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Ceremony Bestows NAE's Top Honor for Engineering Education

By Anna Fiorentino
July 2014 • CoolStuff

In May, during a ceremony and panel discussion in Cummings Hall, four of Thayer’s own received the top honor for engineering education in the world: the National Academy of Engineering’s (NAE) Bernard M. Gordon Prize for Innovation in Engineering and Technology Education. Those named laureate included Dean and Professor of Engineering Joseph Helble; Myron Tribus Professor of Engineering Innovation John Collier '72, Thayer ’77; Dean Emeritus, John H. Krehbiel Sr. Professor for Emerging Technologies Emeritus Charles Hutchinson; and John H. Krehbiel Sr. Professor for Emerging Technologies Robert Graves.

“The award was created to recognize professors and teachers in technical institutions who understood that there is much more to engineering than learning theory. There was a need to inculcate an attitude [about engineering],” explained Gordon in a video shown to those in attendance. In that audience was Gordon himself—an inductee in the National Academy of Engineers who holds the National Medal of Technology—and his wife Sofia, members of the Board of Overseers and the Corporate Collaboration Council, Dartmouth College President Phil Hanlon ’77, the president of the NAE, students and alumni.

Gordon Prize Ceremony
l to r: NAE President C. D. (Dan) Mote, Jr., Professor Charles Hutchinson, Dean Joseph Helble, Professor Robert Graves, Professor John Collier, Bernard M. Gordon, Dartmouth President Philip Hanlon

The NAE, a nonprofit organization promoting engineering professions, has given out the award since 2001 to recognize new modalities and experiments in education that develop effective leaders in technology. And at the ceremony, Helble also addressed a need for research universities to provide more interdisciplinary education to guide students to become leaders, recognizing the other Gordon Prize recipients for doing just that.

“[Research from the 1950s though five years ago shows] there was virtually no interaction between engineering departments at an undergraduate, educational or curricular level; no opportunity for, say, mechanical and electrical engineering students to work together in the same elective course or on integrated project teams,” said Helble. “True collaboration with business schools to help teach skills associated with technology entrepreneurship were limited and PhD programs remain structured the way they had been for nearly a century.”  

“The Bernard M. Gordon Prize has, over the past 13 years, recognized those institutions and those programs that have taken significant steps to break this mold,” he added, following the presentation of awards.

Thayer was honored for its integrated stream of courses and programs that prepare students for entrepreneurial careers, while each recipient was further lauded for his unique contribution. Helble received accolades for launching Dartmouth’s PhD Innovation Program in 2008 as the nation’s first doctoral-level degree in engineering innovation and entrepreneurship. Collier was commended for developing ENGS 21: Introduction to Engineering, an often life-changing course for students who work in teams to design and complete a project, addressing a technology or a product solution, and present their idea to potential funders.

Graves, former Master of Engineering Management (MEM) director, was honored along with Hutchinson, the program’s founder, for making the first-of-its-kind joint disciplinary MEM Program possible.

“The Thayer faculty not only taps into the natural innovative mind set of our students and desire of our students to make a difference, but they’re teaching students to put theory into practice and really get ready to forge new knowledge when they enter the world,” Hanlon said at the ceremony.

The event was preceded by a panel discussion moderated by Helble between Collier, Professor Tillman Gerngross and associate professors Solomon Diamond and Vicki May. The panelist discussed ways to engage and encourage student creativity—for Collier that happens in ENGS: 21, the class for which he received the Gordon Prize.

“When you climb tree and the branch breaks and you land on your head on the ground, if it were guided [learning] a parent might come out and sit with you and talk to you about what just went on. They might ask, is that branch dead or alive? Is it small or large? Were you in willow or oak tree?” said Collier. “One thing I learned as I started teaching this course and even in the early days when I took it is that you have to fail.” That way, he said, you can learn from those failures.

To incorporate interdisciplinary teaching, Diamond discussed how he brings neuroengineering concepts into his mechanical engineering course and visa versa, while May said she invited an architect into her structural design course.

“As you identify meaningful problems students would like to solve, it typically generates excitement and interest in a broader dialogue beyond engineering theory,” says Gerngross.

The Gordon Prize also came in the form of $500,000, divided evenly between the recipients and the school. Thayer’s portion of the money will be used to develop a summer workshop to teach college administrators, faculty members and advanced PhD students how to educate students in entrepreneurial thinking and leadership through project-based experiential study. The winners were invited to present a public lecture on their innovation at the NAE Annual Meeting in September.

Tags: award, curriculum, faculty, innovation program, M.E.M.

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