An Open Black Box

Editor’s Note: This article should be read in full. Please take a copy of the paper with you if you can’t read it all in one sitting, but the reader should have the context of the article in its entirety.
One of the most fundamental changes to Olin in recent history is the impending Academic Center redesign project to rebuild The Shop and the Design Studios. It is the first time since Olin’s the campus was initially completed that any heavy construction work will take place, and it marks a huge milestone for the college. Because Olin’s curriculum was essentially created after the buildings, there was limited opportunity to use a developed academic philosophy to influence the campus’ design decisions. We have now learned enough about ourselves, our goals, and our needs to justify reconstruction, as well as intelligently and productively redesign key sections of our campus to better serve our community. Therefore, it is critical that we employ all the resources and knowledge we have accumulated over the last twenty years to ensure that we create the best product possible. This is an amazing project with enormous potential. Its success is critical to the development of the college, and it needs to set the right precedents for the future.
In the course of my efforts to learn more about the AC redesign, I met with Aaron Hoover, Lawrence Neely, Steve Hannabury, Russ Zacharias, members of the Shop staff, and a number of students. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who were gracious enough to speak with me. Our discussions have been insightful and invaluable. I appreciate your time and openness.
In the interest of brevity, I will be focusing on some of the key points and trends I noticed during these discussions, which I feel it would be beneficial for the entire Olin Community to be aware of.
For context, here is a brief history of this redesign project. The concept of an AC 1/Design Studio redesign was first conceived of almost 3 years ago as part of a proposed “menu of projects” that could be presented to donors in an effort to bring more concreteness to—among other things—the concept of “curriculum innovation,” for which the college was seeking funding. During the summer of 2016, the faculty design teams for the two project spaces had their first meeting with architects to develop a preliminary design.
After the completion of the initial design, the project was shelved for nearly a year, until the necessary funding could be obtained. After several failed attempts to gain outside financial backing, the Olin Board of Trustees agreed to fund the project personally. By July of 2017, there was enough money pledged to ensure the project could move forward, and work began anew. At this point, the faculty and staff stakeholders met with architects again to reconfirm the specifications for the spaces involved in the redesign. This led to the project presentation at the September Town Hall shortly after.
What this boils down to is that the design work was primarily carried out by faculty based on their experiences in the spaces and knowledge of student experiences. The role of Steve Hannabury and Facilities is to manage the project logistics and deliver what faculty have asked for.
I dove into this article holding many of the same concerns as the rest of the student body. However, I have been pleasantly surprised to learn that a number of my concerns and those of my peers are the symptoms of Olin’s communication system and not the core design of the project. At its heart, this is a sound project and the next logical step in Olin’s development. It identifies some of the simplest and most effective ways we can further our institutional goals and expand experimentation in our curriculum. It gives us real Shop facilities, not some classrooms with machines crammed into them, as well as a midsize space for studio classes and other workshop events. Both of these resources are ones that students, staff, and faculty alike have lamented over for some time, and we are finally making those dreams a reality.
My positive opinion of the concept of the project is not held by large sections of the Olin community. I am going to attempt to explain why this is the case, possible ways of improving public opinion, and why I believe so strongly that this project will have a significant positive impact on Olin College.
While I hope this statement is redundant, I feel the need to state outright that my intentions here are to offer my observances for purely constructive purposes. I neither wish to attack nor defame, and I maintain a steadfast desire to bring about the best end result possible. With that in mind, here are my key discoveries regarding the AC redesign.
One of the most essential components of a successful large-scale project is an effective communication network. This is something that Olin has generally struggled to develop. Because of Olin’s population size, hearsay and the grapevine have normally sufficed for the transmission of information. I will not say more on that here. That is a discussion for another day. A primary concern surrounding this project is the lack of readily available information for the Olin community regarding the process of completing this project, its progress, and how those efforts will impact life at Olin.
A persistent example of the need for more active dispersion of information is the frequent readdressing of Large Project Building (LPB) access during the spring semester. Because of the lack of a unified communication system, information regarding LPB access has been transmitted singularly through the grapevine. As a result, fact has been repeatedly mixed with gossip, resulting in persistent student concern and action based on incorrect information.
The project leaders have marveled at how their information could be so misconstrued, one even remarking “We have no idea where [students] get these ideas. It never crossed our radar to close the LPB. It would be impossible.” Because of the lack of unified communication, students have no way of knowing this without asking project leaders personally. This is neither the fault of the students nor the project leaders. It is simply a current norm of life at Olin. Furthermore, the problem extends to all sections of the Olin community which lack a constant direct path to project leadership. The continuing use of the grapevine as the primary communication system unnecessarily exposing the project to potential delays, convolution, and the need to answer repeated questions from panicked community members who “heard something,” simply because they have no more valid or trustworthy source of information.
Examples such as LPB access have already begun to crop up, and as the project continues to ramp up, there are guaranteed to be more. It is therefore essential that we establish a regular, official communication channel between all community members and the project leaders, to ensure the community has up to date information and a place to turn where questions, comments, and concerns can be addressed in an official capacity.
Another reason there are so many concerns held among the students surrounding this project is that there is a huge difference in perception of the project between the project’s inner circle and the rest of the community, a gap I am attempting to bridge here in part. This is both the result of the communication rift described above as well as the manner in which information surrounding the project has been brought to the public. Students and other community members have been exposed to the project in a very literal way. We have been told what physically is happening to the spaces, but the intent behind those changes has not been adequately addressed.
The redesign will do much more than simply create an Olin Zoo of Engineering for people to press their noses against. However, this was how community members outside of the project’s inner circle defined their perception of the project’s goals. In my discussions with the project leaders, I got a very different picture. They characterized the project as the creation of a platform to empower innovation, which we can organically build off of as time goes on. By building a space with as few permanent fixtures as possible, it can be easily and quickly reconfigured for whatever purpose it must fulfill, adding great versatility. The space will also allow for new opportunities to be explored which were not previously possible simply due to our space constraints. In short, it is designed to broaden our opportunities for experimentation and ease the flow of creativity which has in some ways been stifled by our campus’ design. It is not the end. It is a springboard toward an exciting new beginning with wondrous possibility.

