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Education

Fully Endowed FW Olin College of Engineering Opens 423

olin01 writes "USA Today has a story on the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering, which opens this Friday to its freshman class. Olin's goal is to graduate students who are "renaissance engineers," meaning that not only do the have the technical knowledge and skills but also a strong understanding of their context through studies in arts, humanities, social science, and entrepreneurship. This past year, 30 "pre-freshman" worked with faculty, staff, and administration to create the college's curriculum and student live programs. Olin also gives a full tuition scholarship to all admitted students, more information on their website."
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Fully Endowed FW Olin College of Engineering Opens

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  • by mhore ( 582354 ) on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @01:54PM (#4106477)
    One that I've seen... well 2 actually.

    #1: Engineers don't take any other courses (from what I've been seeing) besides the engineering courses. No history, humanities, fine arts, etc. It makes for a more well-balanced person. It should be required.

    #2: From the engineering programs I've seen lately, it seems as though they're shoving a bunch of formulae at the students and are saying "Here, memorize these." without explaining/proving how/why they work. That is vital. The engineers being churned out now are book smart, cannot apply their knowledge, and do not know where their "knowledge" comes from.

    This is why I switched to physics. Generally the same material, except more in depth/proven/etc.

    At my BS school, they cut optics out of the physics classes because "Engineers don't need that". What's up with that?

    Mike

    • My undergraduate mechanical engineering program required more credit hours than any other program at the university, so of course most mechanical engineering students didn't take a lot of outside coursework. I once made the mistake of taking a significant elective in history, whereupon I realized that an engineering student doesn't really have the time to read 20+ history books per semester. For the rest of my stay at university I made sure to take Survey of Modern American Politics and other fluff courses to fulfill my out-of-major requirements.

      I think that particular program would benefit by making room for serious out-of-major study.

    • by wowbagger ( 69688 ) on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @02:14PM (#4106619) Homepage Journal
      One reason engineering students don't take more courses out of major (like humanities) is there isn't enough time.

      Please allow me to use myself as a case-in-point: I got my BSEE in eight semesters, and was carrying close to the maximum allowed classload every semester (as in, "If you want to take any more classes, you will have to go to the college administration for approval"). This is IN ADDITION TO taking several college courses in high school, getting the equivelent of a semester out of the way even before I graduated from high school. I was on academic scholarships that were limited to eight semesters, so had I not graduated in 4 years I would have had great hardship in continuing my schooling.

      I didn't have time to take anything that wasn't absolutely required for my major.

      Now, had I been allowed to have two more semesters to get my degree, then I would have been able to take more classes outside of my narrow focus.

      My question is, "How long will it take to get an accredited degree from this univeristy?"
      • An idea just popped into my head: go double major - ME and something more liberal arts, like PoliSci or Languages. Here's the catch: do all the ME stuff first, get it done in 8 semesters, then go for the mind expanders, with a couple graduate classes interspersed. This way, if you can't fund the liberal arts stuff, you can still apply to graduate with a BSME, but if you do, then you can get 2 bachelor's degrees in 6 years with most of a master's thrown in. Of course, this depends on how cool your college is with non-standard schedules.

        • Here's the catch: do all the ME stuff first, get it done in 8 semesters, then go for the mind expanders, with a couple graduate classes interspersed. This way, if you can't fund the liberal arts stuff, you can still apply to graduate with a BSME, but if you do, then you can get 2 bachelor's degrees in 6 years with most of a master's thrown in.
          Unfortunately, many schools won't count those graduate credits towards a graduate degree.

          At my school (U of MN [umn.edu]), they would count for your undergraduate studies though. You must be enrolled in graduate school for them to count towards a master's degree.
    • by dave_mcmillen ( 250780 ) on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @02:21PM (#4106665)
      One that I've seen... well 2 actually.

      #1: Engineers don't take any other courses (from what I've been seeing) besides the engineering courses. No history, humanities, fine arts, etc. It makes for a more well-balanced person. It should be required.


      I do agree that everyone should have a balanced education. But let me sound off for a moment on one of my pet peeves: EVERYONE should have a balanced education, not just those in the sciences or engineering! It continually annoys me that "geeks" are made to feel sheepish about any lack of "breadth" they may have, while those in the humanities are free to boast about their complete lack of knowledge of science and mathematics, apparently feeling no shame about it.

      The idea of a liberal arts education is often presented as being the opposite of an engineering or scientific education, but let's just review what the seven liberal arts actually were, shall we? Grammar, Rhetoric, Logic, Arithmetic, Geometry, Music, and Astronomy. Science and math were strongly represented; enough said.

      The next time someone accuses you of lacking breadth, don't get all hangdog about it. Instead, ask them if they can integrate, or if they know how the force of gravitational attraction varies with distance. If not, ask them why not. :)

      • But let me sound off for a moment on one of my pet peeves: EVERYONE should have a balanced education, not just those in the sciences or engineering! It continually annoys me that "geeks" are made to feel sheepish about any lack of "breadth" they may have, while those in the humanities are free to boast about their complete lack of knowledge of science and mathematics, apparently feeling no shame about it.

        What university are you at? At CMU, almost everyone (except fine arts dept) had to pass computer skills workshop ("this is a mouse--this is email--this is how you save a file--this is how you make a static web page") and an introductory programming course (C in 1993, probably Java now, just control flow and branching). Fine arts had CSW and some computer graphic design stuff. Everyone had math and science requirements, at least pre-calc, physics, and another science course.

        Lip service, sure, but so are the pathetic freshman english courses and handful of humanities electives CS majors could get away with. And realistically, the CS majors _are_ going to find themselves wanting that lit course, or foreign language, or art history class more than the poets are going to want a diff eq class.

        Sumner
      • The idea of a liberal arts education is often presented as being the opposite of an engineering or scientific education, but let's just review what the seven liberal arts actually were, shall we? Grammar, Rhetoric, Logic, Arithmetic, Geometry, Music, and Astronomy. Science and math were strongly represented; enough said.

        And in light of the corruption of the meaning of "Liberal Arts", we should remember that they were intended to be the things that "every free man should know." Note that they are not the ONLY thing a free man should know.

