Practicing Engineering

Engineering is a profession.
It is not simply an occupation, something that ‘occupies’ us. For some engineers, it’s not a career (an occupation of significant length), or a vocation (an occupation that one feels strongly suited to do). But for all engineers, it is a profession, an occupation that requires a mix of technical and practical knowledge. A professional is the intersection between a tradesperson and an expert: someone with a particular set of skills and the knowledgebase to inform use of those skills.
A lot of occupations are professions. Being a car mechanic is a profession. Teaching is a profession. ‘Consulting’ is usually a profession. Practicing medicine or law is certainly a profession. And, as I said earlier, engineering is a profession. Why does this classification matter?
Academia does not (generally speaking) prepare people for professions.
Suppose one becomes a Master of Arts in literature. Does this degree necessarily mean that they are an author? What about somebody with a PhD in physics? Does that piece of paper make them a physicist? How about somebody with a BA in business? Are they a businessperson?
Contrast these degrees to the degrees of doctors or lawyers. An MD or JD is fundamentally different than a PhD. The former are professional degrees, and the latter is an academic degree. The difference is simply that academic degrees certify that the holder has completed a school and learned a certain amount of knowledge, but that professional degrees certify that the holder is capable of practicing the profession, and has the requisite knowledge to do it.
The fact that engineers receive academic degrees and then become practicing engineers seems, on the surface, as fine as letting people with BA’s in business run businesses. It is, as many current engineers will tell you, fine. “Most of the skills you need you’ll learn on-the-job,” they say. They’re right. But the reason that engineers receive academic degrees, I hypothesize, is because of a key historical assumption about engineers that cannot be made about doctors or lawyers: Engineers already have engineering experience by the time they attend school.
Engineers of the past were tinkerers, carpenters, and artisans. Formal training doesn’t matter nearly as much as experience when you’re making things. But as humanity needed more and more complex things to be made, we began schooling the makers so that they would have a good knowledgebase to build the things of the future. People went to engineering school because they were already good at engineering, and it was a way to enhance their knowledge. Their experience contextualized their knowledge.
Education for doctors began in the opposite way: the human body has always been complex. In order to be good at healing people, one must understand how the body works, and intuition covers almost none of it. Even experience in healing people doesn’t make someone an expert; medicine advanced very slowly for thousands of years. But along the way, the formal training improved, and so did medicine. For doctors, knowledge contextualizes experience. You probably don’t know any doctors who went to medical school because ‘they were good at healing people.’ Doctors can only get useful experience once they’ve attended some school.
This brings me to my major point: the assumption identified above is wrong. It could have been true at some point, but today, many people attend engineering school with no experience in engineering. Math and science are thrown at them under the promise of ‘being useful’, rather than because they make easier what has already been done. That this assumption is wrong is a key reason for the Olin education being the way it is. We do projects to give us experience and knowledge simultaneously. It’s literally the definition of “do-learn,” as opposed to “learn-do,” the way that engineering had been taught for so long.
Maybe a takeaway from this is that engineering is not an academic subject, any more than medicine or pottery are subjects. There are certainly academic subjects that are important to engineers, like statics, or materials science, or semiconductor physics. But engineering is more a skillset that requires the use of these subjects. Engineering is more like research than physics, or information-gathering than history; it’s a lot broader, and a lot harder to teach. So stop saying that you ‘study engineering.’ You’re practicing being an engineer.
Most of this article was inspired by a conversation I had over the summer with some faculty. Especially influential were Ben Linder and Rebecca Christianson. Thanks also to Wikipedia:

REVO Updates

REVO will represent Olin College for the first time at Formula SAE Electric and Formula Hybrid in 2016. Formula SAE is a student engineering and racing competition. Teams design, build, and test a prototype based on a stringent rule set.
Formula Hybrid specifically emphasizes innovation and efficiency in a high-performance application and thus only hybrid and electric vehicles are sanctioned to compete.

Zero Motorcycles has generously donated two Z-Force brushless DC motors and Sevcon Gen 4 motor controllers. We plan to run each motor at 30 kW (100V/300A), for a power to weight ratio of 6.25 pounds per horsepower, just shy of a Ferrari 458!

Adit Dhanushkodi, John Sakamoto, and Lisa Hachmann are designing the battery pack, which contains 6.7 kWh of Nissan lithium battery modules. The pack must withstand a 40g deceleration crash while isolating the high voltage powering our vehicle. Two relays activate the powertrain after going through a rigorous series of system checks. Adit and John are senior mechanical engineering majors and Lisa is a sophomore electrical engineering major. Contact us if you are interested in learning more about the design.

We have partnered with General Motors engineers to advise the team. We meet with GM engineers regularly to discuss our designs and receive critical feedback. As alumni of Formula Hybrid, they also advise us on project management and execution.

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We’re Here to Help :)

Dear First Years,

Welcome to Olin! We’re so excited to have you join our community, and we look forward to meeting you all over the next few weeks. But before you all get busy with problem sets and projects, we’d like to introduce ourselves. We are CORe.

What is CORe, you ask? CORe stands for the Council of Olin Representatives – a fully elected council which represents the student body to the administration of the College. CORe is comprised of 13 dedicated students who have volunteered to help improve life at Olin. We are the “movers and shakers” – the changers – the people who get things done. We examine issues facing the student body and do whatever we can to make our classmates’ dreams a reality.