This focus on designing a blank space conducive to experimentation is what I am referring to as the “Empty Box Mindset.” Essentially, the modus operandi of the design team is to create a space, fully flesh out the construction designs, and when that design is complete, move on to think specifically about the usage details of the spaces. While this mindset has allowed the project to progress quickly and remain on schedule up to this point, it has also given the somewhat correct impression that the construction design was made in a vacuum, due to the lack of formal consideration of potential space use cases in the final construction design phase. There is also evidence to suggest that this mentality is a key reason for the lack of student involvement at this stage of the project.
One argument I was presented with for the lack of student inclusion was that the project leaders did not want to waste people’s time by making them suffer through useless meetings and that instead, they were employing a more nimble system of convening necessary people on an as-needed basis. This is merely a possible explanation, not a justification. While this is an honorable goal and an extremely sound practice, it does not justify the exclusion of what can be safely argued is the spaces’ largest user group. So far as I have discovered, there is no sound argument for the exclusion of the student body from this process, simply because students are such a major user group in both spaces.
I had prepared a long-winded explanation on the merits of co-design, but then I realized something. Any reader of this article who is remotely familiar with the Olin curriculum should also be aware of our fervent advocation for the practice of co-design and solicitation of user feedback in our classes. It is a cornerstone technique of Olin design philosophy, found on some level in nearly all Olin design courses. It is disquieting to not see it put into practice on our own campus, regardless of how “empty” the box supposedly is meant to be at this stage.

