School Notes: A More Creative Approach to Engineering

Tuesday, January 14, 2014
Dartmouth College’s Thayer School of Engineering has received a measure of recognition for a program that’s unique to Dartmouth and likely couldn’t have been created anywhere else.

The National Academy of Engineering awarded the 2014 Bernard M. Gordon Prize for Innovation in Engineering and Technology Education to four members of the Thayer School’s faculty. John Collier, Robert Graves, Joseph Helble and Charles Hutchinson are responsible for creating parts of the Dartmouth Engineering Entrepreneurship Program, which weaves entrepreneurship through the engineering school’s curriculum at every level.

“We are really, really honored and thrilled to receive this,” Helble, dean of the engineering school, said in an interview. The Gordon Prize is one of the two big awards handed out each year by the National Academy of Engineering, which makes it kind of like a Nobel Prize in their field. It’s great for the program to get this kind of national recognition, Helble said.

The seed of the program was germinated in the 1960s by Robert C. Dean Jr., a Thayer professor and entrepreneur who had a hand in founding eight businesses, including Creare and Hypertherm. He introduced aspects of entrepreneurship to the undergraduate engineering curriculum, Helble said.

In the early 1980s, Collier turned an introductory course, “Engineering Sciences 21,” into a laboratory on business development. The class requires students to develop a solution to a problem, then research the market and develop a product to take to potential funders. It’s engineering as both means and ends, an uncommon approach in an undergraduate setting.

Hutchinson started Dartmouth’s Master of Engineering Management program, which combines graduate engineering studies with business management and entrepreneurship courses at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, in 1989. Graves expanded the program when he took over its leadership in 2003.

And Helble, who has been Thayer’s dean for nine years, launched a Ph.D. Innovation Program in 2008, the first doctoral program in engineering and entrepreneurship.

The dual focus on engineering and business development stems from the proximity of Thayer and Tuck, which are immediate neighbors at the end of Tuck Mall on the Dartmouth campus. Other schools could duplicate Dartmouth’s program, but the original developed in an easy, natural way, Helble said.

Even in undergraduate engineering classes, which tend to focus on engineering design and project work, Tuck professors will come into the classroom once or twice to talk about business development, Helble said.

Dartmouth is alone among American universities in requiring engineering students to earn a bachelor of arts degree before returning for a fifth year at Thayer to earn a bachelor of engineering degree, Helble said.

“Engineering is viewed as a creative outlet for an undergraduate student” in a way that’s new to current faculty, who studied engineering when it was considered a discipline, rather than a creative field, Helble said.

That change in emphasis is a good thing. Over the past few years, debate has simmered about whether the United States is educating enough engineers. At Dartmouth, the number of engineering graduates has doubled over the past five or six years, Helble said, from 55 or so graduates to 110. Thayer expanded into a new building several years ago, and Dartmouth’s new president, Phil Hanlon, has made expanding Thayer a priority.

“We are bursting at the seams right now,” Helble said.

The Gordon Prize carries a $500,000 award, half of which goes to the professors, the other half to the school to maintain and expand their work.

∎ Vermont Law School in South Royalton has announced a new partnership with an undergraduate school, another step in its plan to improve enrollment and reduce the cost of higher education.

Under the agreement announced on Friday, qualified students from Green Mountain College in Poultney, Vt., will be able to transfer to the state’s only law school after the junior year of college. The accelerated program will allow students to earn a bachelor’s degree and law degree in six years, rather than the customary seven. The agreement also applies to Vermont Law’s Masters of Environmental Law and Policy and Masters of Energy Regulation and Law programs, which would allow Green Mountain College students to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees in four years of schooling.

The law school has already forged compacts with the University of Vermont and Boston University to create either enhanced or accelerated degree programs. The arrangement with Green Mountain College pairs two schools that focus on the environment. Green Mountain calls itself an “environmental liberal arts” college, while Vermont Law School’s program in environmental law is regularly ranked at the top of such programs nationwide.

Student Honors

The Reprisal Chapter of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution, based in Newport, has named three DAR Good Citizen Winners: Emily Whittier of Sunapee Middle High School; Sophia Marie Willis of Newport High School; and John Eugene Jasinski of Lebanon High School.

The winners were presented with a DAR Good Citizens pin and certificate, and a pen from the Reprisal Chapter. The DAR Good Citizens program and scholarship contest is intended to encourage and reward the qualities of good citizenship: dependability, service, leadership and patriotism.

∎ Mary Schissel, of Newport, a member of the class of 2017 at Providence College, has been named to the fall Dean’s List.

Teacher Honors

A pair of Mount Lebanon Elementary School colleagues have nominated first-grade teacher Mary Skiffington for a national teaching award.

LifeChanger of the Year, a program sponsored by National Life Group, rewards outstanding K-12 teachers and school district employees who have a positive influence on the lives of students.

Skiffington was nominated by colleagues Amy Ballou and Christina Joanis.

Hundreds of teachers are nominated each year, from which 10 winners are selected. The winners receive cash awards divided between them and their schools. The top prize is $10,000 and the top three winners are feted at a national ceremony.

Nominations for the program will be accepted through the end of January, with winners to be announced in the spring.

Alex Hanson can be reached at or 603-727-3219.

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