        The anti-science yahoos produced by most liberal arts "schools" are proud of their lack of practical knowledge. This sickens me.

        -jon

        • The anti-science yahoos produced by most liberal arts "schools" are proud of their lack of practical knowledge. This sickens me.

          ...and people wonder why junk science and pseudoscience are so prevalent today. If you know absolutely nothing about the sciences, how are you going to dispute the claims of environmentalist wackos, so-called "consumer advocates," etc.? Not knowing any better, you're likely to just stand back, let them do the mental heavy-lifting, and let them carry out their agendas that are based on false assumptions and improper deductive reasoning.

        • by hyacinthus ( 225989 ) on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @04:24PM (#4107558)
          The anti-humanities yahoos produced by most computer science "curricula" are proud of their ignorance of history, literature, and the proper usage of their native language. This sickens me.

          I should also add that a lot of the computer geeks I know are profoundly ignorant of science and of mathematics, as well. The quality of various universities' computer science programs differ widely, of course, but most of them impose much less stringent math and science requirements than (say) the physics or chemistry curricula. I worked with people at software companies who could barely manage single-variable algebra, sweated over the simplest application of trigonometry, and of course knew no calculus. The attitude seemed to me, "Hell, I'll just grab the code out of _Numerical Methods_ or wherever."

          I think a lot of computer geeks think they know science because they've picked up a vague smattering of facts from popular science articles and publications. But ask your average geek how Millikan determined the charge on the electron, or how the experiment worked which first determined (with some certainty) that it was nucleic acids and not proteins which transmitted genetic information, and watch him sweat and run to Google for the answer.

          C. S. Lewis, more than fifty years ago, wrote of the sort of education that is "neither Classical nor Scientific, merely Modern". Computer science is the apotheosis of this.

          hyacinthus.
          • by TWR ( 16835 ) on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @04:36PM (#4107652)
            The anti-humanities yahoos produced by most computer science "curricula" are proud of their ignorance of history, literature, and the proper usage of their native language. This sickens me.

            You're not talking about me, because I have a minor in Lit to go with my BS and MS in Computer Science. And I went to a school that required CS majors to take physics, chem, and multiple semesters of calculus.

            Now, how many people have graduated with degrees in Liturature and have minors in CS? And how many of those Lit majors have taken college-level courses in Mechanics, E&M, Chemistry, Optics, or Calculus? I bet you even cracked a smile when I described that background, because virtually everyone with a Lit degree thinks that entering a classroom that teaches science or math will cause a raging case of the cooties.

            Well-educated computer geeks vastly outnumber well-educated humanities majors. Accept it.

            -jon

      • I do agree that everyone should have a balanced education. But let me sound off for a moment on one of my pet peeves: EVERYONE should have a balanced education, not just those in the sciences or engineering! It continually annoys me that "geeks" are made to feel sheepish about any lack of "breadth" they may have, while those in the humanities are free to boast about their complete lack of knowledge of science and mathematics, apparently feeling no shame about it.

        Preach it, brother.

        I once worked with a Duke graduate with a Masters in, if I recall, English. She was very smart and well read, but when I asked her what 25% of 45% was she replied 70%. This level of ignorance, this lack of even the most basic grasp of maths is frightening.
      • I agree with the idea that non-scientists, non-geeks & non-techies need to have a better grounding in the sciences.

        I went to a school know for its strong emphasis on the humanities, and the excellence of its science education. Yet, humanities majors can slip out with only 1 year of science or math!!

        As a bio major, I had to do a year of general humanities, a year of history or social science, a year of art, a year of literature, in addition to the bio, the chem, the physics & the math.

        It occurs to me though, that we have the tools. We have scientists & techies who are reasonably well versed in the humanities. Surely that background should help us bring a better understanding of the generalities and specifics of the sciences to the humanities majors. (We will worry about the business and marketing majors later, we have to pick our battles).

        It would probably help if we held sciences great communicators in similar esteem to its great discoverers. I'm not sure we do. I have seen plenty of people slagging on Carl Sagan, less because of the level of science he practiced, but because he did so much to bring science to the rabble.

    • I had to take two History courses, one English (because it was "Scholar's English and counted for two), THREE Philosophy courses, one sociology course and one religion course.

      They were all required. For everyone. Even engineers.

      I don't know what school you went to, or what program you were in, but these were my requirements, and I am an Engineer.

      For the most part I didn't mind the classes, but some of them were really stupid. (COM 101 comes to mind)

      We complained that there were not enough classes that engineers would be interested in taking. We were right. I have a degree, and have been working for two years. I still don't think the some of the choices we were given were very fair. (So there's no "Well I didn't understand at the time, but looking back...")

      As for your second point, I think it is still a problem with your school/program. My advisor and the chairman of the department both taught classes, and taught them well. They gave real world examples because they had both worked in industry and had applied what they were teaching. So what if we had to memorize a few formulas? You don't get very far if you can't remember F=ma for a dynamic system and sumFx,y,z=0 in a static system.

      I do think there is a problem in the university system, but I think the problem is that it creats a breed of people that go to school, get a degree and teach, never having experienced anything outside the academic life.

      Having said that, the Technology and the Culture of War class was one of the coolest classes I ever took. Well, right up there with Existentialism.

      End Counter Rant
    • by robolemon ( 575275 ) <nertzy AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @02:50PM (#4106861) Homepage
      I'm one of the student Partners at Olin College.

      We're very passionate here about things such as business and the humanities. Pretty much every one of our professors plays a musical instrument and/or is involved in some sort of art/business/social sciences.

      Another thing I like about Olin is the emphasis on teaching undergraduates. By not having defined departments or tenure or even a graduate program, hopefully we can make sure that we won't fall to politics and monetary battles.

      But really the best thing about this school is that they took thirty of us aside for a full year and let the professors and students, well pretty much anyone involved, experiment with crazy new class ideas and just try tons of things for a full year. I have to admit we made lots of mistakes, but having these experiences now can surely help us in knowing out limits and which frontiers to explore.

      So the moral of the story is I don't think I could have found a more enthusiastic school that embraces so many of the ideals I find important.