There are individuals—both inside and outside project leadership—at work attempting to rectify this oversight. However, at this juncture, that point is essentially moot with respect to the construction phase. Given the tight timeline of the project, we must move forward if we still plan to complete the construction in the summer of 2018, which is non-negotiable at this point. We must continue to make the most well-informed decisions we can, using all the resources at our disposal. I have it on good authority that there are plans being developed to have students play a much more active role in “filling the box.” What that actually means has not yet been defined. Once the budgetary constraints become more palpable, our design flexibility will become clearer, and this section of the project will come into more focus.
**Note: I am about to do something incredibly dangerous. I am going to provide in clear terms what I have determined to be the answer to a question on many of the project leaders’ minds: why are the students not more excited about the project? Again, since the construction design phase is nearly complete, the answer to the question is essentially irrelevant from a practical perspective. Nonetheless, I firmly believe it is still worthy of state, if for no other reason than to prevent repetition of these events in the future. This will be blunt and direct but based in fact. I ask that readers keep in mind that I write these words while still wholeheartedly believing in the mission of this project and with the pure motivation of bettering Olin College, not damaging it. I also ask that if you proceed beyond this point, you remain with me to the end.**
During my discussions, members of the project team said they were “surprised that students were not more excited about the project.” This difference between expectation and reality is the perfect argument as to why student involvement in the design process would have been beneficial. Students would have been excited about the project if it had not been handed down to them. We love Olin and we want to make a difference and do our part to make Olin everything that we know it can be, everything that it was advertised to us as being when we decided to come here in the first place. Because of the lack of student involvement up until now, those students with a vested interest in the project have felt frustrated and disregarded.
There is an expectation among students, which was established with the college itself, that Olin will be uniquely student-centered and handle major decisions differently than other institutions. Students expect decision-makers to take stock in their viewpoints, especially when the changes affect students directly. We trust that this agreement to cooperate will be held up, and that agreement was violated. By extension, students’ trust in Olin’s administration was violated.
In excluding students from this phase of development, Olin has just set an extremely dangerous precedent of disregarding community input in critical decisions. We expect Olin to be better than that. At this stage in the process, there is nothing that can reasonably be done to repair this in the context of this current project. The construction drawings are already being drafted. All we can do is push forward and learn. That is what we do best at Olin after all. We make decisions, evaluate their outcomes, learn from them, and hopefully make better decisions the next time.
Despite the missteps this project has taken, it is crucial that we keep one thing in mind. Robyn Goodner, our instructor of design and fabrication sums it up well. We must “actively assume best intentions [of the project leaders], because [the intentions] are there.” There is no malicious intent here. Even though our natural instinct to vilify people whose decisions we may not agree with might say otherwise. We are all on the same team and are working toward a common goal: to better the college and the experiences community members have here. This project is not the end-all-and-be-all, nor was it meant to be. Olin lives on experimentation and iteration, and it only functions if community members take an active role in ensuring its success. So I issue a challenge to each of you who are reading my words.
I urge you to not be satisfied with the explanations that I have presented here. I put this article together in a week. There is so much more that can and should be done. If this project is one that concerns you, interests you or even kindles your idle curiosity, then I implore you to dig into it for yourselves. Ask questions that are important to you, draw your own conclusions, create your own insights, and challenge your preconceptions, including those generated by this article. I welcome it. We must not simply sit back and watch the process unfold or, even worse, allow ourselves to stew in silent frustration. Take the mantle of action upon yourself.
During our discussions, both Aaron Hoover and Lawrence Neeley expressed interest in speaking with students and knowing more of the student perspective regarding this project. If you would like to learn more or take a more active role, I recommend starting by contacting them. As the spring semester progresses, there will be an increasing number of opportunities for community members to influence this project. Take advantage of them, create opportunities where you think they could or should exist, and if nothing else, take some time to think about this project, what it means to you, or what you would like to see these spaces become. It is that community initiative which makes Olin work and that dedication to improvement which makes Olin great. Let us embody those virtues and employ them to preserve, defend, and display our values as a community.
I may still maintain some of the same concerns that I did when I started the journey to write this article. However, I am optimistic about the future. I have gained a new perspective. I now see that this project is not simply a monument to remain unchallenged and untouched but rather another step in the process, another piece of the ever-developing puzzle that is the Olin philosophy. It is another chance for us to do things differently, to do things better. Make no mistake, they will be better. While I look forward to seeing the new spaces themselves, I’m much more excited to know what comes after, what manifests because of these changes, who is inspired by these new resources and what possibilities these new spaces bring to Olin. I look forward to playing my part, and I long to see what we create.


A Community SERVey

This October, SERV sent out a survey asking Oliners to describe their experiences with community service, both before coming to Olin and after. We’ve heard repeatedly that people want to do more to interact with communities outside The Bubble, but “doing more” can be a big challenge when we already do so much. We hoped to use people’s experiences and responses to think about how to make community service more accessible and appealing to a broader cross-section of Olin students, and also better-support all the students who already do community service here.

Thanks to the 58 students who filled out the survey – the results are in!

If logistics (like transportation) didn’t matter, how often would you see yourself doing a community service activity?
48% of respondents said they would like to do a community service activity either every week or every other week. Another 24% would be interested in doing monthly community service. The vast majority of respondents do want to find a way to fit community service into their schedules; from their answers to the question, “describe your community service experience,” we know that most haven’t found that way yet.

Logistically, what kinds of service opportunities appeal to you?
The two top choices here were short, low-level commitments on campus (73% of respondents were interested) and afternoons off-campus (71%).

