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Olin 3rd years Grace Montagnino, Abigail Fry, Anusha Datar, taking it all in.  Photo: Lise...
Olin 3rd years Grace Montagnino, Abigail Fry, Anusha Datar, taking it all in. Photo: Lise...
March 12, 2020, 12:30pm
Olin College of Engineering

0 to “Faux-Commencement” in 26 Hours

When we came together Wednesday, March 11th, 9:15 for final get together before Spring Break, everything was different. News had dropped the day before, and with it everyone’s mood.

Not long after, this note went to “Carpe” one of the pillars of Olin email list life.

Everyone at the table

Welcome to the Greenhouse🌱.

We grow young ideas, and some plants. We’re a community of staff, faculty and students alike committed to community creativity. More on the Greenhouse 🌱 soon.

For the few folks that came to the Greenhouse that morning, it was a time to be angry, frustrated and sad. Emotions ran high. The feelings deserved airtime.

…but what could we do?

After some venting, we rallied. What could we do? Life gave us 🍋s, couldn’t we engineer some lemonade?

Evan proposing: 💥“Fake Commencement”💥

Go Time

Pitch It

INT. GREENHOUSE

				Jeff
Where’s Mark? (Interim Provost, Dean of Faculty)

				Susan
I saw him working in the DH (dining hall).  Who's gonna pitch Fake Commencement?

				Everyone
Ana!

Process It

Walking back to our space in the Academic center, we were almost giddy. As Matt said “Faux-Mencement is something TO DO!” We couldn’t stay in our heads - we were on a crazy deadline.

Promote It

Freshly re-energized by the project, Matt Brucker jumped on the “campaign rollout”. How were we gonna get the word out? Student to student communication is best left to students, and a fun idea emerged.

At Olin, the networked printers have the ability to email everyone. Recently students had taken to scanning hand-written notes on printers and having those printers email “all-students@olin.edu”. This added mystery and anonymity over email, something hard to achieve. And it was just the channel for a message to fall from the sky.

Make it

here's evan in the outfit
here's evan in the outfit

Faux-mencement was a lo-fi, all hands operation.

Mortar boards were folded en-masse that night at SLAC (Stay Late and Create) in the Library. Garbage bags had been sourced and trimming began.

But Faux-mencement was real down to the diplomas. Matt designed the “diplomas” for his classmates in MS-word in about 20 minutes. handed it off to Susan. Susan sent it along to Registrars’ Office, where Vivian ran a “mail merge” to sync graduate names with (almost earned) degrees. This was the traditional non-corona process, carrying the imprimatur of our Registrar, Linda - except it read “☻ congratulætions Olin student💥…”

Faux-mencement

Postscript

Boston Globe, Friday, March 13, 2020
Boston Globe, Friday, March 13, 2020

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Student-Facilitated Institutional Change

Making Space for Making Change documents the iterative development of two constructs to designed to explore institutional change and experimentation. The first was in role as “Library Director” establishing OWL (Olin Workshop on the Library) to empower students in change the Library. The second was creating The Greenhouse 🌱 in the role of “Special Projects Strategist” to propel students to change the College.

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👋 I’m Jeff

Background

My background is in architecture, media arts & design. I came to Olin with work experience in libraries, not as a Librarian. But in reality, it was my experience being a camp counselor which which was critical. T

Prior to Olin, I helped get the Harvard Library Innovation Lab off the ground with a bunch of great folks. During that time, I helped create a course with Prof. Jeffrey Schnapp called the Library Test Kitchen (LTK). One semester of this course in particular set the stage for Olin.

In the Fall of 2012, the students, TAs, colleague Jessica Yurkovsky, and friends of LTK produced a Pop-Up Library in a vacant Harvard Square storefront. The students named it LABRARY, they designed it, occupied it and created the contents. It was a spectacle, from a mylar inflatable reading room to a plant that sonified your touch — it was an invitation to passers-by to come in and discuss the future of libraries.

LABRARY

LABRARY was an experiment putting students in the lead, with Jeffrey Schnapp and me as amplifiers. This was Jeffrey’s m.o., and likely the secret to his career of standing up university labs, institutional oddities and corporate research groups. He’s something like a yenta - matching people with projects and stepping back. That’s who this whole instruction thing got started - we got to know each other and he matched me with his course idea.

The Fall of 2012, he brought the students and I brought the storefront that needed re-imagining. Then we stepped back. Students brought the energy and imagination.

By week two we were cookin’: Rola had come up with the name; Bri and Arielle the graphic identity. With the keys of 99 Mount Auburn St. in hand, we left the ivory tower. Jumping from gown-to-town, we could be a temporary design studio with a dream commission.

[BEFORE/AFTER Picture of LABRARY SPACE]

From the day we started painting the walls in October, to opening day in December to closing up shop in January, three aspects stood out. LABRARY was:

  1. Real - we escaped the curriculum and made something happen
  2. Student-led - we made decisions with consequences
  3. Ambiguous - we didn’t know what we were and we didn’t have a “business model.” It got people talking to us
  4. Convivial - we created a friendly, humane place to engage

Experience with LABRARY framed my pitch for the Library Director position at Olin. This is how I said it in May 2014.

