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Olin College Opens with Strong MIT Links

By Rima Arnaout


This fall at Olin College, it’s back to school for the first time. The Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering officially opened its Needham, MA campus on August 23, complete with classrooms, students, and teachers.

Olin was founded on ideals that MIT has long valued, including developing new methods of engineering education and fostering entrepreneurial spirit. Moreover, several Olin faculty members and advisors have strong ties with MIT. Whether Olin develops these ties into a more formal arrangement will remain to be seen.

Faculty join Olin from Institute

Of Olin’s 22 faculty members, three hail from MIT. Diana S. Dabby SM ’91 taught electrical engineering as a graduate student, and taught 6.003, Signals and Systems, as an associate professor at MIT. She also taught electrical engineering and music composition at Tufts University before joining Olin as assistant professor of electrical engineering and music. Dabby moved into her new office at Olin yesterday.

Dabby chose Olin because creating a new school challenged her creativity. “I really enjoyed teaching [at] MIT and really had terrific students,” Dabby said. “I read that Olin was going to give four-year full tuition to any admitted students, and I thought that this would undoubtedly attract the best ones.”

“I realized this could be a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Dabby said. “I don’t think any of [my colleagues] ever heard of a school where everything was being designed.”

“The artistic side of me and the more scientific side of me would have the chance to create new things, both in my research and in my classes,” Dabby said.

Associate Professor Lynn A. Stein left MIT to teach computer science at Olin, citing the emphasis on entrepreneurship and philanthropy as major benefits. “The opportunity to create a program that does all those good things from the outset was too good to pass up,” Stein said. “Olin has the advantage of being extremely small and therefore being able to be personally meaningful and connected for every member of the community.

Olin Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Daniel Frey taught Unified Engineering in MIT’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, winning several awards for distinguished teaching. Gill Pratt, who taught 6.004 (computation Structures) at MIT, is currently serving as Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

In addition, MIT’s Dean of Engineering, Thomas L. Magnanti, serves on Olin’s President’s Council advisory committee.

Professor Woodie C. Flowers PhD ’73 is listed as a “Distinguished Partner” of Olin’s Faculty. Flowers is perhaps best known for hosting the PBS program “Scientific American Frontiers” and his founding role in MIT’s 2.007 (Design and Manufacturing I) competition.

Relationship with MIT informal

While she no longer teaches at MIT, Dabby is a research affiliate at MIT’s Laboratory for Information and Design Systems (LIDS), “a lab that really ticks in a wonderful collegiate way,” she said.

“These informal relationships already exist,” Dabby explained. “I think some formal ones do as well in terms of that a number of people here in all echelons of the college have colleagues and close ties with MIT. I think a kind of collegial relationship will definitely continue.”

Stein said that she will continue to collaborate with MIT faculty, regardless of any formal agreement. “My sense is that Olin generally feels warmly welcomed by MIT, and that MIT has been gracious to us,” Stein said.

Olin launched in 1997

Olin College was founded in 1997 when the F. W. Olin Foundation of New York, which has a long-standing interest in improving science and engineering education, pledged over $300 million toward the enterprise.

Last fall, Olin launched Invention 2000, a two-year program to plan every aspect of the college, including campus life, curriculum, admissions, and governance. This year’s students are partners in the college’s development, and will return next year as part of Olin’s first freshman class.

Olin’s entering class of 30 students currently shares most facilities with nearby Babson College. They do, however, enjoy access to the MIT library system.