Unlike any other group on campus, CORe has the authority to make recommendations to the administration on behalf of the student body. We appoint student volunteers to faculty and operational committees, like the Dining Task Force or the Curriculum Innovation Committee, where the administration has requested student representation. We also have a budget which we can use to improve student life, fund student initiatives, and make capital improvements to spaces around campus. Most people think of us as the student government at Olin (although the “Student Government” is actually a separate larger organization of which CORe is a part – feel free to reach out to us if you want to learn more!).

CORe is structured a little differently from most student governments. We have 3 executives who organize our activities and serve as primary points of contact, 5 specialized representatives who each represent the student body to different departments in the administration, and 5 class representatives who represent the interests of each class. Now, 5 may seem like an odd number, but there is a method to our madness. The specialized representative positions are open to students from any graduating class, and most of the elections occur in the spring before the first years have arrived on campus, so to compensate for first years being unable to run for those positions, they have an extra class representative.

Now that you understand how CORe is organized, here are the members of CORe for the 2015-2016 school year. (First years, the election for your representatives will be happening soon – stay tuned!) Let us know if you have any questions about CORe, if you need help reaching out to the administration, or if you have a cool new idea you want to share. We work for you, and we’re here to help!

Ian Hill
Vice President for Communications
Kevin Crispie
Vice President for Finance
Logan Sweet
Representative to Operations
Mariko Thorbecke
Representative to Marketing and Communications and Development, Family, and Alumni Relations
Manik Sethi
Representative to Admissions and the Office of Student Affairs and Resources
Ellie Funkhouser
Representative for Curriculum and Faculty
Jamie Gorson
Representative for Intercollegiate Affairs
Maggie Jakus
Senior Class Representative
Lauren Froschauer
Junior Class Representative
Subhash Gubba
Sophomore Class Representative
Not yet elected
First Year Class Representative
Not yet elected
First Year Class Representative
Not yet elected

<3 CORe

The Eminent Eighteen

Fellow Oliners,

The Student Government Restructuring last spring strove to make CORe more transparent and improve our communication with the administration. This fall, we’re hoping to give Oliners a better understanding of how the administration operates, so in this edition of Frankly Speaking, we’re going to pull back the curtain on the Board of Trustees.

Have you ever wondered who President Miller reports to? You guessed it – the Board of Trustees. The Board of Trustees is the highest governing body at Olin College and is comprised of eighteen dedicated individuals who care deeply about Olin’s mission. Two of the eighteen trustees are Olin alumni who are elected and rotate out every few years. Two other trustees, namely Mr. William Norden and Mr. Lawrence Milas, were trustees of the Olin Foundation before it dissolved to create Olin College. The trustees’ backgrounds range from being investment managers to lawyers to experts in STEM fields.

The Board meets three to four times a year where they address the most important business of the College – once in February, May, August (as needed), and October. In order for the Board to function effectively, the trustees established seven committees to handle various aspects of the College’s operation. Faculty, staff, and (in certain committees) students are often present during meetings of these committees to give presentations and keep the Board informed, but only the trustees actually vote. Five committees handle particularly confidential issues and do not have any student representation present at their meetings.

The Executive Committee works closely with the President throughout the year and will act for the full Board on certain time-sensitive matters that may come up between Board meetings.
Unlike what you might think, the Governance Committee doesn’t actually govern the college but rather considers how the Board itself should be governed. Trustees on this committee discuss the By-Laws of the Board and the candidacy of possible new trustees.
The Audit Committee oversees financial audits of the College and makes sure that we are keeping ourselves honest. This Committee also has oversight of all risk management activities at the College.
In cooperation with the Development Department of the college’s administration, the Development Committee works to identify and cultivate major donors to the College.
The Investment Committee manages how Olin invests the endowment.

However, student representatives sit in on meetings of the two committees which handle issues most relevant to students.

The Finance and Facilities Committee reviews and approves the budget for each fiscal year and performs financial monitoring for the College. They approve new faculty and staff positions and discuss our long term financial sustainability. Directly impacting students, they review Olin’s tuition and fees as well as current, future, and long term facilities projects. This committee also considers the viability of returning the full tuition scholarship. Logan Sweet, CORe Vice President for Finance, serves as our student representative on this committee.
The Academic Affairs and Student Life Committee approves faculty promotions and appointments and spends much of their meetings receiving updates and discussing academic life issues including faculty activities, admission, post-graduate planning, and student life. At their most recent meeting in May, the trustees expressed their excitement that Emily Roper-Doten re-joined Olin in May as our new Dean of Admissions. On a related approval and promotion note, they also awarded Emeritus status to founding Provost, David Kerns, and founding VP for Innovation and Research, Sherra Kerns. They follow new curricular innovation closely and were excited to see new sponsors for the SCOPE program –particularly Indico, Limbs International, and SpaceX. The committee’s concerns lately largely center around strengthening Olin’s faculty and considering the expectations for external arrangements between Olin and its partners. Ian Hill, CORe President, serves as our student representative on this committee.

We hope this article sheds some light onto the operations of the Board of Trustees. If you have any questions please feel free to reach out.

Respectfully yours,
Ian Hill and Logan Sweet
CORe President and Vice President for Finance