In the spirit of Olin, engage the library as a project.  An evolving, hands-on effort to build a vibrant community learning, doing & discovering space.
In the spirit of Olin, engage the library as a project. An evolving, hands-on effort to build a vibrant community learning, doing & discovering space.

An Idea

Making Space for Making Change documents the pursuit of one idea over five years and two job titles at Olin.

A place comes to life when the community actively shapes the personality and pursuits of that place.  

As “Library Director” from Summer 2014 - 2018, I created something called OWL 🦉 (Olin Workshop on the Library). In the role of “Special Projects Strategist” 2018 - present, I created something called The Greenhouse 🌱. These were two administrative inventions — something like a Lab, but not quite — stood up to afford the community — particularly students and staff — new opportunities to actively shape the the Library with OWL 🦉, and later the college with The Greenhouse 🌱.

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Robert Wechsler, Olin Artist in Residence and fellow Greenhouse-folk, brought this (and a whole bunch of others like it) over one day from his house.  It became our ...logo?
Robert Wechsler, Olin Artist in Residence and fellow Greenhouse-folk, brought this (and a whole bunch of others like it) over one day from his house. It became our ...logo?

This is The Greenhouse 🌱.

We’re a cross-cutting, super-curricular, institutional design studio at Olin College. In the Greenhouse, we grow young ideas, and some plants. We’re an administrative invention to provide the conditions — the care, feeding, time & space — that nascent notions need to flourish.

What notions? In the Greenhouse we try look at college as a platform. It’s a massive care, feeding and education infrastructure. It’s the stage we run our shows on. But the show doesn’t change too often. Sure, we have new courses, new philosophies driving them, but what about experimental theatre? How about questioning the medium?

Our most defining factor is likely the who. The things we do only happen with deep staff and student collaboration. Colleges focus on the student-faculty relationship. Rightly so. In the Greenhouse, we explore the potential of the student-staff relationship. That’s our undiscovered country.

A Cross-Cutting

The proposition finds traction in convening regularly. The Greenhouse is people — staff and students, with the occasional alumni or faculty member — sharing a table, a set of values and a bias towards action.

Since folks are coming from all corners of the college, our atmosphere becomes a critical ingredient. Coming together must be fun, folks must feel invited in. The room has disregard institutional politics and power distances. We’re people!

So we start off gatherings with some coffee (maybe in one of Mark’s mugs?), some music and sometimes a snack. We start chatting, and it goes on from there. We show up, making time in our schedules to grow — if nothing else — friendships.

The Greenhouse 🌱 is about coming back. Only when folks become regulars, weathering the failures and low-energy meetings will we be ready for the lightning to strike⚡.

Super-Curricular

"A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play."

Finite and Infinite Games, James P. Carse

The Greenhouse is a low to no-credit outfit. We’re best positioned as a “super-curricular” studio. Extra-curricular pursuits are topically outside the curriculum, a sports team for example. Super-curriculars are topically congruent with the curriculum, but are pursued when the curriculum just wasn’t enough. For many Oliners, High School didn’t have enough STEM offerings to scratch the engineering itch. FIRST robotics is a super-curricular many Oliners have in common.

The most meaningful collaborations with students and staff span years. It’s only over years that we start playing an “infinite game.” When we’re playing together for the pleasure of continuing the play, we’re finding meaning and nourishment. The Greenhouse aspires to be an infinite game. Peak Greenhouse is collaboration and creative flow.

Institutional Design

Image - DESIGN A COLLEGE

In the Greenhouse, we build off the curriculum, particularly User Oriented Collaborative Design (UOCD). In f you learn the process in UOCD by working with real people on real challenges.

In the Greenhouse, we’re designing for college as platform. The lightning⚡ we try to bottle are the hard-to-categorize, frequently convivial, community experiences that help us discover what colleges could also do.

Studio

We have space, and that’s invaluable. The Greenhouse is a place, a frequent stop on the college tour.

It’s covered with student work and artifacts from events and experiments we’ve run. Students will park there and do some work, students, folks pop by all the time. We do our best to encourage this with friendly sightlines for serendipitous connection.

An Administrative Invention

The Greenhouse may best be understood in comparison to a more common institutional limb.

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This is Project Based Learning

In both the Greenhouse and it’s precursor OWL, the project is the college. It’s a real project with real players and issues we’re intimately aware of. And it’s a project we all care about. And through this work, special things can happen.

A place comes to life when the community actively shapes the personality and pursuits of that place.  

This likely reads as deeply navel-gazing work — why not have students work on something that matters? The Greenhouse is about skill-building. Projects are only real in the Greenhouse if they happen. The learning is not in the art of making things, it’s in the art of making things happen.

The hope is by starting with something students all care about — their home for four-ish years — they’ll gain the skills to change their next home, or cause, etc.