From the Dean: Growth Factors

Spring 2014

Joseph Helble, Dean

With engineering on the rise at Dartmouth, Dean Joseph J. Helble outlines opportunities for an expanded Thayer community.

Interview by Karen Endicott

Dartmouth President Philip J. Hanlon ’77 announced in November that expanding engineering was one of his top priorities for the College. “Thayer School is a site of research impact, innovative experiential learning, and interest in learning technologies,” he said, “It is also a unit of academic excellence well below critical mass by any measure.”

With expansion of engineering a key part of President Hanlon’s drive to increase Dartmouth’s experiential learning opportunities, entrepreneurial activities, and scholarly impact on the world, Thayer Dean Joseph J. Helble talked with Dartmouth Engineer about the future of the school.

Why Grow?

There are three reasons growth is important. First, demand for an engineering education is reaching unprecedented levels. We have roughly 110 majors in the senior class, which will be an all-time record number of students graduating with engineering degrees, surpassing the record we set just last year. The numbers of matriculating freshmen and sophomores who say they’re interested in engineering are even greater. We don’t have enough faculty to meet this demand and maintain the class size and the intimate, closely connected experience that we offer. We need to increase faculty to reduce the student-faculty ratio, increase project and research opportunities for our students, and develop new courses to challenge our students at all levels of the curriculum.

Dean Joseph J. Helble
Dean Joseph J. Helble. Photograph by John Sherman.

Second, by expanding the engineering faculty we can enhance the liberal arts education for all Dartmouth students. By making a real engineering experience part of a much larger number of Dartmouth students’ undergraduate education, Dartmouth can take a leadership role in defining what a liberal arts education means in the 21st century. Every educated citizen, every worker, will need to deal with technology. It’s a technology-driven world, and it’s going to be a technology-driven century. It’s hugely important for all Dartmouth students to gain some familiarity with how technology is conceived, how it’s developed, how it works. I would love to have the capacity to give every Dartmouth student the opportunity to take a design-thinking class like Peter Robbie’s ENGS 12, or to take ENGS 21, our project-based introductory engineering course. We already have 50–60 non-majors a year taking ENGS 21. More want to take these classes but can’t because we don’t have sufficient capacity. All Dartmouth students should have the opportunity to get a real project-based engineering innovation experience like this as part of their education.

Third, we want to expand the scope of our scholarly work, particularly in energy and at the interface between engineering and medicine. Through the faculty we’ve hired, we’ve been building expertise in key problem-based areas—in alternative energy, power electronics, protein engineering, tissue imaging. We’ve worked with faculty in the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth to establish the NIH-sponsored Dartmouth Center of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence. I would like to see more opportunities for our graduate and undergraduate students to engage in cutting-edge research and for Thayer to be a leader in working on applied problems in these areas. We’re already an entrepreneurial leader—with one in four of our faculty having started a company based on their work.

An added benefit of more sponsored research is that it allows us to have more state-of-the-art analytical equipment and research tools in house—for graduate and undergraduate students alike.

Read the rest of the interview in Dartmouth Engineer magazine.