ADE’s Been Weird

Courses at Olin involving collaborative design with an external community have been…well…weird for me. I am not an E:Design, but some vague and murky notion of “design is cool” comprised about 50% of my decision to attend Olin. As such, my expectations going into design courses were absurdly high. Since CD and continuing through ADE, though, I’ve been on a trajectory leading me to reject the idea that fundamentally societal problems, such as food insecurity and the harms of the carceral state, can be meaningfully approached within a CD- or ADE-style, 4-credit, semester- or even multi-semester-long class. I’m not aiming to be A Professional Designer, so I can’t say much about the actual state of the industry, but I sincerely hope that design in the “real world” does not happen like this. If what’s happening on my ADE team (and perhaps more intensely with some other teams, from what I’ve heard) is, in fact, a common set of methods and experiences from “real world” design, I can start thinking of some reasons why this country is so plagued with what tech startups and venture capitalists refer to as “innovation” – snappy-sounding fast fixes that sidestep and distract from serious, sustained analysis of societal problems at hand. We assume every group of people wants, or is capable of wanting, the equivalent of an overworked amateur design consultancy to try to solve problems for them.

On my CD team two years ago, due to a combination of class constraints, our interpretation of those constraints, and maybe a little bit of the fact that we were Online For The Foreseeable Future (which at the time was modeled in my head as “literally forever”), our relationship with our people group – soup kitchen workers, in this case – was fundamentally extractive: we would get lots of important information about how soup kitchens work from our conversations with volunteers, case workers, organizers, and patrons, but at the end of the day, all of our interactions with those amazing, hardworking people – who were innovative in the broader sense, in that they were constantly thinking about how to improve the systems they were a key part of – were just for the CD team’s educational benefit. We produced a mock-up of an “Uber Eats, but free”-style app for soup kitchens, were literally told by faculty that this was “revolutionary” (somehow), and then moved on, never to talk to any of those people ever again. All of this hustle and bustle to make something that looked close enough to a final project for us to get A grades, when during almost every interview we had with a soup kitchen worker, there was this gnawing underlying suspicion that they probably just wanted us to come volunteer with them and be a part of their community in a slow, sustained, honest way. And I pushed that suspicion away. And I fucking hate that I did that. But that pushing away, although certainly an example of maybe not having the best individual priorities at the time, was also not purely individual. There was this pervasive feeling that we had to prioritize what would make the professors happy. I can’t pretend I can pinpoint one source for this flawed priority – I think we were all actors in that little morality play.

In Olin courses, and generally in how Olin talks about itself, a model is implicitly communicated to students about How Change Should Be Made. By constantly reinforcing the idea that Olin classes give us Real World Experience, there is, I believe, a danger that the Real World will be confused with this model. I don’t know what the solution is. Olin not being accredited? Or maybe Olin being more embedded in larger external communities? Just communicating more (real communication, not marketing – though at Olin it can be tremendously hard to tell the difference) about what the purpose of a given class actually is?

Well, anyway, back to the anecdotes. I wanted ADE to be everything CD was not. I wanted to be part of a community, rather than the academic observer standing awkwardly to the side. I wanted to take things slowly, rather than being pushed to deliver something that looks like a product before I’ve even begun to understand all the nuances and underlying forces behind the problem that is being faced. And maybe it’s because I’m just too slow to keep up with all you Olin geniuses, but that’s absolutely not how ADE has gone for me. We assume that ADE will be the answer.

But even though ADE has not ended up the way I imagined or hoped – every time I realize that we can’t share a given piece of information with our community partners because of our existing promises to our legal partners, I die a little inside – I guess I did end up learning something from these past few months: I’ve started to become conscious of the tremendous value of learning history. Looking through the archives of previous teams’ work, only to find some assumption tests where very confident conclusions were made on shockingly shaky grounds, has made me far less certain of our project’s actual value than I was before. Re-reading the actual text of a court decision that appeared to finally make things easier for people who want to prove that a cop pulled someone over on racist grounds, then being confronted with how little this hope lines up with actual judicial practice as observed by our legal partners, made me wonder whether working on a project that’s fully focused on this single piece of legislation is the best thing we could be doing with our skills and time, and whether there are better ways for the team to help in the fight against racist policing. And I know that every person on my team has been agonizing about this too. I could shut down this discomfort, dismissing it as an “existential crisis”, and direct all my focus to the “actual work” of the project. In fact, I’ve tried doing that. I’ve had to try many times, since for some silly and mysterious reason, these definitely totally unrelated “existential crises” just keep coming up in this class, don’t they? We assume everything is actually completely fine.

