A peek inside Thayer School after hours.
By Jennifer Seaton
Photographs by Jennifer Seaton, unless otherwise stated
Walk into Thayer School at night and you’re greeted by stillness. But wander upstairs and through the empty halls and you’ll discover pockets of activity — spurts of laughter coming from labs, pairs of students huddled over problem sets. Head down to the basement, follow the clanking and blaring music, and you’ll find yourself in the Dartmouth Formula Racing team’s workshop, where someone is invariably firing up a blowtorch.
After several months of dropping in at Cummings Hall at all hours of the night, we can tell you that most Thayer students spend at least some time at school after dark. They all have their reasons. Take Luis Carrio ’04, Th’05, winner of the “Most Hours Spent Sleeping on a Thayer Couch” award last spring. “I don’t want to miss out on any interaction during the day,” Carrio says. “It’s nicer to work at night when it’s quieter. I’m definitely not a morning person.”
In fact, after midnight Thayer School experiences a collective second wind. Some students optimize every second before a deadline. Some tinker at a leisurely pace in the student projects room. Others just seem to be hanging out. But whether under pressure or not, students agree that the biggest thrill of any Thayer night is finishing the task that brought them there.
Tietjen Hynes ’06 builds a remote-control robot that she hopes will be able to pick up trash strewn around a makeshift bleacher in the Great Hall. Tired from this morning’s 6:00 wake-up for rowing practice, she is working on the gripping hand. And even though the “Machine Engineering” competition is almost a week away, she has a long way to go. “I may be here all weekend,” she sighs.
M.S. candidate Pablo Fernandez rewards himself with an after-dinner break. Faced with a “Systems Identification” exam tomorrow morning, he says it’s still early to be worried. “I’ll probably stay until 12:30 tonight,” says Fernandez, who already has a Ph.D. in physics. “I’ve had worse, but I’m sure it’ll be pretty demanding tomorrow.”
Donald Bly ’07 sits in the Great Hall working on a problem set for “Analog Electronics.” Although he enjoys engineering, Bly’s favorite class outside engineering is a social science class called “War and Peace.” The Cleveland, Ohio native spent two hours on the problems last night and plans to put in another four tonight. He gets up to stretch his legs about once an hour and goes for a vending-machine snack if he feels drowsy.
Jeff Grossmann ’06 is halfway through a problem set for “Electronics: Introduction to Linear and Digital Circuits.” Undecided on a major when he arrived at Dartmouth, Grossmann first considered math and then looked at departments that applied math. He took “Introduction to Engineering” and decided engineering was just the thing for him. He says that after working late at school, “sometimes you’re just wandering back to your room to go to sleep.”
Margaret Martei ’07 and Nicola Mootoo ’06 talk strategy for their “Intermediate Solid Mechanics” assignment. Their routine is to discuss the problems, agree on a method for solving them, and then compare answers once both are finished. “Between class, reading, and doing problems, you begin to pick up on the best way to approach these problems,” Mootoo says.
Martei, an exchange student from Colby College who is from Ghana, and Mootoo, from Trinidad and Tobago, say this particular assignment — analyzing stress and strain on structures — requires about 15 hours. Today is Tuesday and the problem set is not due until Friday, but Martei and Mootoo deflect compliments about their time-management skills. They explain their true motivation: the International Club’s Margarita Night on Thursday, which means they have two evenings to wrap up the problems before the blenders start whirring.
Mike Madson ’05, Th’06 faces an eight-hour open-book “Intermediate Solid Mechanics” exam in the morning and a homework assignment due for the same class. “I have the philosophy that if I don’t know it by now, I’m not going to teach it to myself by tomorrow,” he says. “I’d rather sleep.”
Allie Fecych ’07 perfects the arm of a remote-control robot for “Machine Engineering.” She is experimenting with materials to try to make the arm as light as she can.
Paul Durkee ’06 and Karl Johnson ’06 are modifying their remote-control robot for “Machine Engineering.” They say the biggest problem is the ticking clock. They are 75-percent finished, but the design has eaten up most of their time. “Every element of design you change is going to affect everything else as well,” Johnson says. “It’s challenging, but it’s one of the only classes where we spend a lot of time in the machine shop.”
Laughter and clanking fill the Dartmouth Formula Racing team’s workshop. Aleks Israels Th’06, Cliff Orvedal ’05, Th’07 and other students who wander in and out are finishing the frame of this year’s racecar before sending it out for a fresh coat of black paint tomorrow. Tabs for the seatbelt and the roll-bar mounts need to be finished. The team is spending long hours on the car because it is going to Texas for Spring Break for a warm-weather test drive. Chief Engineer Nick Schaut ’05, Th’06 says the team’s focus is on reliability and aesthetics. The team is clearly having a good time, and no one seems to care that they are spending most evenings of the month at school. “I like building stuff,” says Matt Hodgson Th’06. “Going out drinking isn’t as fun as coming in here and building. A lot of what drives me is that there’s a competition.”
Sally Smith ’05, Th’06, Mike Madson ’05, Th’06, and Seth Pierrepont Th’07 work on a problem set for “Statistical Methods in Engineering.” Coffee cups and snack remnants are good gauges of how long a group has been assembled — in this case, just a few hours. Smith’s dog, Griswold, lounges on the floor and makes do with the occasional scratching from a student who needs a break. The book Freakanomics pops up in the discussion. Debbie Sperling ’06 says she had the problems finished when she came in today but she wanted to check her answers against her classmates’ answers and ended up chatting and hanging around for hours.
Members of the Dartmouth Formula Racing team weld mounts for the car’s differential housing. Joe Horrell ’04, Th’06 says he expects to wrap things up for the night in an hour.
Narissa Chang ’05, Th’06 is alone in the student offices, though other students are still scattered around the building. “I’m still up because I’m really enjoying it,” Chang says. “This term I’m just more excited about my classes; they’re worth the time. When you spend the time to solve the challenges it’s really gratifying.” She listens to her iPod and works on homework for “Intermediate Solid Mechanics.” The class has just finished going over torsion, and she’s now doing problems that deal with how stress acts on cylinders. “I’m a bit of a night owl,” Chang says. “There are definitely times when you have to pull an all-nighter to get the work done. But I don’t mind them. You know they’re coming.”
M.S. candidate Jon Shea ’03 hunches over his computer on the third floor of Feldberg Library. He is the only person in the building. Next door at Cummings every classroom and lab is empty and the desks are covered with the unfinished assignments other students have left until tomorrow. Shea is writing a computer program modeling the magnetic fields at the surface of the earth. He is presenting at a conference in a month, and he is meeting with his advisor at 10 a.m. He has been parked at his post since 6 p.m. and plans to work until the meeting and then go to class at noon. When asked what he likes best about space physics, or space in general, Shea slowly lifts his eyes off the screen and says, “I couldn’t give you a good answer right now.”
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