      Just please, guys, be nice to our poor servers! We are still a small school with only a couple T1's!

      And we're also working on the website, sorry about it being a pretty crappy placeholder for now.

    • Most schools I know now that are full universities (and not community colleges or just colleges of engineering) have some pretty heavy mandatory liberal education requirements. Both my undergrad and grad did... as did every other program I heard of.

      And the general problem is that it usually gets in the way.

      Ok, we need well rounded citizens. Fine. But when I end up having to take 18 credit hours because I need to squeeze in that advanced algorithms course that is only given in the Fall semester... something has to give.

      Too often liberal educations are poorly implemented. But then I probably shouldn't be the one to talk. I have extensive interest in literature and the fine arts. I probably would have taken the bevy of courses I did even in a vacuum. I also ended up with a psychology minor just because it interested me and not that I thought it would help me out in any way.

      Finally, you just need to accept the fact that many people in our world do not want to learn about everything else and will promptly forget everything after final exams. Many many people. If they don't enjoy it and they aren't going to get paid to know it, why remember it?
    • by Orne ( 144925 ) on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @02:51PM (#4106871) Homepage
      Let me preface this by saying I'm an Electrical Engineer, employed in the bulk power business.

      My Alma Mater [rpi.edu] currently requires 128 credit hours to graduate with this degree (more before they switched to this 4x4 plan), 100 hours of which are in Engineering. Physics requires 124 credit hours, 92 of which are in Science. Both of which require a minimum of 24 credits of Humanities.

      At 16 credits a semester, that's 16 minimum hours spent in class; not counting lab work, which we all know can be 50-150% extra time spent per course. Add in homeworks, and that's another roughly 80% per course. For that 16 hours a week, we scientists and engineers spend a good 40+ hours doing course work, compared to the 24-30 hours a humanities major spends (but boy we make it up in salary).

      Your average scientist & engineer in school will tell you they're booked (literally), and any more course requirements will break them. That means, if you want more humanities, then the science has to go. And if your school drops the science, then graduating students from your school will be of lower technical quality compared to other schools.

      My school blended the two together; by embracing the fact that we were a technical "institute", most of the H&SS courses available to Engineers dealt with Asthetic Design, Ethics (Ethics in Computers discussed Encryption Rights, etc), a few computer art courses... a fairly good blend for the more science-minded individual.
      • I am sympathtic to issues of courseload.

        It seems to me that the way engineering educations are administred in this country needs to be rethought. The country needs a broadly educated populace if its democracy is going to thrive. But it also needs specialists.

        The problem may be most accute in engineering, but the sciences are faced with similar issues and it is just going to get worse as more programs bring more physical and computational material into biology (for example).

        Perhaps some of this is better addressed in grad-school? Or perhaps some is better addressed in high school (good luck).
    • I'm not engineering, but I did just graduate Math/CS from Macalester College, St. Paul, MN. In addition to the two majors, I had a Classics minor and spent the plurality* of my time in the music building.

      The building where I took my math & CS classes? The Franklin W. Olin Science building.

      Have hope.

      *plurality: like a majority, but not over 50%.

    • >#1: Engineers don't take any other courses (from what I've been seeing) besides the engineering courses. No history, humanities, fine arts, etc. It makes for a more well-balanced person. It should be required.

      I never took any of these classes when I was an mech engineering major. All my electives I chose to do EE classes. But so what? Do I have to take classes to become a ''balanced'' person? Why can't I just read up on my own? I don't care about beautiful pictures hanging on the wall in the gallery, and how that is better than this for example. Why this pressure to become ``renaisance''?

      >This is why I switched to physics. Generally the same material, except more in depth/proven/etc.

      You missed the point about engineering then if you feel that way (good that you switched to physics if you are happier there). Engineering is not about proving things : it's about making things work. You don't have to know Noether's theorem to understand why angular momentum is conserved : you just need to know that it does and then how it applies to designing that gyro-system.
      As engineers, you learn to develop an engineering intuition about things and make judgements that may save (or cost) others their lives and money. You are responsible for the things you build and design. That's engineering. You don't spend your time learning GR so you can understand how gravity really works in the fundamental level.

      Btw, I am now a astrophysics graduate student doing theoretical physics. But I don't disparage my own engineering background. You shouldn't too.
    • >shoving a bunch of formulae at the students and are saying "Here, memorize these." without explaining/proving how/why they work

      My dad spent some time as the token industry person teaching senior chemical engineering.

      This is exactly what he complained about.

      His students would try to solve problems using equations that didn't apply in the given conditions, and had trouble understanding what they were doing wrong or how it was bad.

      Someone who's had to build and test things isn't going to make that mistake, not more than once.

      The students also had a world of trouble interpreting their answers. They'd ask what it meant when they solved for a flow rate and it came out negative. My dad explained that it meant that if you really built a plant to the given specs, it would run backwards.

      I hope Olin works as well as I think it will.
    • Engineers don't take any other courses (from what I've been seeing) besides the engineering courses. No history, humanities, fine arts, etc. It makes for a more well-balanced person. It should be required.

      I goofed off my first (and only) year at Illinois [uiuc.edu] and ended up taking more than a decade (on and off) before finishing a computer-science degree at UNLV [unlv.edu]. Both schools had extensive general-education requirements as part of their curricula. The catalog under which I graduated was slightly different, but here [unlv.edu]'s what UNLV currently requires for a BSCS. Of 128 credits required for graduation, 44 are from computer science courses [unlv.edu]. Another 44 credits are in math and sciences. The remaining 40 credits are in liberal arts/humanities/fine arts.

      (The main differences that I can see are that my catalog had different English requirements (I took technical writing (ENG 411), which is no longer required), I didn't have to take the group-project course (CSC 472), and digital logic (EEG 114) didn't have a lab (EEG 191) associated with it when I took it. ENG 411 turned out to involve a large amount of group-project work, though...so much for avoiding that. :-| At least it was still an easy A.)

    • by sjbe ( 173966 )
      #1: Engineers don't take any other courses (from what I've been seeing) besides the engineering courses. No history, humanities, fine arts, etc. It makes for a more well-balanced person. It should be required.