I’ve failed to stop worrying, but I find solace in the fact that all these different fields outside of engineering can be deeply studied and harnessed to try to understand massive, sprawling injustices like the growing reach of the carceral state. Maybe the “existential crisis” I get during these types of classes is a sign that I just don’t have the tools to engage with the problem I’m trying to face, which is totally okay, because there exist plenty of tools outside the ones we learn here at Olin(!!). I love learning tools that are completely new to me. That’s what I wanted Olin to be about for me, but I’m going to be real, I mostly just ended up being busy and sad. But after I leave Olin, I’ll hopefully have the energy and time to actually join some kind of coalition that’s actively fighting against the carceral state and, what’s more, imagining and co-creating new worlds that have a different, more human view of “justice”…and I won’t be graded on it!

We assume that there is life outside ADE and Olin.

And now, with a new appreciation of history, political theory, societal frame-shifting, and my own life in hand, I hope more than anything else that this assumption holds up. There’s a lot of living to do.

Green Space: Waste of Time?

What happens to your waste once you toss it in the bin? No really, do you know where it goes? Not just “where is the incinerator,”, but who touches it? How much of your recycling is actually recycled? Where does your left-over food go? 

Environmental Consulting at Olin (ECO) is a class dedicated to making sustainability-minded change at Olin. This semester, ECO is working to reform our waste systems, specifically in Milas Hall and the Campus Center. Over the years, Olin’s waste management programs have evolved in various ways. In 2017, compost bins were introduced to the dining hall, allowing for the sustainable disposal of pre- and post-consumer food waste and vastly scaling up from our previous on-site composting operation. Over 7 years ago, recycling at Olin switched from multi-stream to single stream. Remnants of the old system can easily be found in the plethora of dissimilar recycling bins around campus, many labeled as “bottles and cans” or “paper” when they all currently end up funneled into the same recycling truck. 

Every night, Olin’s amazing custodial staff do their rounds through the buildings on campus, unlocking every office door and checking their trash and recycling bins. The trash and recycling are then brought back to the loading dock in the Campus Center and tossed into their respective dumpsters. The dining hall compost bins are also brought to the loading dock and prepared to be picked up. Throughout the day, between delivery vans and contractors, Olin’s recycling, compost, and solid waste vendors open the loading dock door, reverse into the dock, and truck our waste away. Our compost, for example, is taken by CERO Cooperative, who process it into soil that can be used at local farms. 

Although cost-per-ton for composting is higher than sending our food waste out with the trash, ECO has identified a few important reasons to expand Olin’s composting program to beyond the dining hall. Recently, Massachusetts has lowered the threshold of organic waste allowed in the trash, meaning that Olin must increase our composting. We have also learned that custodial staff take out the trash bins in the campus kitchenettes, no matter how empty they are, in case they begin to smell. By creating a separate compost receptacle that can be easily accessed, the odorous organic waste can be covered and easily emptied. 

Compost in Milas Hall and the upper levels of the Campus Center would be a significant improvement. However, the core change ECO would like to make is removing the need for custodial staff to go into each and every office. When faculty and staff can empty their own office bins into convenient, well-labeled centralized bins, including a separate receptacle for organic waste, they can reduce unnecessary labor for their colleagues. Our goal is to organize trash, recycling, compost, battery recycling, and e-waste receptacles into centralized waste stations. These will be convenient locations where all members of the Olin community can easily tell which bin their waste belongs in. We also anticipate that by adding additional streams, we reduce the total amount of waste that makes it to the incinerator. In Fiscal Year 2019, 61.53% of our waste was incinerated, with only 18.81% recycled and 19.15% composted. By giving people convenient alternative disposal options, we hope to divert more of this waste from the incinerator to compost, recycling, and e-waste recycling. The ECO class has been hard at work researching, communicating with various campus stakeholders, and designing this new waste system. Soon, you can expect to see a limited pilot of our new bins, at one location in each of Milas Hall and the Campus Center. Please utilize these bins and let us know your opinions on the new system, as nothing is set in stone and we would love to hear feedback from the Olin community. To provide feedback, please send an email to Brooke Moss at

