Fostering slow conversation
An aerial view of an early opening of The Acronym, a pop-up coffeeshop that occupied an unoccupied front desk in the entry of the main administrative building at Olin College of Engineering.
Members of the Olin College of Engineering community were frustrated that the campus lacked a place where faculty, staff, and students could all feel comfortable and engage in casual conversations.
Encourage casual community-wide conversation and collaboration through programming and space innovation.
Conversations with Olin faculty and staff suggested that a coffeeshop setting might provide a conducive environment for conversation, collaboration, and co-exisiting while working independently. Two peers and I took on the challenge of designing and launching a pop-up coffeeshop, The Acronym, in collaboration with an Olin staff member.
We identified a largely unused space on Olin’s campus, the entry of the main administrative building, as an ideal location for our experiement. The unoccupied front desk became our work station, and furniture borrowed from the campus library created spaces for people to gather. We played mellow music to set the ambiance in the open atrium.
The daily menu featured coffee from a local roastery, tea from a local tea shop, and baked goods made by faculty, staff, and students. Everything was served free of charge.
We drew upon the coffee and tea expertise of community members to build our menu and procedures, and the pottery skills of a professor to supply the pop-up with ceramic mugs.
An Olin professor threw all the ceramic mugs used to serve beverages at The Acronym at the pottery studio on our partner school’s adjacent campus.
We chose to serve pour-over coffee and loose-leaf tea: intentionally slow beverages that left space for conversation between community members.
Baristas prepare pour-over coffee and loose-leaf tea for guests.
We served around 120 beverages at each weekly opening—a notable figure given the campus’ small population of around 330 students and 110 faculty and staff. The Acronym established a solid base of regular guests, and also hosted a variety of events for folks outside the Olin community. The pop-up coffeeshop lived on under the leadership of new students after me, and is still active today.
Following the initial launch of the coffeeshop with two peers and one staff member, I organized a staff of 15-20 volunteer baristas each semester. My fellow leaders and I trained new baristas, scheduled labor, sourced products and equipment, coordinated sponsored events with campus groups, pursued funding, and maintained relationships with Olin administrators.
Baristas in action at an Acronym pop-up.