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Back To The Future - Educating Engineers for Practicing in Rapidly Changing Times (Part 2)

Addressing the issue of a bold new model for engineering education, a completely new engineering college is being constructed on a high-tech campus on a 70-acre site in Needham, Mass. Initially offering programs for electrical, computer, and mechanical engineers, the new Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering is independently funded institution; the first new engineering school in the US in 50 years. So that Olin can enroll the most talented students without regard to financial ability, every admitted student will receive a full, four-year foundation-funded scholarship covering tuition and room charges valued at approximately $165,000.

Olin College was founded in 1997 through a commitment of more than $300 million from the F. W. Olin Foundation of New York, which has a long-standing interest in improving science and engineering education. After years of generous building grants to existing institutions, the foundation decided the best way to jump-start engineering education reform was to create a new institution from scratch. "Our goal in creating Olin College is not to start just another engineering college, but a model for others," said Lawrence W. Milas, President of the Foundation and Chairman of Olin College's Board of Trustees.

As part of a far-reaching mandate to provide a new model for engineering education, the College announced "Invention 2000," an unprecedented two-year effort to fundamentally rethink the way engineers are taught and the way colleges function. Beginning this fall, the project will undertake an intensive examination of nearly every aspect of college life, including curriculum, student life, operations, admission, and governance. The goal is to identify innovative educational practices from around the globe and adapt them to the developing programs at Olin College, while adding new ideas for reform. What we seek to create is a singular institution that will always be at the cutting edge of engineering education and has a permanent culture of innovation. Invention 2000 is an indispensable step toward that goal.

According to William Wulf, President of the National Academy of Engineering in Washington, D.C., "There is an urgent need for fundamental reform of engineering education and Invention 2000 is unparalleled in terms of its scope and breadth. It is the sort of initiative that can create a new kind of engineering college capable of educating the next generation of technology leaders."

The effort will be guided by the reform recommendations made over the last decade by the National Science Foundation and the engineering community, which have called for radical changes in engineering education. Their recommendations include more emphasis on teamwork, project based learning and entrepreneurial thinking. These concepts will play a prominent role in Olin's curriculum, which will be updated regularly to keep pace with technological change and new discoveries. Graduates of Olin College will predict, create, and manage the technologies that will shape the future. Let's hope the educational discipline of civil engineering also benefits from this bold experiment. To learn more about Olin College visit their website.

- John P. Wier, P.E., R.P.L.S., Historical Chair, Fort Worth Branch ASCE, February 2001

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