Here for a Season

As all good things do, it started as a joke. Sometimes jokes get taken too far and that’s how I ended up in MAC 128 with a couple of others trying to figure out how to make Olin Clean Snowmobile possible. That’s how I ended up in a meeting room with admin figuring out the logistics. That’s how I ended up pitching this team to half the student body as if it was the hottest new P&M project. And like all P&M projects, you probably weren’t given much context as to what we’re really doing.

Olin Clean Snowmobile is a team that will modify an existing snowmobile to lower emissions and noise pollution. Contrary to popular belief, we will not be making an electric snowmobile, but we will be modifying a snowmobile with a diesel engine. Some modifications may look like redesigning the muffler system to utilize destructive interference, tuning the drivetrain, or designing a diesel particulate filter. This snowmobile will compete in the SAE Clean Snowmobile competition against other colleges and universities. To answer the most frequently asked question, yes, we’re serious about this, despite it all starting out as a joke.

In October 2022, a few of us who had joked about Olin Clean Snowmobile decided to try to do something to make it happen. We started to search for sponsors and put together a sponsorship packet. We started to plan for what projects the team would take on to achieve low pollution with the snowmobile. In November, we met with a winning team from Wisconsin to gain a better understanding of exactly what we were getting ourselves into. In December, we found ourselves in a conference room with a couple of faculty members pitching this project team. Before we formally started the meeting, one of them turned to us and said, “This is not a matter of if, but a matter of how.”

It was around that moment that I recognized how invested I was in this team. At some point in the process, Olin Clean Snowmobile became more than a joke. It was fulfilling the dream of the high school senior touring Olin thinking if there is any place to do something of any meaning, it’s this place. The one who accepted admission to the school with the belief that it was different than other schools in this way. It was showing the defeated first-year just starting classes that maybe there is something bigger than going through the motions with classes and clubs. Maybe, just maybe, my past self was onto something with this place. Doing something, as any honorable Oliner is meant to do, felt incredible.

It all came to a screeching halt just before spring break. We received the email we dreaded, the email we always knew might end up in our inbox, but it felt increasingly less likely as time went on. Olin Clean Snowmobile couldn’t happen. Not due to a lack of funding, a lack of interest, or a lack of faculty support. It was due to a lack of space.

Sometimes this school is too small for the growing dreams of the student body. The mere five buildings on the campus cannot always contain the hopes we have. Space is not an easy thing to come by and it isn’t something I necessarily expect to change. But at some point, something has to give. If there is no room to grow, then growth can’t happen. If students hear enough times that their attempts to “do something” simply aren’t possible, then won’t they stop trying?

I still, perhaps foolishly, believe that the mentality of “it’s not a matter of if, but a matter of how” still exists at Olin. Maybe because if Olin is really all that I want to believe it is, it has to.

Drunk Horoscopes

By the drunk horoscope squad (can we get an extension on our pronouns?)

Aries (March 21-April 20)

Don’t go swimming in the parcel B pond. Who knows what’s in there. I do, but you don’t need to. 

Taurus (April 21 – May 20)

Just because you’re eating dirt doesn’t mean it has to taste bad. Bring some spices. Add some water and make it a soup. Or, add some leaves and make a salad. The opportunities are endless

Gemini (May 21-June 20)

How’s that rattling noise your car’s been making? Turn off the radio, and really listen. It almost sounds like its trying to tell you something. Maybe read the user manual?

Cancer (June 21 – July 22)

Why did the chicken cross the road? Well to beat the high score on the Crossy Road Leaderboard, of course. There’s a leaderboard in the MAC, and I bet you can’t beat it. But you could try…

Leo (July 23 – Aug 22)

You know that Wizer Training phishing scam? Fun facts from Olin IT, it’s not actually phishing. Its an important 3 minute training to protect yourself from these scams. Or at least that’s what they want you to think. Maybe click the link anyways. It’s getting a bit annoying.

