The University of Texas at El Paso, Olin College, Form Partnership to Explore Engineering Education Innovation

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Unusual partnership brings together two very different institutions to see if hands-on, interactive approach can boost leadership skills, minority student retention in engineering.

The University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) and Olin College of Engineering have entered into a groundbreaking multi-year partnership to explore whether hands-on, interactive learning approaches such as those in use at Olin can boost leadership skills among engineering graduates and improve student retention, particularly among underrepresented minorities.

Under the partnership, UTEP and Olin will work together to implement UTEP’s new Bachelor of Science in Leadership Engineering (BSLE) degree, whose aim is the graduation of engineers with greatly enhanced leadership and business skills.

Through faculty exchanges and other collaborative activities, Olin will help UTEP incorporate key aspects of its project-based learning model into the curriculum of the new program, which will launch this fall within the College of Engineering at UTEP. The Argosy Foundation, a private foundation based in Milwaukee, will provide funds to support the faculty exchanges that will drive the partnership.

“A key part of Olin’s mission is collaborating with partners around the globe who are advancing engineering education innovation,” said Vincent P. Manno, provost and dean of faculty at Olin. “UTEP is envisioning a trailblazing program, which promises to be a major step forward in the education of the of the 21st century engineer. We are excited to be engaged in this co-creation with them and hope to learn much from our collaboration that will contribute to transforming engineering education.”

“UTEP is representative of what urban, public universities will look like in the 21st century,” said Richard T. Schoephoerster, dean of the College of Engineering at UTEP. “Innovation in engineering education must come from institutions like UTEP to have the scale and impact our society needs to address our most pressing challenges. A partnership with an institution whose founding mission is innovation in engineering education makes sense for both universities.”

With its understanding of the unique needs of the urban commuting student population, UTEP offers Olin the opportunity to learn from its successes in working in a large urban minority setting.

“With the combined innovative educational techniques used at Olin, this partnership blends two successful approaches together,” said Roger V. Gonzalez, Director of the Leadership Engineering Program at UTEP. “It brings the opportunity to impact each other in learning how these two diverse campus environments can improve engineering education. For years, and recently as #1 in the country in social mobility by Washington Monthly, UTEP has been recognized for its social mobility responsiveness.”

UTEP faculty will spend time at Olin developing and piloting new student experiences to bring back to UTEP, and Olin faculty will travel to UTEP to provide advice and support for the new program. These exchanges will be funded, in part, through a prior grant to Olin from the Argosy Foundation to promote cross-campus collaboration and innovation. The UTEP funding takes up the first year of the three-year grant program known as the Argosy Collaborative Faculty Exchange, which will accept applications for year two of the program later this fall at

The BSLE program at UTEP is in the late development stages and in the state approval process. The goal of the program is to produce graduates who better meet 21st century workplace demands for engineers who can solve problems using innovation, creativity and strategic foresight. Through an in-depth study of leadership and its effect on engineering and society, the program plans to develop engineers into leaders with solid engineering domain knowledge, broad leadership knowledge and the ability to inspire and lead others.

UTEP reached out to Olin to help catalyze innovation on its campus due to the Massachusetts college’s growing reputation as a hotbed of innovation in engineering education. Olin has been a leading advocate of a new approach in which students learn engineering largely by tackling actual engineering projects in a team-based setting from very early in the program. Instead of serving as distant authority figures, faculty members at Olin are guides and mentors to the students, who are given a great degree of choice about how they select assignments and progress through the program.

With learning at Olin based to a large extent on student interests and passions, students have a much greater degree of engagement, self-motivation and determination to stick with engineering study. Olin’s six-year graduation rate is above 90 percent, compared to a national average in engineering study of less than 50 percent.

Olin and UTEP hope to infuse this sense of student engagement and passion into the new program, which could become a model for attracting and retaining students in STEM fields in a diverse, multicultural higher education environment of the future.

Many observers feel change in engineering education is necessary to face 21st century engineering challenges in which leadership, entrepreneurial thinking and cross-disciplinary perspectives will be the keys to tackling complex global problems like providing clean water and sustainable energy.

About Olin College
Located 14 miles west of Boston in Needham, Mass., and enrolling 350 students, Olin College is an undergraduate engineering institution that has been exploring innovative approaches to engineering education since its founding in 1997. Olin's dual mission is to offer an innovative engineering program to talented undergraduate students, and to play a leading role in the transformation of engineering education in the U.S. and abroad. Olin is increasingly recognized as a leader in engineering education reform for its interdisciplinary, hands-on curriculum and distinctive learning culture. More at

About UTEP College of Engineering
The College of Engineering is a national leader in engineering education and a leading producer of doctoral, masters and baccalaureate degreed Hispanic engineers. The University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) is the second oldest academic institution of The University of Texas System. Washington Monthly ranks UTEP as No. 7 in the nation in its annual College Guide and Rankings. The magazine's rankings were based on a combination of social mobility, research production, commitment to service and cost-effectiveness of degree completion. For more information visit

About the Argosy Foundation
The Milwaukee-based Argosy Foundation’s mission is to “support people and programs that make our society a better place to live,” which it does by working to “solve systemic problems, build teams and communities and create replicable solutions.” In pursuit of this mission, the foundation funds nonprofit organizations across the United States, supporting their work in education, arts and culture, the environment, health and disaster relief.

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