What kinds of community issues interest you? (Check all that apply)
Unsurprisingly, the top choice here is STEM Tutoring – 70% of respondents would be interested in this option. This is also the option that might already be best-covered by existing clubs on campus like igniteCS or eDisco. The other high percentages included Environment (59%), Food Access (57%), and Olin Community (57%). Other options included animal care, healthy relationships, international issues, developmental disabilities, health care, and elder care, which ranked between 40% and 20%.

What might deter you, or what has deterred you in the past, from getting involved in community service? (Check all that apply)
66% of students cited a lack of time, and 62% cited time conflicts. However, 50% of those surveyed also said that they “don’t know when community service events happen.” Clearly, while rethinking the organizational structure of SERV activities will be useful, more or different publicity is needed as well.

What could SERV do to address these issues?
In addition to the raw data, the SERVey also provided some specific guidelines for what SERV ought to be doing to better support volunteerism and service. Some are more obvious, and just require a bit of organization on our end; others might need more long-term action. Either way, this semester’s and next semester’s SERV teams can try to:
1. Schedule early in the semester:
“Make a schedule of events at the start of the semester and let everyone know what that will be before they commit to other stuff”
2. Provide more infrastructure and logistical support for organizers:
“If all logistics are taken care of, it’d help.”
“the main problem is that setting up service opportunities takes a lot of effort on the organizer’s behalf”
“make the initial process as easy as possible”
3. Publicize events more frequently – many people suggested that we do a monthly newsletter. We do list everything in Frankly Speaking, but it’s worth posting it elsewhere as well!
“flyers in the dining hall about when certain community service events happen, email signups”
“Do more updates on activities that have spots for volunteers”
“IDK man, send out a when to meet?”
4. Organize Olin Van Trainings (75% of respondents did not have a car):
“Olin Van training has historically been difficult to arrange.”
“If y’all could get me van trained I’d be happy to drive to events!”
5. Organize more, and potentially different, activities:
“Present more opportunities that are less physically demanding.”
“Have a wider variety of service opportunities”

So, now what?
We’re really glad to have gotten so much good feedback on what community service could be at Olin. Now’s the fun part: putting ideas into action! If you want to help out, if you’ve got a service project or idea, if you think the ideas we described here are no good, or if you’d just like to express your disappointment in our use of “SERV” puns, we’d love to hear about it at SERV Lunch! Wednesdays, 12:30-1:00 under the clocks. We’ll see you there!


Interview with German Students

Exchange Students
Frankly Speaking

The following are excerpts from Student Affairs’ interview with Olin German exchange students Felix Eberhardt and Christian Lichter. Both students’ home institution is OTH Regensburg – University of Applied Sciences in Regensburg, Germany.

Tell us a bit about how you found Olin and why you wanted to study here?

Christian: I was very interested in Olin because of its project-based approach to learning.
Felix: I always wanted to study abroad in the US. Luckily OTH Regensburg had a partnership with such a great institution like Olin which made the application process much easier. Because of this, I decided to come to Olin without the slightest hesitation.

Can you tell us about your academic experience at Olin?

Christian: In general I am very pleased with the academic experience although it is more time- consuming than at Regensburg. It’s a much more informal learning atmosphere.
Felix: It’s a very different experience. At Regensburg, there are over 11,000 students in the University of Applied Sciences and another 23,000 in other faculties at the university. If you have a question about an assignment, you would never call the professor as you might at Olin. It’s a lot more formal and we don’t call our professors by their first names.

Can you tell us about life outside the classroom?

Christian: I look forward to rock climbing in the US. There are several students at Olin who do it regularly. I enjoy hiking and rock climbing at home in Germany. Regensburg is close to the Alps.
Felix: I play on the club basketball team at Babson and we have a lot of competitive games. At home in Regensburg, I play semi-pro basketball every weekend.

When you think about why you came to the US to study, have you achieved what you set out to do?

Christian: Yes, I had always wanted to study in the US to broaden my perspective and build my global resume. I was motivated to pursue this because of my apprenticeship in software engineering at a hospital in Germany.
Felix: I am hoping to improve my English while I am here as well as gain a new perspective on technical problem sets. That is my goal.

What do you miss most about German culture now that you’ve been here for 3 months?

Christian and Felix: Freshly baked bread, or brot in German!