Virgo (Aug 23 – Sep 22)

It’s not too late to change your AHSE concentration. Babson College of Entrepreneurship offers four different classes in sex. That’s more than three. You could do it.  

Libra (Sep 23 – Oct 22)

Google your name. You might find someone interesting. A new friend. Reach out to them on Linkedin. But, there can only be one. Challenge them to a fight. Winner takes the 

Scorpio (Oct 23 – Nov 22)

Consider purchasing a life insurance policy. Not now, but like, later. It’ll probably come in handy. Not to you necessarily, but to someone. Or maybe consider it now. You can never be too prepared.

Sagittarius (Nov 23 – Dec 21)

Get a jar of salsa and invite over your 5 closest friends. Also get some tortilla chips. Or a spoon or straw, that works too. Set a timer. Go feral. 

Capricorn (Dec 22 – Jan 19)

The frogs are calling. Will you pick up? They might have an internship offer for you.

Aquarius (Jan 20 – Feb 19)

Have you filled out that reimbursement form? It might take 6 months to a year to get money in your bank account, so you should do that now. Yes, now. Find the receipts and submit the form.

Pisces (Feb 20 – Mar 20)

Make sure you wake up at 10:30 am on the dot this Saturday. It’s omelet time. Tell James how much you appreciate him. Surprise him by ordering something new, like an omelet with no eggs. Or don’t. Change is hard and that’s ok.

Let’s Make Real Environmental Impact

Nearly everyone in the Olin community supports environmental sustainability. A group coalesced, forming Olin Climate Justice (OCJ) to push environmental sustainability at Olin. Unfortunately, they’ve not only become ineffective, but actually counterproductive. We students have allowed them to become our voice. We’ve allowed them to be our exclusive ear. Our understanding of the Board’s actions and inactions come through them. Recently, I reached out to multiple Board members so I could better understand the situation.

OCJ demanded divestment of any Olin investments in climate unfriendly companies. OCJ claims it has exhausted its options for collaborating with the Board of Trustees and that the Board refuses to listen. 

I learned that in OCJ’s persistence the Board agreed to reasonable stated goals of OCJ, provided numerous opportunities for listening and collaborating, and in fact has taken action to have more than a symbolic impact for climate justice. 

I learned that OCJ asked for a committee within the board where students could surface environmental issues and the Board delivered. The issue isn’t the Board’s willingness to collaborate to find real impact, but that OCJ rejects anything other than divesting as “not collaborating.”

OCJ asked the Board in a 2022 publication to divest all direct holdings in fossil fuels within five years. They prompted alumni to petition for divestment from direct holdings. I learned that Olin had already divested from all direct holdings. Without acknowledging this, OCJ now presses to prevent possible indirect holdings by divesting from collective investment funds that may include indirect holdings.

I learned that the Board wants student input but cannot allow students to have unilateral control over Olin investments. OCJ has communicated to students that they ask to be heard about divestment, but they did not communicate that they also requested audit veto rights on any investment decision. This is different from asking to have input into endowment decisions. The Board is fiscally accountable for its investments and cannot set a precedent that would abdicate that responsibility to students.

I learned that the Board has conducted extensive research on the environmental impact of divestment; the data shows it has nearly 0 impact. In fact, divestment costs time and optionality.

I learned that the Board has successfully pursued Environmental, Social, and Governance investing (ESG), a form of sustainable, socially responsible investing. Like divestment, it makes a public statement, but arguably has optionality for longer lasting changes.

ESG enables new tactics, like ClientEarth is trying. As shareholders of Shell, ClientEarth has standing to file a lawsuit against Shell’s Board for failing to implement a Paris Agreement compliant energy transition strategy. Winning million dollar lawsuits against Shell has no impact (as OCJ has explained) but winning a million dollar lawsuit against individual board members would.

The board proposed alternative approaches with more promising impact than divestment and extended the opportunity for students to collaborate to find more effective solutions. The Board suggested shareholder resolutions and finding changes that the Olin community could make on campus – all of which have proven to have a larger environmental impact than divesting. OCJ has not reciprocated collaboration; they have only pressed for divestment.