      This simply isn't true for any of the highest regarded engineering schools. While engineering and science courses certainly dominate the curiculum (and rightfully so), they hardly comprise the whole of it. A sizeable portion of the credit hours required for graduation are in english, economics, history, philosophy and in some cases language. This is easily confirmed with even a cursory study of any top engineering school's curriculum.

      Now do engineers have as much humanities as might be ideal? No, probably not. But there is no way that I can see to cram more humanities into a 4 year degree program and still produce quality engineers. Remember, that course on english lit might make a more rounded person but without calculus/statistics/physics/etc an engineer can't do his job. So unless you can come up with some way of funding an extra year of school for engineers, things aren't about to change.

      #2: From the engineering programs I've seen lately, it seems as though they're shoving a bunch of formulae at the students and are saying "Here, memorize these." without explaining/proving how/why they work. That is vital. The engineers being churned out now are book smart, cannot apply their knowledge, and do not know where their "knowledge" comes from.

      This is a criticism I could make of virtually any undergraduate program, not just those of engineers. I mean how many people do you know who really understand all the why's and hows of their subject, especially right out of college? Damn few I'm willing to bet. This only comes with experience and time. Co-op programs can help in some cases but only to a point. It's easy to say that the "why" needs to be taught (and I agree it does), but it is much tougher to do and still have any curriculum, much less an engineering curriculum, that is even vaguely relevant to the real world.

      Secondly, we run into the time problem again. There is a limited amount of time available. Most good engineering programs stretch their students on time as it is. Explaining a significant amount of physics to someone pursuing a physics degree starting from F=MA within 4 years is tough but possible. Explaining what is needed for a mechanical engineering degree in the same amount of time without skiping a few steps in the proofs is impossible. And I would argue that it would be a waste of time to try. If someone is curious, there is nothing stopping them from learning the extra material, and the better universities do try to teach this. But the universities have an obligation to teach the stuff the students need to know first. Then they can fill in the nice to know stuff as time permits. Ideally you can build from fundamental principles but not always. And I say this as someone who pursued a physics degree so I agree with your sentiment, just not the conclusion.
  • Olin's goal is to graduate students who are "renaissance engineers,"


    I had no idea that there was a college whose purpose was to place evenly spaced lines on students. Wouldn't a ruler work just as well?

  • by TechnoVooDooDaddy ( 470187 ) on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @01:57PM (#4106497) Homepage
    This past year, 30 "pre-freshman" worked with faculty, staff, and administration to create the college's curriculum and student live programs. This strikes me as a little odd.. why were a bunch of kids allowed input on the degree courses? how much valid input could they possibly provide? When i was 17/18, my ideas would've been along the lines of: We need classes in
    • FPS: The History of Quake
    • Beer Bongs 101
    • Photography 101: The Nude Review
    • Painting an entire generation with your brush is somewhat unfair, isn't it? According to the article, at least one of the 30 was accepted to MIT. I'm guessing they must be somewhat more mature than the average applicant (the ones that think being voted the #1 party school in the Big Ten is a GOOD thing) and will actually put a little thought into what they should take in pursuit of a degree. That being said, your courses sound pretty compelling should I determine that I could use a post-grad degree!
  • by Anonymous Coward
    olin01 writes "more information on their website."

    Their website, or yours? If you're going to advertise on /., at least be straight with us. We're smart enough to see through it.
    • Sorry if you thought I was trying to trick you. One, I actually think it's a pretty big thing, but then yes, I am a student there and that makes me biased.

      If I wanted to trick you, I would have changed usernames. I'm smart enough to do that and know you're smart enough to figure out olin01 is probably someone from Olin.
    • Yeah, this manages to get posted to the front page when submitted by someone who attends said institution. Then, reading the comments one notices numerous posts from people with > 500,000 UIDs saying that they attend Olin, defending it, and basically astroturfing the hell out of this story.

      I'm not saying that Olin isn't a good school, or even that the story isn't interesting, but if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck....

  • by smoondog ( 85133 ) on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @02:00PM (#4106511)
    Just what the world needs, more Stephen Wolframs.

    -Sean
  • Sounds familiar (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Van Halen ( 31671 )
    Their mission sounds quite a lot like that of my alma mater [hmc.edu]. In fact, the newest building at the time I went there was named after Olin, so I suppose it's no surprise that there's now a (similar) full college named after him. Personally, I highly recommend an emphasis on humanities in the otherwise technical curriculum, as I said last week [slashdot.org].

    Will be interesting to see how this school grows.

  • No tuition (Score:3, Insightful)

    by crow ( 16139 ) on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @02:00PM (#4106516) Homepage Journal
    With all students getting a full scholarship, the school can more easily compete for the best students. Most of the Ivy League schools have large enough endowments to significantly reduce or eliminate their tuition fees, but they don't because they don't have to. Perhaps schools like this one will help push them in that direction.
  • Old idea (Score:2, Informative)

    by El Cabri ( 13930 )
    In France schools like Ecole Polytechnique [polytechnique.edu], Ecole Centrale [www.ecp.fr] or Ecole des Mines [ensmp.fr] have been doing that for 200 years, with a total output of around 1000 "renaissance engineers" (ingenieur generaliste) per year. In French companies these diplomas usually make you start your career as a supervisor/manager in the industry, in consulting firms or financial services.
  • I'd hire someone with an education like this in an instant. When I interview someone, there's two aspects I look at: technical ability and communication/leadership ability. Both are reasonably easy to find in a person. It's the people with a good combination of the two that are hard to find. It looks like this will foster that.

    As well, the kind of hand-on learning that they talk about here is what you need in a good R&D engineer. I want people who can mock up a prototype with duct tape and zap straps to do proof of concept before they sit down to design it in Solid Works.

    Brant
  • What about Cooper Union? All students recieve full tuition scholarships.

    Not many people have heard about it, but those who do know that we're hard core.
  • Hm? (Score:3, Funny)

    by Steve G Swine ( 49788 ) on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @02:08PM (#4106580) Journal
    How are they going to graduate well-rounded people who still want to be engineers?
  • Wow (Score:3, Funny)

    by Verizon Guy ( 585358 ) on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @02:10PM (#4106597) Homepage
    When it was time to apply to college, I actually nursed the idea of applying to this school, after all the posters and free shit they sent me in the mail. Until, of course, I came to my senses and realized that it will make MIT look like Florida State.