Students who study abroad often talk about a point in time when they changed. For some, it’s about feeling comfortable speaking a new language. For others, it’s feeling immersed in the culture of their host country, and enjoying their new home. Can you pick out one moment during the semester that was a turning point for you and your time here at Olin?

Christian: That was not the case for me. I have been enjoying it here since the first day I arrived.
Felix: I felt comfortable from the first day at Olin. The hardest part, in the beginning, was meeting so many new people and getting to know them, but everyone was really friendly and always tried to include me as much as possible. I made some really good friends very quickly who took care of me and helped me find my way in a new university in a foreign country.

Could you describe a “low point” or what has been most difficult during your time at Olin?

Christian: I got sick and had to go back and forth to the health services center for medication.
Felix: Missing my family and my girlfriend, but they are coming to visit me for Thanksgiving break.

Is there something about German culture or language that you would like to share with your fellow Olin classmates?

Christian and Felix: If you visit Bavaria, where Regensburg is, servus (pronounced zair wus) means hello and goodbye.

Would you encourage your classmates to spend a semester at Regensburg or to visit you?

Christian: Yes, definitely. There are three rivers flowing through the town, one of them is called Regen which gave Regensburg its name. Also around Regensburg, there are a lot of climbing rocks. And public transportation is very good; the bus comes every 10 minutes and you can get anywhere in or near the city very easily.
Felix: Definitely! Try and go in the spring or summer (April to August are the best months). Regensburg is one of the oldest cities in Germany (2500 years old). This UNESCO World Heritage city is filled with young people (35,000 students among its 160,000 inhabitants). There are lots of good (and, compared to Boston, cheap) restaurants and beer gardens. Many big companies (BMW, Audi, Siemens, Continental, and Krones to name a few) have offices in Regensburg. If you’re into soccer, Jahn Regensburg plays in the German second division. Other big cities in Germany are easily (and cheaply) accessible from Regensburg by public transportation: Munich (1.5 hrs), Prague (3 hrs), Vienna (4 hrs), and Berlin (5 hrs).

Drawing by Hadleigh Nunes

SERV Activity Update

SERV Auction: Justin Kunimune
With over 300 donations, the SERV Auction raised $10,707.78 for Unidos por Puerto Rico, significantly more money than last year. Thank you to everyone who participated.

MSPCA (Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals): Emma Price
MSCPA is a great organization that takes in animals all over the state, makes sure they’re healthy, and finds good homes for them. They take all variety of animals and have volunteer positions like cat adoption room monitor (that’s what I do), dog walker, small animal monitor, and a ton more!

Charles River Center: Emma Price
The Charles River Center is a non-profit organization based in Needham that works to improve the lives of people with developmental disabilities and help support their families. They have a variety of different programs for people of all ages, all with really fun activities like Zumba and yoga!

Bikes Not Bombs: Maggie Jakus
Bikes Not Bombs is an organization that recycles old bicycles and sends bikes to economic development programs around the world as well as youth education programs in the nearby area. They have volunteer nights on Thursdays when volunteers prepare bikes for shipment. You also get to learn a lot about bikes!

Big Brothers Big Sisters: Justin Kunimune
Matches have met once this month and now prepare to take a break for Thanksgiving.

Alternative Spring Break: Michael Costello
An Alternative Spring Break is a great chance to do a full week of full-time community service work. We’ll be taking a team of Olin students to help a community with natural disaster relief or home construction – more details to come. Watch your email for a signup form!

Can of Worms

J is a good guy. When he sees some worms moving about, he ever so friendly approaches one and asks it, where did it come from and where is it heading. But then he is also the kind of guy who would ask a “sine” function what its value is at infinity and may ask a “Dirac-delta” what is its derivative. There is a good reason why I am fond of J. I also like M. I had always suspected that she moves about with boxes of worms in her pocket, and then one day she showed me an inch insect on her fingertips. She even gave it away to me. After a photo session with that celebrity; I returned it to a tree outside, it was a perfect rainy day for it to be out there. H thinks he knows all the earthworms in his yard and that he can make them dance to his tunes. True that I have seen some of them actually dance to his tunes, but he is yet to see the ones living deep underground in his yard and the ones that will metamorphous sooner or later. They are beautiful, complex, at times frightening and way more difficult to manage. I know, I have lived with worms since my infancy, I have eaten them for breakfast as a toddler. I don’t try to make them dance but I do dance with them sometimes. C if he tries, has capacity to understand worms but he is too busy building automobiles for them.
Not everyone is as much fun as J and M. Now take JD for example. JD is different, he would have nothing to do with cans of worms. SD is positively afraid of cans of worms, but if someone hands him an open can of worms, he deals with it with affection and care, that makes him quite adorable. AL seems uncertain about how she wants to manage cans of worms, I guess she will resolve it, I hope she does that in the favor of the worms. PA has a lot of interest in worms, what he needs is a good magnifying glass so that he can adore and admire them. Right now he just simulates them, which is not as beautiful as the real thing.
S directly comes from the worm country. They are some of her best friends. She would come to fist fights for them if need be. I love her spirit but also worry about her. W is a gentleman; he likes worms and likes people who like worms. Mi? Xie is sweet, I have often found xer playing with a worm or two. ​

