July 6 Message from the President

Dear Olin Community,

I am writing to you today to share Olin’s plan for the 2020-2021 academic year. We know you have been anxiously awaiting this news and we appreciate your patience. Our plans have been created with input from all corners of the Olin community and are in accordance with current public health guidelines and the Massachusetts Governor’s Reopening Advisory Board.

Olin will hold modified, residential on-campus fall and spring semesters and continue to deliver an Olin education that includes hands-on experiences where possible and meaningful engagement with faculty. At the same time, we will harden the Olin bubble to make our in-person experience safer.

The plan I am sharing today meets the commitments we have made to our students and families even amid the uncertainty created by COVID-19 and is based on our institutional values. Students especially made it clear that they value the on-campus experience, even one that may be different than what they are used to and would prefer to return to campus. We will implement our plans while protecting and putting first the health, safety and interests of our entire community.

We will be holding multiple Zoom forums—any member of the community is welcome at any one of the forums. 

We have published additional information in FAQs on our website. Please read through these resources—as well as the extended information in this email.

We expect you will have questions. We invite you to submit them ahead of your Zoom forum. Please know that we will be working through many of the reopening details in the coming weeks so we may not have all the answers right away, but we will continue to update the online FAQs as soon as new information becomes available. We will also be able to offer more detailed information in the upcoming forums.

Thank you to the Pathfinding Deliberative Committee, co-chaired by Interim Provost Mark Somerville and Vice President of Advancement Beth Kramer, as well as the COVID Scenario Task Force, headed by Professor of Computer and Cognitive Science Lynn Andrea Stein. The exhaustive work and leadership of these committees and their members made this enormous planning process possible.

It is important to note that our plans are only possible because the number of COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts continues to decline, and the plan for reopening Massachusetts remains on schedule as the state enters Phase 3 this week.

Moving forward, Vice President of Administrative Services and Innovation Jeremy Goodman and Professor Stein will co-lead the Olin Ahead Coordinating Team (OACT) that will oversee four working groups  –  Reopening the Campus, Community Continuity, Academic Planning, and Resource Planning – to continue to plan and implement Olin’s reopening strategies and logistics.

I would also like to thank again all members of our community for your patience and engagement in this uniquely Olin process and for your valuable feedback, time and collaboration. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that I would begin my tenure as Olin President during a global health crisis, but there is no other group of people I would rather meet these challenges with than with my fellow Oliners.


Gilda A. Barabino
President, Olin College of Engineering


Academic Calendar

Fall classes will begin on September 8, 2020 and end on December 14, 2020.

Spring classes will begin on January 28, 2021 and end on May 5, 2021.

The full academic calendar is still being finalized and will be posted on our website very soon. We expect some additional modifications to our traditional dates for student arrival, orientation, and the Thanksgiving break.



Olin is committed to maintaining students’ progress towards graduation through our distinctive curricular experience. At the same time, circumstances mean that our initial plans (as published in the March registration bulletin) will need to be modified. We recognize that Olin has some unique challenges in offering its hands-on curriculum in a socially distanced environment. This is also an unprecedented moment in history, and it affords some singular educational opportunities.

We anticipate offering a majority of Olin's core curriculum along with some new offerings that take advantage of the opportunities available in this disrupted time. Taken together, the range of courses available to Olin students will allow students to maintain progress toward their degrees and to dive deeply into topics that are not generally offered at Olin.

Over the next few weeks, the Academic Planning Working Group will reconfigure the course schedule to take into account changes that include COVID-related health measures, scheduling alterations, enrollment and staffing updates, and these new opportunities. We will share more information as soon as possible, with an expectation that detailed information and re-registration will be available by the end of July.


Employees, Campus Operations

The presence of faculty and staff on campus should be limited to those whose work must be accomplished at Olin. This means that most employees will continue to work remotely, some employees will work a hybrid of remote and on campus as determined by their duties, and a small number of employees will work on campus daily. For those who must work on campus, they will be required to follow public health guidelines as recommended by the CDC and the Department of Public Health.

In the coming weeks, the Olin Ahead Coordinating Team (OACT) will determine, with the relevant working groups, and communicate all necessary protocols to reduce the risk of virus transmission within the Olin Community. These protocols will meet the various federal, state and local public health requirements.

The College will also conduct a review of its facilities against CDC and Department of Public Health recommendations. Measures such as changing/restricting traffic flow in buildings, increasing outside air flow, installing physical barriers (such as plexiglass), enhancing cleaning routines, and other initiatives may all be appropriate. 

