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Olin College founders win prestigious Bernard M. Gordon Prize

Posted by Evan Allen  January 8, 2013 09:57 AM

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Sherra, Rick and Dave Gordon Prize-1.jpg
Photo courtesy of Olin College
Sherra Kerns, Richard Miller and David Kerns, recipients of the Bernard M. Gordon Prize

Three Olin College founders have won the Bernard M. Gordon Prize – one of engineering’s highest honors.

Richard Miller, David Kerns and Sherra Kerns, three founding academic leaders of the College of Engineering, received the $500,000 prize from the National Academy of Engineering to recognize their innovation in engineering and technological innovation, according to a release from the college.

“This team of educational innovators has had a profound impact on society by improving the way we educate the next generation of engineers,” said Academy President Charles M. Vest in the release. “Olin serves as an exemplar for the rest of the engineering world and a collaborative agent for change.”

Miller was Olin’s first employee in 1999, according to the release, and Miller recruited the founding academic leadership team including David and Sherra Kerns to help build the college.

“We literally had the chance to start over in higher education and develop a new paradigm for engineering education, addressing at once all the concerns raised about engineering education at the time,” said Miller, who is the founding and current president of Olin, in the release.

Their fresh approach included offering no tenure, having no academic departments, offering only degrees in engineering and providing large merit-based scholarships to all admitted students, according to the release.

They have also worked to involve students in experimentation and decision-making. In 2001, they recruited 30 students to spend a year as “partners” in residence with the faculty before establishing the first curriculum, according to the release.

“Engineering is a fundamentally creative endeavor and the more perspectives that contribute to a solution, the better the solution. From the beginning, we sought to design programs attractive to all people,” said Sherra Kerns in the release. “Today, we graduate a higher percentage of women than any other co-ed engineering program in the country.”

Over the last three years, about 200 universities have visited Olin to explore ways they could initiate changes in their own curriculum, according to the release, and nine other institutions have made changes inspired by Olin.

Evan Allen can be reached at evan.allen@globe.com

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