Back to School

The story behind "The Olin Experiment"

PHOTO: Leah Fasten

On a bright spring day last year, IEEE Spectrum Associate Editor Erico Guizzo [photo] arrived on the campus of Olin College, in Needham, Mass. We had sent him there to get the inside story on this radically new engineering school, which is at the vanguard of a movement in engineering education that seeks to plunge students almost immediately into real design work, rather than making them go through two or three years of more-theoretical studies first.

Guizzo's mission was to make contact with Olin's administration and then go undercover, passing himself off as a student to get the full experience. But within hours of arriving at the school, he realized he needed a new plan. "The school has only 300 students," he points out. "They can recognize each other across campus by their haircuts."

So Guizzo arranged a series of visits to the school, where he sat in on classes and lab sessions, socialized with students, attended a schoolwide exposition of student presentations, spoke with administrators and professors, and hung out at a barbecue. And in the end, Olin even allowed him to spend a night in the school's modern dormitory.

"It's a very different school from all the others I've ever seen," says Guizzo, who has a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering. For more on this remarkable little school and its big aspirations, see "The Olin Experiment," in this issue.

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