Horoscopes by Drunk Editors

Sagittarius (Nov. 22 – Dec. 21): If something bad happens twice it’s a coincidence. If it happens three times you’re cursed. If it happens one time, it’s somebody’s fault.

Capricorn (Dec. 22 – Jan. 19): Let’s face the facts, you’re a mer-goat.

Aquarius (Jan. 20 – Feb. 18): You may feel a sense of emptiness this month. You’ll find yourself wondering if you’re still not over that basil plant. I mean, it was helpless. It only had you to look after it, and, let’s be honest, you failed it. You killed it. You’re a murderer, and you don’t even have a real job yet. You just can’t believe that you would let something that innocent and helpless die without a second thought. Then again, maybe it’s just because you forgot to eat breakfast.

Pisces (Feb. 19 – March 20): You might want to stay away from Cancer this month. Bad vibes and all that.

Aries (March 21 – April 19): Your shoe’s untied. Made you look.

Taurus (April 20 – May 20): Finals week is coming up, so I just want you to remember to KEEP CALM. EVERYBODY KEEP CALM. NOBODY FREAK OUT OR DO ANYTHING DRASTIC

Gemini (May 21 – June 20): Your lucky number is at least 6.

Cancer (June 21 – July 22): Pisces is an asshole.

Leo (July 23 – Aug. 22): But it was not your fault but mine, and it was your heart on the line. I really fucked it up this time. Didn’t I, my dear?

Virgo (Aug. 23 – Sept. 22): Allen Downey has the answers to all your problems and wrote a book about it.

Libra (Sept. 23 – Oct. 22): Then it comes to be that the soothing light at the end of the tunnel [sick bass line] is a freight train coming your way.

Scorpio (Oct. 23 – Nov. 21): Would you like fries with that?

How to Survive the Holidays

The holidays are great for a lot of reasons: everyone’s happy; there’s good food, decorations, lights; family comes to visit. And when family comes to visit, inevitably someone will ask you why you haven’t found that special someone yet.

This year I’ve decided to help you out and prepared a list of excuses you can give your Aunt Linda when she asks you why you still aren’t dating anyone.

– I’m looking for the right one.
– I’ve just been so busy with work.
– I’m emotionally stunted and never developed the ability to trust.
– I would go speed dating but I just haven’t found the right jeans.
– I want to be confident in my own identity before I commit to another person. I don’t ever want to lie about who I am to someone I care about. You get that, don’t you?
– Wow, that apple pie looks amazing. Can I have your recipe?
– For the last time, Linda, I’m ace.
– Why aren’t you dating anyone, Linda? Ever think about that?
– Look! A flying buffalo!
– I’m really still hurting from my last break-up. I doubt I’ll ever be able to feel love again, so don’t make any wedding plans.
– A really cool hat.
– Bobby’s not dating anyone either.
– 404: the page you requested was not found.

