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Two courses offered for the first time this semester demonstrate that curricular innovation is very much alive at Olin College of Engineering. Both leverage Olin's partnerships with Wellesley and Babson colleges to forge a new, interdisciplinary approach to problem solving.
Affordable Design and Entrepreneurship
Offered jointly with Babson, Affordable Design and Entrepreneurship (ADE) is run as a firm where students work in teams with community partners nationally and internationally to co-create and launch new products and ventures. The focus is on alleviating poverty by deploying innovations in communities that generate income and meet daily human needs. Groups of students travel to partner sites in the U.S. and abroad to build relationships, gain first-hand knowledge of local conditions and implement projects.
At the final presentations for the fall semester on December 16, teams presented their work with partners in Ghana, India, Morocco and Alabama. "Team Alabama" described a new product they are developing for the elderly called "walker bags," which attach to the walkers of older residents, enabling them to more easily transport groceries and other objects when they are walking.
Team Ghana presented a plan to build and deploy cassava graters in the Ashanti region of Ghana, making it easier to produce food products from the locally popular plant. They are also working with local partners to increase the income of bee keepers by finding new uses for beeswax. Team India is working to find better ways to connect rickshaw pullers and potential customers using cell phone and GPS technology, while Team Morocco hopes to increase literacy and food oil production in that North African country.
"All the teams have done more than we could have reasonably asked them to do," said Ben Linder, Associate Professor of Design and Mechanical Engineering, who notes that enrollment in the course increased 50 percent over that of a pilot version offered last spring. Erik Noyes, assistant professor of Entrepreneurship at Babson, said the course "has proven to be a great way to combine business and technological innovation." ADE is a two-semester capstone offering that can be taken as an alternative to SCOPE, or for one semester to fulfill Olin's design depth requirement.
Introduction to Sustainability
Introduction to Sustainability is part of a new six-course program leading to a certificate in sustainability. It is the first course to take advantage of the Three-College Collaboration among Babson, Wellesley and Olin to create a novel academic offering. The goal of the course, and the program as whole, is to educate students to use skills, tools, and concepts drawn from the liberal arts, business, and engineering to address environmental challenges and evaluate paths toward sustainability. Many of the problems of sustainability are inherently interdisciplinary, so the cross-campus approach provided fertile ground for creative solutions.
As part of the introductory course, students worked in teams to evaluate the sustainability of a city block near the town center of Wellesley, Mass. Students first broke into teams, each of which focused on different "sectors" of the sustainability issue, including water use, transportation, waste production, transportation and energy. They then re-formed into cross-sector teams that made suggestions for increasing sustainability in the target area.
Wellesley town officials were invited to the final presentations on December 14, where the audience heard recommendations from teams consisting of Babson, Wellesley and Olin students. Among the suggestions were a proposal to integrate sustainability into the existing public school curriculum, a plan to install "smart" appliances that could monitor energy use and an idea to introduce "zero-waste packaging" to local businesses.
Oren Zadik, a member of Olin's Class of 2014, was a member of the team recommending the supplemental curriculum in the local schools. He said he believed his group's idea to encourage hands-on projects like composting and gardening, along with a plan to encourage friendly competition among schools and grades to meet sustainability goals, could make a big difference in increasing popular understanding and support for ecologically balanced approaches over time. "We're trying to encourage good behavior and sustainability," Zadik said. "Optimizing isn't the answer. We need a revolution."