    I actually go to a great school now (30,000+ attendance) where I get a top of the line education, yet get to socialize with liberal arts girls, party if I want to --- all things from the "college experience" that help you become a well rounded individual street-smarts wise. These guys from FWO will be as well rounded as a home-schooled college student, if you can think of such a thing. I'm surprised if they'll ever see female genitalia in their life. Sure they may be the college of the future -- but hey, they may figure out how to have sex without intercourse! (Anyone remember Demolition Man with the wireless helmets and all? Kind of reminds me of the Coneheads and the sens-0-rings... ahh, my mind is in the gutter :-)
  • by limber ( 545551 ) on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @02:14PM (#4106613) Homepage
    Free tuition and housing. Sounds like a tasty deal!

    Makes you wonder if there's an agenda. What kind of grads will this place really churn out? How does the college pay for its operations? There's some big bucks involved: A $400 million pledge from the FW Olin Foundation. (Not my intention to sound critical -- but if, say, Microsoft were to sponsor parts of a university program [uwaterloo.ca], it does raise eyebrows...)

    I guess my question is, how will the market value (the holder of) a free degree? I scraped through countless crap jobs and jumped through inane scholarship hoops to pay my way through. Guess I feel a bit jealous.
  • Awesome! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by candylilacs ( 281582 )
    Engineers need classes other than engineering ones.

    By taking classes in history, humanities, etc. it will help them relate to other college students including the ones that party half the week at neighboring colleges. They might even have sex before they graduate.

    c.

  • University of Iowa (Score:2, Informative)

    by Feynman ( 170746 )
    My two cents:

    I graduated from The University of Iowa College of Engineering [uiowa.edu] during Dean Miller's last year. (As the article mentions, Miller is now president of Olin College.)

    This concept is very appealing to me. The UI COE prides itself in a student body comprised of those who are "engineers and more." This is one of the reasons I choose to attend Iowa over That Other School [iastate.edu]. Admittedly, Iowa's curriculum is not much different from the basic curriculum of any other ABET-accredited school. (BTW, we were required to take Rhetoric, like all UI grads, and a number of courses in the humanities and social sciences. In fact, to fulfil, say, the humanities requirement, you had to take a lower-level and upper-level course in the same field.) Yet, the exposure to, and opportunity in, many diverse areas was invaluable. As a hiring manager, I would be very reluctant to hire an engineer that wasn't "well-rounded," with excellent written and verbal communication skills, and a broader perspective on his work.
  • I don't know, but when I read the part about the copressed air cannon, the first thing that came to my mind is ...

    They're training these kids to be on Junkyard Wars!!
  • A similar program (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SimJockey ( 13967 ) on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @02:24PM (#4106678) Homepage Journal
    Can't get to the site, but it sounds exactly like the program [mcmaster.ca] I graduated from. I was in the first graduating class, and I have to say if it wasn't for this program I would have never finished my engineering education.

    The Engineering and Society program at McMaster is a 5 year program instead of the usual 4 for a standard engineering degree. You still "belong" to a particular branch of engineering (chemical in my case), but you spread the technical portion of your education over the entire 5 years, freeing up time for other areas of study. I studied anthropology and philosophy outside of engineering, as well as a number of targetted Engineering and Society courses on social impacts of technology, environmental issues, history of technology, etc. And these were far from bird courses, critical thought was stressed and the work load was high. Math and physics were for the most part easy for me, defending my arguments critically was hard. But it is the skill I took from university that I am most proud of.

    For me, it was the best education I could have had. I'm good at the technical part, and always wanted to have a career in engineering. But I always had in mind that sometimes technology doesn't always make the world a better place. I think that as engineers, we need to have a broader world view of how what we do affects the world around us. Both the human societies and environment. Engineering education requires a huge amount of content, and in order to pack it all into 4 years, there isn't much room for anything else.

    I think that anyone looking to get into engineering should look closely at programs like this, the extra year may seem like a lot now but the rewards in the end may far outweigh it.
  • Hm. Coincidence? olin01... Olin college... nah!

    They could at least have tried to make it less obvious. Next week, will there be an announcement about hot new .NET coding tools from "billg@microsoft.com"?

    - A.P.
  • by gwernol ( 167574 ) on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @02:28PM (#4106700)
    I would have loved a course like this. But, I still think it may be solving the wrong problem. My experience is that there are fewer engineers who could do with a dose of liberal arts (though there are plenty) than there are liberal arts students who desperately need at least some basic grounding in science and math.

    I have met countless Americans with liberal arts backgrounds who have tremendously difficulty dealing with even the most basic concepts of logic, reasoning, argument and math. This can seriously damage your career.

    There are relatively few engineers who would admit with pride that they don't read books or go see films. There are plenty of liberal artists who seem only too happy to flaunt their ignorance of basic math and science.

    So I like this course a lot, but I'd rather see something working in the other direction.
    • I agree. I have a math and physics BS and over the 5 year course of attaining it I ended up taking 1 communications class, 3 english classes, 2 foreign language classes, 1 history, 1 sociology, 1 anthropology, 2 psychology, 3 philosophy, 1 music, 1 art, and who knows what else. That's 16 classes, so figure 48 semester credit hours.

      My friend with a history major only needed one math at the precalculus level (and he took calculus in high school) and one sequence of lab science, which he took geology or whatever the cryp science is at our university.

      I don't think everyone needs to be trained scientists. And I do not think that everyone has what it takes to get through an entire year of calculus without taking a hit to their GPA, but a liberal arts education is unbalanced.

      Perhaps a good measure of how unbalanced the US education system is, is the general GRE scores. Scientists and engineers generally do exceptionally well in the logic and analytic, and moderatley well in the verbal. While english majors do average in the logic and analytic, but only slightly better than the scientists and engineers in the verbal. You would think that the differences in the two disciplines' specialties wrt each other would be the same, but they are not even close. The scientists scores come out much higher over all. This indicates that either our educational system is unbalanced or the GRE is.
    • While this might be true for arts students, I disagree that it's an overall affliction to humanities students.

