an employer asks for my GPA in an application.

It may not be realistic for you to not look at your grades, and that’s fine. Even if you don’t write it down, reflect on your work for the semester. Feel pride in your triumphs, and work to fix your weaknesses. Try to think what really motivates you, and use that to guide you.