I learned that Olin convinced the endowment’s investment firm, Summit Rock, to implement ESG. They adopted it for Olin’s investments, and offered it to other investors. The Board invited OCJ to participate in a recent Summit Rock presentation regarding how it implemented ESG. OCJ showed up but refused to discuss ESG, simply pressing Summit Rock to consider divestment instead until the meeting was ended due to lack of productive engagement. The Board asked OCJ to communicate with the student body to find students who would be interested in engaging with this idea; without asking the student body, OCJ communicated that no one was interested.

The Board welcomed students to meetings with investors, potential new board members, and other high stakes guests. The Board demonstrated trust and willingness to include students in their core work. OCJ refused to engage beyond demands for divestment. The Board was hopeful for collaboration but students who attended the meetings appeared disengaged, using their cell phones, taking private meeting notes and exhibiting disrespectful behaviors.

Recently, the Board didn’t object when OCJ entered their meeting chanting loudly. They listened while each student spoke. When the Board president asked if listening was a two way street, OCJ responded by blasting music. OCJ persisted with music and shouting, forcing the Board to adjourn.

Olin’s relationship with the Board is important. It’s part of establishing an integrated, supportive community with a greater collective influence. Beyond addressing OCJ, the Board has run events to connect with students and build community. OCJ should reflect and change course now so it can help build Olin’s capacity to impact environmental change rather than continuing self-righteous and arguably ineffective demands.

I, too, want real positive environmental impact. I’m not proud of OCJ’s tactics. OCJ hasn’t acknowledged positive actions Olin has taken, the level of divestment that already exists, or the proposed co-curricular to explore greater impact opportunities. OCJ has refused to engage beyond demands for divestment. Exclusively dictating divestment without entertaining additional options causes harm and will not positively impact the environment. 

Students, I encourage you to truly understand what you are supporting. Help OCJ recenter themselves on fighting for climate justice and recognize and collaborate with our allies. The Board has demonstrated they want to be an ally and so should all of us, including OCJ.

You are Awesome

Olin can be challenging at times and there is a lot going on in one’s personal life: the pressure to join clubs, finding a job, finish all your work while balancing social life, coping with internal and external personal matters, battling FOMO and/or Imposter Syndrome, trying to avoid burn out, trying to give back to the community, the list goes on and on… Despite whatever you are dealing with, how challenging your academics and life may feel right now…I want to remind you that YOU ARE AWESOME! And you have my utmost admiration!

I am extremely proud of you! Keep pushing through!

I hope everyone else around you keeps reminding you of how wonderful and amazing you are, because trust me…You are one cool cat! In any case, I hope you know that at least one person is thinking of you and wishing you the most beautiful day ever! <3


An Oliner

Green Space: Winter Cycling is Not an Extreme Sport

From 2012 to 2014, Frankly Speaking included a column entitled “Green Space,” dedicated to sustainability-related writing. In an effort to revive this column, the Frankly Speaking team would like to solicit applicable pieces from the Olin community. If you have any questions about contributing to the column please contact In our first edition of the new Green Space, I have published my final opinion piece from Sara Hendren’s Architecture and Urbanism course.

Even on the most pristine and sunny summer day, American cities are by no means known as cycling-friendly. This is largely due to inadequate cycling infrastructure in American cities. This inadequacy is a detraction in summer months and completely debilitating in winter months. In order to understand the shortcomings of cycling infrastructure, it is helpful to understand the phenomenon of winter cycling. When I was in high school in suburban Western Massachusetts, my bike would routinely be amongst maybe a dozen others, at a school of 1000 students, in a town only 4 miles across. When the temperature dropped in late fall, so did the number of bikes on the rack. By the time the first snow of the winter fell, my bike was the only one left.

It’s easy to assume that the reason for this dropoff is the cold temperatures. However, researchers in Scandinavia have found that in cities with cold winters, temperature has a near-negligible effect on whether folks choose to cycle. Additionally, as much as New Englanders love to bemoan their cold winters, it really doesn’t get all that cold here. In fact, New Englanders frequently don a variety of warm layers and venture into the outdoors to ski or partake in other winter activities. With a simple choice of a few different weight jackets to layer, and a good hat and gloves, cycling in winter is downright comfortable. By the time I got to school, I was usually sweating, stripping off my outer layers as I walked across the school parking lot. Especially if you already enjoy other winter activities, I highly recommend trying winter cycling; I find it to be both a rejuvenating and very practical endeavor.

