Practice First, Theory Later

Posted on October 29, 2007  Comments (0)

The best engineering school in the United States?

What makes Olin special – and what puts it at the top of my “Engineering Schools I Wished I Had Gone To” list—is its “practice first, theory later” approach. Olin was designed to make students plunge into hands-on engineering projects on day one. “Instead of theory-heavy lectures, segregated disciplines, and individual efforts,” I wrote in that article, “Olin champions design exercises, interdisciplinary studies, and teamwork.”

Experts say a deep reform of engineering education in the United States is long overdue. We need a new type of engineer trained to face today’s challenges, not those of post World War II, when many curricula were created. Could this new engineer be … the Olin engineer? That’s what I set out to find out when my editors assigned me the story on Olin.

What I found during my reporting, and what I tried to convey in the article, is that Olin is like no other engineering school I’d ever visited. Pretty much everything about it is unique. The installations are brand new, the faculty is young and motivated, the curriculum innovative. Professors don’t have to worry about tenure, students don’t have to worry about tuition. The students I met were bright, ambitious, outspoken, and diverse in their interests and personalities. They all want to lead, succeed, excel. They behave almost like MBA students training to be CEOs except they’re dressed in pajamas programming robots. For outsiders, it can be an overwhelming experience to meet a classroom full of Olin engineers.

Related: Improving Engineering EducationThe Engineer That Made Your Cat a PhotographerRe-engineering Engineering EducationOn Novelty in Engineering Education

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