Looking to the Future
The beginning of Thayer School’s next 150 years can be summed up in one word: expansion.
By Karen Endicott
Picture more faculty, more students studying engineering, more research, more startups, more impact on the world. And picture an additional building that will extend Thayer School’s facilities and co-house Dartmouth’s Department of Computer Science, creating novel educational opportunities and powerful research collaborations.
Those are the plans that Dean Joseph J. Helble and Thayer’s Board of Overseers are championing and that form a key component of the vision that President Phil Hanlon ’77 has forwarded for all of Dartmouth.
Kicking off the growth initiative, Overseer Barry MacLean ’60 Th’61 has already pledged $25 million—the largest gift in Thayer’s history—toward the new building and professorships. “Our exciting vision ensures Dartmouth’s sustainable and long-lasting impact on the world,” he says.
The growth of engineering at Dartmouth comes at a time of upward trajectory for Thayer School. Demand for engineering courses continues to grow, with record levels of student enrollments and record numbers of non-majors taking engineering courses. Thayer achieved gender parity among undergraduate majors in 2016—a national first for a comprehensive research and teaching university. A recent student invention, the Mobile Virtual Player robotic football tackling dummy, is taking the sports world by storm, with teams ranging from the NFL to high schools practicing with the “MVP” to reduce the risk of concussion among athletes.
Faculty distinctions are growing as well. One in three Thayer professors have founded companies, likely the highest rate of engineering faculty entrepreneurship in the nation. Thayer professors are receiving engineering’s highest accolades, including inductions into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, National Academy of Engineering (NAE) fellowships, and the NAE’s Bernard M. Gordon Prize for Innovation in Engineering and Technology Education. Most recently, Professor Eric Fossum, inventor of the CMOS active pixel image sensor, received the world’s top engineering recognition, the 2017 Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering.
Thayer’s research labs have expanded beyond Cummings Hall and MacLean Engineering Sciences Center. At Thayer’s Center for Imaging Medicine, which occupies a floor of the Williamson Translational Research Building at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, researchers benefit from proximity to clinicians. Researchers in energy will be able to collaborate with colleagues at Dartmouth’s new Arthur L. Irving Institute for Energy and Society, which will be housed in a building to be constructed between Thayer and Tuck School of Business.
Thayer’s new building will bring together disciplines that share a language of increasing global importance: the language of technology.
“The new building will embody the complete and seamless integration of the digital (computer science) and physical (engineering) sides of technology,” says Helble.
“Research labs and spaces will be located by theme rather than department in order to bring together faculty and students from engineering and computer science who work in similar or overlapping areas,” he says. “For example, computational biologists, such as computer science professor Chris Bailey-Kellogg and Gevorg Grigoryan, will have space adjacent to bioengineers, such as engineering professors Margie Ackerman and Karl Griswold, as they tackle protein engineering challenges from both in silico and in vitro perspectives. Similarly, faculty working on energy, robotics, security, and other challenges that have computer science and engineering components will be co-located according to their intellectual areas.”
Further, Helble says, “The ground floor—and possibly another main floor—will be dedicated to integrated design. Engineering and computer science students will learn side-by-side, sharing project space late into the night, which is when some of the most interesting conversations happen. Working on the same teams, they’ll bring multiple perspectives to problem-solving and learn from one another in the process. They’ll combine their technical knowledge and skills to innovate in areas of growing importance and opportunity, such as the world of connected devices, the Internet of things. In addition, professors and students from both engineering and computer science will have access to a comprehensive machine shop supporting both programs—computer science already has 3-D printers in Thayer’s machine shop—and new maker spaces that could be open to a broader Dartmouth community.”
Professor Hany Farid, chair of the Department of Computer Science, takes a similar view. “We believe that the landscape of computer science and engineering is rapidly changing because the digital and physical worlds have collided with nearly every physical device containing a digital component,” he says. “We believe that in order to prepare our computer science students for this future, we must re-envision our core computer science curriculum to teach our students how to build physical devices as well as how to program them. As a relatively small department, we simply could not accomplish this without this integration of Thayer and computer science.”
Farid sees other advantages in engineering and computer sciences working together more closely. “As we look to the future of faculty hiring, we also envision hiring faculty that work at the intersection of the physical and digital worlds, including robotics, computational manufacturing, and security. There is no doubt that recruiting and retention will be strengthened by a critical mass of engineering and computer science faculty working collaboratively in new and exciting areas. The combined Thayer and computer science faculty will allow us to compete with our peer institutions that currently dwarf our respective departments,” he says.
Terry McGuire Th’82, chair of Thayer School’s Board of Overseers and a leader of the expansion efforts, sees growth as a major means of achieving a valued goal: using technology to “touch live,” as he puts it.
“There are very few rewards in life as great as making a positive impact on the people, organizations, and world around us,” he says.
When Bigger is Better
Expansion will allow Thayer School to:
- give all Dartmouth students opportunities to enhance their liberal arts education with problem-solving skills to prepare them for life and leadership in a technology-driven world
- offer more experiential courses to both majors and non-majors
- double the size of the faculty from 50 to 100 to optimize class sizes for experiential learning and increase the impact of research
- provide cutting-edge research facilities and funding to attract more leading professors from across the world
- double the number of graduate students empowered with a Thayer education
- expand Thayer’s PhD Innovation Program to prepare more doctoral students to turn their research discoveries into world-improving technologies
- facilitate novel educational, research, and entrepreneurial collaborations between engineering, medicine, computer science, and business to solve global problems and better the lives of people throughout the world
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