So if the reason was not the temperature, why were so few of my peers riding their bikes to school? To understand this, it’s important to zoom out to the fact that only around 1% of the students bike to school even on warm days. As with many American suburbs, the town of Longmeadow, Massachusetts is designed for personal automobiles above all else. The main roads in town regularly have speed limits of 40 miles per hour and only a few streets have a painted bicycle gutter. If you are not familiar with the term “painted bicycle gutter”, it generally refers to a breakdown lane or road shoulder that has bike lane icons painted on the road, but offers no further protection or separation for cyclists. Even on the most pleasant of days, it is downright dangerous for cyclists to exist in these lanes, as they often give drivers a false sense of separation from cyclists, and cyclists a false sense of safety. In addition, vehicles tend to take liberty parking in the bike lane as if it was a normal shoulder, forcing cyclists to go around. The gutters are also frequently littered with potholes, sand, broken glass, and sunken drain grates. In the winter, these problems are amplified, as plow trucks push snow into towering snow banks… situated squarely in the bike lanes. These snow banks persist even as most of the other snow melts, continuing to obstruct the bike lane.

So if the bike lane is too dangerous and blocked with snow, the other options for cyclists are the sidewalk and the vehicle lanes. There are a few problems with riding on sidewalks. First and foremost, having cyclists sharing that real estate with pedestrians is dangerous for all involved. Pedestrian encounters aside, suburban sidewalks are generally the responsibility of the homeowner to clear of snow, breeding a patchwork of cleared and uncleared sections that can be exceedingly difficult to navigate. If the snow is even somewhat deep, this can even become impassable. In addition, when riding on the sidewalk, I have frequently arrived at a cross-street only to realize that the road plows have created a snowbank on the corner of the intersection that reaches taller than me. Climbing over these snowbanks, with a bike aloft, is just another reason for winter cyclists to avoid suburban sidewalks.

If not the sidewalk nor the road shoulder, cyclists are forced to ride in the vehicle lanes. This is a very dangerous endeavor, not least because when cars drive over snow, they pack it down into ruts, which then freeze. These wheel marks then become icy and function as slippery speed bumps to bicycles. On top of these winter-specific dangers, riding amongst motor vehicles is inherently dangerous, given the significant speed disparities and the need to merge and cross lanes of fast-moving traffic.

When looking at them individually, it’s easy to feel as if these problems with winter cycling doom it to forever be a daring and dangerous pursuit, not for the faint of heart. To allow for safe cycling in the winter, cyclists need options for safe passage that can also be properly cleared of snow. Dedicated cycling infrastructure comes in many forms, including protected or grade-separated bike lanes, standalone cycle routes, and traffic-calmed roads designed for automobiles to move slowly and co-exist with cyclists. The city of Oulu, Finland provides extremely well for winter cycling, as 20+% of all trips in the city are taken by bike, on average over the entire year. For their winter cycling to be as good as it is, they maintain a network of dedicated cycling routes with over 4 meters of bicycle path per resident, and in the winter keep their routes in optimal condition for cycling. With a network like Oulu’s, cycling is a safe and convenient way for residents to get where they need to go, and often the cycle routes act as shortcuts relative to the roads.

Of course not every city and suburb can become Oulu, as existing infrastructure makes it difficult to build the kind of shortcuts, dedicated routes, and underpasses that make Oulu’s system so outstanding. However, we can still learn from them and other cities that have found cycling success, winter or otherwise. By adding parked cars, jersey barriers, grade-separation, or other protection between vehicle lanes and bike lanes, replacing a vehicle lane with a two-way cycle track, and seeking opportunities to construct cycle routes detached from automobile infrastructure, we can build a strong backbone of safe cycling. By learning from Oulu’s commitment to keeping its bike routes clear and in rideable condition, we can keep our own cycle routes clear in the winter, making winter cycling a safe option for everyone.

I imagine a future in which New England cities like mine have school bike racks that look like Oulu’s, where 52% of trips to school and university are made by bike, even throughout the winter. To attain this future, I believe it important to understand winter cycling as a microcosm of the local cycling climate: if people feel unsafe cycling in the winter, our cycling infrastructure is unsafe year-round.