      I have a history degree. The upper-level classes I took to get this degree required basic statistics skills (analysis of things like immigration patterns or ethnic trends in a given community, for example -- history's "only a bunch of dates" at the lower levels). I imagine the same is true for people in programs like psychology or any other research or data-gathering intensive disciplines.

      Now, I can see where other degree programs can avoid math and reasoning (music majors, for example), but lumping all humanities students into this catagory is really unfair.

      • music majors aren't avoiding math, they're just interpreting it differently.

        (length of notes in music is all about fractions... whole notes, half notes, quarter notes, etc)

        Its not calculus or algebra, but theres a lot of math there.

        (I'm a computer engineering student, and used to be a bassist)
    • I have met countless Americans with liberal arts backgrounds who have tremendously difficulty dealing with even the most basic concepts of logic, reasoning, argument and math.

      I wonder what these people actually accomplished in college. I can't think of any well-regarded discipline that doesn't require an understanding of logic, reasoning, and argument.

      Even painting is a logical process, in a way. The art just doesn't spew from some magical fountain, does it? An artist's knowledge and vocabulary will be different, but their reasoning and insight, in principle, isn't too far removed from that of a scientist.
      • wonder what these people actually accomplished in college. I can't think of any well-regarded discipline that doesn't require an understanding of logic, reasoning, and argument.

        In theory this is what you'd expect. In practice you should take a look at some of what is being taught.

        Even painting is a logical process, in a way. The art just doesn't spew from some magical fountain, does it?

        Sadly there are many people who believe exactly that. Its often labelled divine inspiration or intuition or some other ill-defined process, but it amounts to the magical fountain.

        An artist's knowledge and vocabulary will be different, but their reasoning and insight, in principle, isn't too far removed from that of a scientist.

        There is some rational argument that the cognitive processes involved with science are different from those involved with art (left brain vs. right brain at its crudest). And a lot of artists don't have the slightest clue how to deal with real logic. Its ironic that it is the scientist who has the "absent minded professor" stereotype, when it is so often the artists who can't deal with simple real world operations. I have posted elsewhere of the Duke graduate who couldn't even do simple combinations of percentages.
    • I couldn't agree more. I know two people getting a degree in education because they want to be schoolteachers. Every time we talk about college I try and persuade them to take at least one calculus class before graduating.


      Its not required, so they are not bothering. Jeez, I'm sorry, but a bachelor's degree without even a single calculus class isn't worth the paper its printed on. And these are the people who will instruct the next generation of kids.

  • by mshomphe ( 106567 ) on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @02:31PM (#4106719) Homepage Journal
    Olin College Engineers are FULLY ENDOWED
  • ... but also a strong understanding of their context through studies in arts, humanities, social science, and entrepreneurship.

    Don't get me wrong, this sounds like a great idea. But how can you seriously get all of this without spending over 8 years time? There's only so much you can pack in before extending the time until graduation else you lose important class time for engineering.

    Either that or you go in overkill method and give the students the worst four years of their life.

  • Required Reading (Score:2, Interesting)

    by subagon ( 209536 )

    The Existential Pleasures of Engineering [amazon.com] by Samuel C. Florman was required reading when I attended the College of Engineering at the University of Florida. A detailed look at engineering as an art form. Highly recommended.

  • Their accreditation says:

    Accreditation: Creating a curriculum and facilities that meet requirements for accreditation with the New England Association of Secondary Schools & Colleges (NEAS&C) and the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET)

    First of all, the regional accreditation [chea.org] that means something is called the "New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC-CIHE)", which is similar, yet different from what they claim. Mistake? Or attempt to mislead?

    The second red flag comes from the wording: "Creating a curriculum"? That smells like they haven't been accredited yet.

    If they're not accredited, they should come out and say so instead of all this sneaky crapola. The program might be good, but there are very distinct disadvantages to not going to an accredited school, not least of which your classes and/or degree means absolutely nothing if you want to transfer to an accredited school.

    • The second red flag comes from the wording: "Creating a curriculum"? That smells like they haven't been accredited yet.

      As an Anonymous Coward has already posted, they're not. Two of my friends considered being part of that pre-freshman class last year, and it was made very clear to them that the school was not yet accredited, but would hopefully be in 5 years before the first class graduates. Neither of them wanted to risk that.
      • Not sure about the american accreditation process, but I had to go through this with my similar program here in Canada. I was in the first graduating class, and we couldn't get the program accredited until we actually had a class of students complete all the proposed curriculum. A bit of a nail biter, but we had all the technical courses of a regular degree so there really wasn't anything they could catch us on. One advantage of starting a program like this in an existing engineering school rather than starting one from scratch.
  • Back in my day if you went to college you had to take humanities and science classes. Stuff like foreign languages, composition, biology and philosophy were requirements. Even the engineering students. To make it fair, the liberal arts students had to take calculus as well.

    But you tell that to youngsters nowadays and they won't believe you!
  • Try to honors track (Score:2, Interesting)

    by HungWeiLo ( 250320 )

    At the UW, the honors program [washington.edu] requires you to take any 3 year-long sequences to graduate (along with whatever major you're doing). These include:

    • Western Civilization
    • World Civilization
    • Physics
    • Math
    • I choose the first three. Out of world civ, for example, I got to write a 50-page paper on pyramids, study west African feminist literature, and take a really interesting course from a femini-Nazi women's study professor.

      Now, while I'm coding OS thread tasks, I can also appreciate a bit of Herodotus (or whatever else tickles your fancy) while taking my breaks. So if you're interested in a well-rounded education, check out your school's honors program.
  • why does their Web site need a splash page?
  • You think an engineering school would have I2 connectivity. Instead they are getting slashdotted, my traceroute is showing 3 second latency. I sure hope this pipe isn't their only connection to the Internet. Otherwise the freshman are probably crying about how slow it is right about now.

