Major Spotlight: Engineering + Concentration

Sophie Wu '22

What is the major of “Engineering with a concentration”? Can I still come to Olin if I don’t want to be a mechanical engineer or an electrical and computer engineer? What if I haven’t decided on a specific area of study, but want to explore engineering in general?

We interviewed Becky (’10) and Henry (’20) for their experiences of studying majors and pursuing careers other than mechanical or electrical and computer engineering. Becky graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering but did grad school in materials science. She’s now a professor at Wellesley College. Henry is a senior studying engineering with a concentration in math.

Most students can’t decide their major when they first enter college. It’s totally fine to change your mind after experiencing different classes at Olin.

“I came to Olin thinking I was going to be a bioengineer and eventually go to medical school,” says Becky. “That completely changed the fall semester of my sophomore year when I took the Intro to Materials Science class with Prof. Debbie Chachra. I loved that class and I loved thinking about the world through the lens of materials science - how the things around us can be designed from atoms up.”

Henry shares a similar experience. He was thinking of being a MechE (Mechanical Engineering major) after taking Introduction to Mechanical Prototyping in his first year, but changed his mind and decided that he would devote himself to engineering with math after taking Partial Differential Equations.

Though there’s not an official math major at Olin, Henry believes he benefits from the Babson-Olin-Wellesley collaboration to get resources and opportunities he needs for math study as well as applying to grad school. “The math department at Wellesley is really great,” says Henry, “and the professors can help me with finding the resources for doing research and taking classes.” Henry believes that all natural sciences are built based on the foundation of math, and at Wellesley he has plenty of opportunities to explore the differences between them.

In Becky’s opinion, materials science has branches that sit very close to electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, physics, biology, etc. That being said, a lot of engineering classes at Olin are related to materials research, though they are not always tagged with “materials science.” The introductory microcircuits course, for example, is helpful in the studies of semi-conductors and electrical materials, even though it is considered an electrical and computer engineering class.

There are always new, innovative classes being taught at Olin every semester, and they are not only exciting, but also helpful for students’  future grad school studies.

Becky believes that getting practice doing independent projects (both in classes and in research) and building close relationships with faculty during her time at Olin have made a huge impact on her career. “That exposure to materials science research and applying my education to projects I personally care about not only motivated me to go to grad school, but gave me a great tool kit to draw from and build on as a young graduate student. My relationships with Olin faculty have been sources of happiness and support for me at each and every stage of my career.”

The project-based learning, an important feature of Olin’s curriculum, is one of the most convincing reasons why Henry selected Olin.

“Engineering begins with people, and the project-based learning really helped me with practicing communication – and math is about the communication between human beings and the abstract math world with numbers, expressions and theories. A balance between technical classes and design classes makes me a mathematician who has studied design and worked with engineers for a long time, and it has made an impact on my future studies."

“Materials scientists regularly have to do work that pulls on lots of different skill sets and requires collaboration with lots of different people,” says Becky. “For a single experiment I often have to work with a team to synthesize materials, characterize their quality, build an experimental setup, and then analyze the data we get from that experiment. Project-based learning has given me the planning and communication skills to organize those various steps, and the confidence that I can contribute in all of those areas.”

A lot of Olin students (including those studying engineering with concentrations in other areas) decide to go to grad school. Comparing to life at Olin, the grad school classes are significantly harder.

“I definitely had less exposure to a lot of the technical content when compared to my peers, but something I learned at Olin was to focus on my own process instead of constantly comparing myself to others which I think really helped. That being said, only part of grad school is the classes you take, and I definitely felt prepared to jump into research as soon as I got to campus,” says Becky.

Posted in: Sophie '22, Class of 2022