The Olin Ahead Coordinating Team (OACT),in collaboration with relevant departments across campus, will enact a procedure for enhanced cleaning, disinfection and other anti-virus measures.


Health and Safety

All members of the Olin community who are on campus will be required to maintain physical distancing, wear an appropriate mask in all indoor locations other than their rooms (for students) or private offices (for faculty and staff), and regularly report on any potential exposure or illness. Successfully implementing these restrictions will require that all members of the community hold themselves and each other accountable for these new behaviors. These restrictions may be modified as new public health guidance is released.

Testing will be key to keeping the Olin community healthy. Olin will follow the recommendations of the Massachusetts Higher Education Testing Group and require students be tested for COVID-19. Follow up testing will be performed regularly to monitor community health.

Olin is currently developing its full testing protocols. Further details related to COVID-19 testing requirements for the Olin community will be available soon.

Early detection of any infection will be critical to preventing and controlling the spread of infection within the Olin community. Olin will work with the Department of Public Health and the Needham Board of Health to ensure any necessary contact tracing is performed.

If a student tests positive for COVID-19 at any point they will be required to self-isolate on campus. A number of rooms with attached restrooms will be set aside for quarantine and/or isolation housing, in the event that students need to be removed from a suite or double room due to a positive test.

The Campus will be closed to all individuals who are not in residence as a student or employed by Olin. Guests and visitors will not be permitted. Students who are in residence will be expected to minimize off-campus activities and to practice strict physical distancing if they must leave campus. As with all policies, this will be reevaluated regularly as the public health situation changes.

In order to minimize health risks, Olin will require strict physical distancing and the use of personal protective equipment between students and employees, between different student groups, between students and anyone not living on campus, and between employees. For such rules to be effective, Olin must adapt its culture to support these safety measures.

Faculty and staff who test positive for COVID-19 will be expected to self-isolate for a minimum of 14 days.



Olin’s model normally works best when students are physically present to participate in their community and the collaborative learning environment. Public health concerns complicate many of our usual practices. Olin will make use of multiple modalities to support our intimate and engaged learning community. 

Regardless of the method of instruction it is important that the curriculum support close interactions and mentorship between students and faculty. Individual faculty members can choose the extent to which they wish to teach in a remote mode versus in a “mask-to-mask” mode. Instructors opting for “mask-to-mask” instruction will provide appropriate accommodations for students who are remote, whether temporarily (as in case of illness) or for the semester. All instructors should be ready to go purely remote if health conditions require it. 

While instructional mode might change, we will work hard to ensure that instructional character should not. 


On-campus residence 

Students will have the option to reside on campus for both semesters. Students who cannot or choose not to be on campus (health concerns, international travel constraints, capacity constraints, etc.) will be able to enroll remotely and to make progress toward their degree.

Students who live on campus should expect to remain on campus, with limited exceptions generally requiring approval, from their arrival at the beginning of the term until their departure at the end of the term to minimize health risks.

For the 2020-2021 academic year we plan to house first year students in single rooms within suites. Returning students will have the opportunity to indicate if they prefer a single room or a double room with a roommate. The Office of Student Affairs is currently working on a plan for room selections and students will receive information about that very soon.

If there are more students who wish to live on campus than space available, some students may be asked to live on campus for either the fall or spring semester instead of both semesters. Priority in housing will be given to students who do not otherwise have access to an appropriate environment that enables them to participate in Olin’s programs.

Olin's student population is small and with Massachusetts moving to Phase 3 this week we are cautiously optimistic that we will be able to accommodate the majority of our students on campus. We will make every effort to house as many students on campus as possible.

In order to minimize health risks, everyone on campus will be required to adhere to strict physical distancing requirements and use personal protective equipment (as noted above). All students will need to review information on important health, hygiene, social distancing and other guidelines before returning to campus and to sign an acknowledgement of Olin’s policies.

Plans for a restructured dining program are currently being developed. It is likely that students will be organized into dining shifts to minimize the number of students present at any given time. Meals may also be restructured around “to go” options. Use of lounges may be restricted and Residence Hall kitchens may be closed in accordance with current public health requirements. 

If public health concerns necessitate a remote semester or year, we will implement this plan without a residential component.

The Olin Ahead Coordinating Team (OACT) will work with the Dean of Student Affairs and her team to further develop these plans.