    4 sd-ul.indiana.gigapop.net (192.12.206.245) 3.003 ms 3.062 ms 2.885 ms
    5 so-1-0-0.iplvin1-hcr5.bbnplanet.net (4.24.115.1) 3.103 ms 2.681 ms 3.254 ms
    6 p8-0.iplvin1-br2.bbnplanet.net (4.0.2.5) 3.335 ms 3.150 ms 2.890 ms
    7 p13-0.phlapa1-br1.bbnplanet.net (4.24.10.181) 18.279 ms 19.185 ms 18.074 ms
    8 p13-0.nycmny1-nbr2.bbnplanet.net (4.24.10.178) 20.335 ms 19.719 ms 19.569 ms
    9 so-4-0-0.bstnma1-nbr2.bbnplanet.net (4.24.6.49) 26.618 ms 25.659 ms 26.185 ms
    10 p2-0.bstnma1-cr8.bbnplanet.net (4.24.5.126) 26.253 ms 26.059 ms 26.384 ms
    11 s0-1.folincollege2.bbnplanet.net (4.24.94.114) 30.394 ms 3095.996 ms 2883.122 ms
    12 olin.edu (4.21.173.12) 2789.972 ms 2759.551 ms 3040.223 ms
    • theres a few reasons they don't have I2 connectivity....

      1) they're new
      2) old engineering schools (The Milwaukee School of Engineering [msoe.edu], approaching their centenial) don't have them
      3) what the heck does i2 give to undergrads? (yes, its good for researching really damn fast internet connections, but i'd imagine thats more better for grad students, which i don't think this school has yet)
  • FYI, there are 2 Olin Foundations out there which some slashdotters may be familar with -- The FW Olin Foundation, which appears primarily concerned with furthering higher education in science, engineering, and business, and the more conservative John M Olin Foundation, which seems to specialize in throwing money at various right wing pundits.

    FW Olin Foundation blurb [capitalresearch.org]: (scroll down to #8)
    http://www.capitalresearch.org/publications/a ltern atives/1998/june.htm

    John M Olin Foundation [mediatransparency.org]:
    http://www.mediatransparency.org/fund ers/john_m_ol in_foundation.htm
  • by Raul654 ( 453029 ) on Tuesday August 20, 2002 @02:58PM (#4106932) Homepage
    I was a high school senior a couple years ago when they came recruiting 25 graduating kids to help design their curriculum. IIRC, the first 5 years they plan to be free, and offer buisness classes through a partner university up there. (Sorry, I forget which one). They were going to put the 25 kids up in a hotel for the first few weeks, and then in an abandoned church. I decided not to apply when I found out they would give exactly no credit for APs and courses I had already taken. Wonder what become of those people.
    • Heh. I'm one of those people.

      What actually happened:
      30 students were at Olin this year. In a hotel for a bit, then in modular housing (nice modular housing, but I won't miss it). Well, except for the month we went to France to find out what we did and did not like about international experiences, when we stayed in ENSAM's [ensam.fr] dorms and worked with Georgia Tech Lorraine [georgiatech-metz.fr].

      We worked with the faculty, staff, and administration to design the curriculum (which consisted of a lot of meetings and testing various pedagogies out) as well as student life programs (honor code, student government, clubs, etc). We worked in six four to five week modules. The first, third, fourth, and sixth modules were curriculum development, the second was community service development, and the fifth was the international experience. We also had some side projects, such as competing against upperclassmen & grad students in the NASA MarsPort competition [olin.edu] and earning an outstanding in the ICM [comap.com]. Great group of people to work & live with, we got a lot done.

      At the end of the week we become freshmen.
  • Read the following. Think about them.

    The Cartoon History of the Universe, Volumes I and II by by Larry Gonick (ISBN: 0385265204, ISBN: 0385420935)

    Herodotus: The Histories (Project Gutenberg)

    A Distant Mirror by Barbera Tuchman (ISBN: 0345349571)

    Full House: The Spread of Excellence from Plato to Darwin by Stephen Jay Gould (ISBN: 0609801406)

    Disturbing the Universe by Freeman J. Dyson (ISBN: 0465016774)

    Utopian Entrepreneur by Brenda Laurel (ISBN: 0262621533)

    How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They're Built by Stewart Brand (ISBN: 0140139966)

    The Existential Pleasures of Engineering by Samuel C. Florman (ISBN: 0312141041)

    The Immense Journey by Loren C. Eiseley (ISBN: 0394701577)

  • ... at Stevens Institute of Technology, where I got my BsC. So it's not like this is the first school to come up with the idea.

    What is kinda neat is that, unlike me, you won't have $50k in student loans when you get out the other end.
  • I know and understand the exact sort of problem these people are encountering. I just graduated from a major East Coast research university in Chemical Engineering and I took exactly 6 courses in 'humanities and liberal arts'. Three were economic courses, if you could consider them true liberal arts classes.

    But, a true Rennaissance man does not learn from the typical professor spouting knowledge like a pool of information and dutifully copying it down, in the vain hope that they interpret this as 'learning' and 'understanding'. From the liberal arts classes that I have taken or have heard about from fellow Engineers, most of these classes involve regurgitating the opinions and judgements of the professor in the form of a bloated essay containing very few of one's own opinions or creative ideas.

    A real Renaissance person learns by exploration of the world, of history, of math & science, of politics, on their own terms. The problem is not the availability of information, but the motivation of interest in it.

    If any Engineer wants to learn history or politics, all they need to do is pick up a few classic books on the topic. Ever read Adam's "Wealth of Nations" or Machievello's "The Prince"? These are books that are fundamental to modern economics and politics, books that are almost never read in a structured class because there's always that fancy new textbook that costs $75-100, but which says the same thing in baby-talk and with some pretty pictures.

    Why learn political science from a guy who's never held office?

    Why learn economics from a poor professor?

    Want to better understand human nature? Studying sociology will only give you unproven theories made up by professors who write textbooks for a living. Go read "The Brothers Karamazoo".