On Gender Bias in Admission

In admission information sessions, we receive a wide range of questions, though there are many that come up time and time again. For example: do you prefer the SAT or the ACT? (we accept both, no preference); can I submit an additional letter of recommendation? (yes, up to one); if I receive an outside scholarship, can I use it at Olin? (congratulations and yes!). Most of these answers are straightforward and easily understood. One that requires more explanation is “it is easier for women to be admitted to Olin?”
I’m never shy about this question. Olin has a commitment to equal membership in the class of students who identify as male and female by legal sex (hurray!), and we have a talented pool of applicants to sustain this (double hurray!). Occasionally, this reply prompts a follow up: “so the applicant pool is balanced by legal sex?” Well, no, Olin’s applicant pool is generally between 25-30% female by legal sex (which is fairly consistent with other engineering programs and could actually be considered quite strong in light of the fact Olin offers only 2 of the top 10 engineering majors chosen by women). This is when the brow of the inquirer begins to furrow and a more nuanced answer is needed (stay with me, I’ll get there).
Last spring I received an email with the subject line: Addressing Comments of Admission Gender Bias? The question mark was part of the subject line. The email arrived on May 1. We had just wrapped up enrolling the Class of 2021; I assumed it was from a student (or more likely a parent) who was displeased with their admission decision. But it wasn’t. The email came from a group of current students who identify as women who have had their enrollment at Olin questioned due to a perception that women have an “easier” time getting in.
So, I met with them. They shared stories of parents they’ve met giving campus tours, male-identified classmates from high school, and teammates here at Olin who have, intentionally or unintentionally, seeded doubt in minds of these women. They shared moments of laughing off a comment, ignoring a slight. Justifying your place, whether at Olin or anywhere for any reason, is exhausting, distracting, demoralizing. These students acknowledged these moments didn’t occur every day, but it was often enough that they needed answers. I can identify with these students; I have come up with lots of ways to respond to comments like “wow, aren’t you young for a dean?” or “you are a dean? Atta girl!”
Here’s the more refined and detailed answer to “it is easier for women to be admitted to Olin?”:
First of all, it is not easy for anyone to get into Olin. We have a holistic, intentional, multi-layered admission process that, as Olin students well know, demands a lot in the application and in person. It is a highly individualized process. We hold high standards for academic achievement, potential, aptitude, effort, values, and drive. Every offer of admission is rooted in our desire to see you- each and every one of you- as a member of the Olin community. It’s detailed, it’s personal, it’s messy, it’s highly selective and it is incredibly demanding of the faculty and staff that participate in this process, but it is, in fact, the absolute best part of my job.
But is it easier for students who check “female” for legal sex on their Common Application to be admitted to Olin? No. No. A thousand times no. Is it more probable? More statistically likely? Sure. Herein lies the perception problem. Let’s do the math: about three-quarters of the applicant pool identify as male and approximately one half of the enrolling class identify as female (again, by legal sex). Many people stop there and declare, “Gender bias!” It’s easier for women to get in! Would that it were so simple…
We must be careful not to assume that the size of an applicant pool, or a subset of an applicant pool, is an indicator of application quality or admissibility. The breakdown of the applicant pool actually has little to nothing to do with who is admitted in a highly personalized admission process. It is the individual applicants and what they will bring to the Olin community that matters. The detail most important to the question at hand is: applicants who are invited to Candidates’ Weekends are equally qualified based on our admission process, regardless of legal sex. Every Candidate has cleared a consistent standard for academic preparation and potential success at Olin. And after Candidates’ Weekends (and the extensive and individualized feedback we receive on every participant), the Candidates who are ultimately admitted to Olin are equally qualified based on our admission process, regardless of legal sex. We are fortunate to attract an applicant pool that makes this possible. We also benefit from an admission process that is so individualized, that we can build an intentional class one amazing person at a time.
The worst part of my job is that there are far more deserving applicants in our pool than there are spaces at Olin. This means that incredible folks of both sexes are denied admission to Olin. Are more of them male? Yes, because there are more males in the applicant pool to begin with. But this fact, in no way should reflect on women who are here. Full stop.
I’ve focused on legal sex here, but you can insert just about any biographic or demographic info here and the process holds up: you’re all here because of who YOU are and what you bring to campus. If anyone ever questions that, send them to me.

Overheard at Olin

– “It’s a little rude. It’s like asking someone how much money they make. Asking a vector for its components is a little rude.”
– “Cars don’t usually stop when they come near me.”
– “I would go make some popcorn if people weren’t getting murdered in my room.”
– “I got distracted by the word fucking in the middle of that sentence.”
– “It’s very hard to burn the internet.”
– “Mechanically, that gives me a rash.”
– “There is a perfect number of meth on the board, which is 0.”
– “I blame my family’s ridiculously high arches.”
– “I had a plan but I’m not finding much cardboard or motivation.”
– “We’ve been using mechanical engineering to kill people for thousands of years. You’ve only been using electrical engineering to kill people for about 200, and I’m being generous.”
– “I barely know pick-up lines in American.”
– “That’s what Thanksgiving is for. Watching people get their hair cut for hours on end.”
– “At least your parents didn’t turn your room into an opium den.”