    Basically, my point is...to really understand and learn the liberal arts, to study human nature itself in order to become a better leader, a better communicator, a better businessman or entrepenuer, you can't listen to any ol' professor speak about something which someone else wrote in a textbook (the standard fare today). You need to either experience and experiment with it for yourself or read or speak to people who have done so. Countless classic books expound upon human nature and it hasn't changed since humans left Nature...so they're all still quite accurate. :)

    Salis

    Who has learned more about liberal arts by reading enlightening and interesting books (fiction & non-fiction) than in any ol' University setting

  • The U.S. Military Academy (West Point) [usma.edu] already does this to a large extent. The engineering and science majors have to take a reasonable dose of humanities (Psych, Eng Lit/Comp, Int'l Relations, Poli Sci, foriegn language, all kinds of history) over the 4 years, and, perhaps more importantly, the liberal arts-type majors are mandated to take a minor in an engineering field. It makes for much more well-rounded thinkers... it's not the engineering they take, but the engineering thought process associated with it that is important.

    It's also full tuition (and room/board/food).

    Of course, definitely not for everyone, but a really good education for those who do go.
  • It's nice that they want engineers to be more balanced in their educations. My alma mater [stevens-tech.edu] does this as well. You earn an engineering degree in 4 years -- 5 if you can't hack the intense program -- and you were required to take 3 credits each semester in the humanities. I had courses in history, philosophy, English lit, and psychology. You also had to take Physical Education each semester. There was no getting out of that unless you were on a varsity team, and even then you only got a bye for one semester. Only the engineering education should be well-rounded; there's no reason the engineers themselves have to be!

    Naturally all this came at a price. I was carrying more than 20 credits in my busiest semester, and that was for a Comp Sci degree which was heavily math oriented and for which I needed to take many classes that were otherwise graduate level in order to fulfill the requirements. (At only 2.5 credits instead of 3.) Students in the more traditional engineering disciplines carried an even heavier courseload. It builds character, or so I was told...

    At Stevens, students often found themselves working in teams. Even outside the classroom, it proved helpful to use a team approach in studying for exams in the more challenging subjects, but besides that I can recall no lab course where I was working alone. In many of the engineering curricula, a major feature of the Senior year was "Superlab", where teams of students would work on individual projects of their own design. I don't imagine a team-based approach to labs and major projects can be all that uncommon in engineering schools. In RL, engineers almost never work alone. An engineer trained to go solo would be woefully unprepared for the working world.

    So the only thing we are left with that's actually unique about the Olin curriculum is the practical approach to every technical subject. This, IMO, cannot work. Not every technical subject can be approached this way. Much of mathematics is just too abstract to monkey with in concrete terms, and many physics concepts can't be directly experimented with at all without large-scale, very expensive equipment. That means the resources to teach some subjects will be extremely limited. In either case, they will have to fall back on traditional methods -- methods, by the way, that we know are effective. Which makes me wonder why the Olin faculty believes they need to be discarded in the first place.

    And frankly, I'm not altogether confident they know what they're doing. They debated for 2 months on what an engineer is? Puh-leeze!

  • Much needed (Score:2, Insightful)

    by hamsterboy ( 218246 )
    As a soon-to-be engineering graduate, I can see exactly how and why this is a good idea. The program I am finishing (not naming names) suffers from severe backwardness and foolish administration. The students are treated like manufactured goods, with the unfit being "weeded out" early by tough, nonsense courses, and the interesting work is saved until the very last year.

    From my view, this new school is doing a lot of things right.

    No paying-your-dues classes. Engineering is about solving problems, and most engineering work is done seat-of-the-pants, with the designer researching and learning as he/she goes. The traditional college would have you believe that two or three years of toolbox-building is required before one can solve any real problems. Any practicing engineer will tell you that this is total BS. Real Engineers(tm) just jump into a problem and think/work/caffienate until it's solved, emerging with experience, knowledge and confidence that they can then apply to the next problem. Modeling an educational institution around this iterative process should have been done a long time ago.

    Whole-systems engineering. A program cannot be completely designed without taking into account the students' perspective. Most engineering curricula are designed by "captains of industry" and experienced administrative faculty, none of whom know or remember what it's like to be an engineering student. The result is that we (the students) suffer through overlapping or gap-filled coursework, uninteresting classes, and a distinct lack of communication between administration and the student body. More people claim to have survived engineering school than to have graduated from it.

    Focus. A traditional engineering department has to compete with the Business school (with its battle-scarred, industry-culled accounting and law faculty) for funding, university resources, and attention. Unless the engineering school is the centerpiece of the university, it will be hard-pressed to get resources. In this case, the entire school offers only three degrees: ECE, ME, and general engineering. The student body will max out at around 650 people, with each class being only about 75 folks; small enough for every student to know every other student. This fosters networking - of a wireless sort - and as we all know, it's who you know.

    No tuition. Not so much for the (somewhat fictional) socially-equal nature of a moneyless college, but for the underlying message that it's not about the money. I especially like the story about the cannon project: here's a budget, here's a goal, see what you can do. This monetary constraint makes the game that much more fun; the coolest cannon will be the one with the best ideas in it, not the one on which more money was spent. What's (hopefully) great about this: the coolest cannon will probably get the best grade, too.

    Well-roundedness. My experience is that humanities courses are one step in a bureaucratic procedure on your way to a rubber-stamped degree. In order to truly produce well-rounded graduates, you can't just require that they sit through a few lectures on the Roman Empire. You have to make them interested, inquisitive, curious, and driven, so that they will find these things on their own. Knowledge does not make people well-rounded; wisdom and curiosity do. Our educational instutions today are sadly not in the free-thinker-producing business; they are in the business of producing graduates who will follow commands simply because they are given from somebody "above" them.

    Personally, I've gained more useful knowledge from a 9-month programming job and two 6-month internships than I have from my 5 years at the university. College has become almost a rite of passage; if thou desirest entrance to the upper echelons of society, thou shalt work in the mines for a period no less than 4 years.

    Must...stop...posting...

    -- Hamster

  • In computer science and engineering, Olin has some of the best professors that didn't fit at MIT because they cared too much about teaching and students, namely Lynn Stein [olin.edu] and Gill Pratt [olin.edu]. When at MIT, I worked with Lynn and heard many good things about Gill.

Egotist: A person of low taste, more interested in himself than in me. -- Ambrose Bierce

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