Q&A: Dartmouth President Jim Yong Kim on Engineering
Questions from Dartmouth Engineer, students, faculty, and alumni:
What attracted you to engineering as an undergraduate?
I was fascinated by the idea of biomedical engineering, and the biomedical engineering department had given me a scholarship. I did a year and a half of research with professors at the University of Iowa.
Why did you switch fields?
I switched to a double-major in anthropology and biology because I became interested in social issues. I loved my first anthropology class and felt that I would be a mediocre engineering student and a much better anthropology student. More than anything else, I was really passionate about race, culture, and ethnicity and how they related to social justice, so the anthropology major was right in line with those concerns. And I wanted to be a doctor, so I got a degree in biology.
Did you take any engineering perspectives with you?
To this day, I am extremely impressed with the precision and structure that engineering can bring to very complicated problems, not only technical problems, but also human problems. I have always felt that engineers, especially ones who have studied complex systems, have huge contributions to make to the kinds of problems I was concerned about.
What can physicians and engineers learn from each other?
Both groups can learn a lot from each other, but I’m very interested in what physicians can learn from engineers. And the most important thing that physicians can learn from engineers is to think in terms of systems. By working with engineers, we can bring a rigorous, analytic approach to understanding how something as complicated as healthcare delivery systems work. Physicians and engineers can then use this approach to make systems work better.
How would you like to see physicians and engineers work together to promote global health initiatives?
The potential is enormous. In my view, most of the problems in global health are not about the treatment of individual patients but about the systems that can support wide-ranging and effective healthcare delivery. I think engineers are critical in building those kinds of systems.
Nana Amoah ’11 asks: Where do you see Dartmouth and its engineering program on a global scale in the next decade, and what is your plan for taking Dartmouth there?
Thayer is such an important part of Dartmouth. I think that Thayer is in a great position to dramatically increase its impact in areas like healthcare, but in other areas as well. Already Thayer is having an impact on sustainability on campus and around the world. There’s a lot of value in having Thayer the size that it is currently, but I would like to explore the possibility of expanding into areas where we know it can have a huge impact and where we can build on synergies that exist throughout Dartmouth College. I would love to see that happen, and I would be willing to help make that happen.
Michael Wood ’10 asks: What advice would you give to humanitarian engineering groups to improve interactions between engineers and non-engineers?
Be patient. Most people that I have worked with in global health and global development don’t yet understand the potential impact of engineers and their work. But they will. My prediction is that soon everyone will understand the enormous impact engineers can have on all types of global problems.
Betsy Dain-Owens ’10 asks: How important will carbon neutrality and developing sustainable energy sources at Dartmouth be to you during your presidency?
Carbon neutrality and sustainability are very important to me and to Dartmouth. Again, this is another area where engineers and Thayer have enormous potential. I think we’re starting to see the impact engineering can have on sustainability and also on specific initiatives here at Dartmouth.
Professor Elsa Garmire asks: With mobile phones making possible many applications that are revolutionizing medical care in developing countries, do you have any pet applications that you’ve seen or that you would like to see developed at Thayer School?
One of the things I’ve worked on for more than a decade is the use of electronic medical records to keep track of information on particular people who are suffering from diseases. What we found is that electronic medical records can be implemented with great impact. By bringing electronic medical records to the bedside in villages all over the world, we can keep information on individuals to make them healthier in a way that will leap-frog decades of a lack of technology.
Professor Kofi Odame asks: How do you think Thayer can prepare students to respond to global challenges in general?
The most important thing for Thayer students is that they’re also Dartmouth College students. I would strongly urge Thayer students, especially undergraduate students, to take full advantage of the breadth of the Dartmouth College liberal arts education. As they’re growing and gaining a more sophisticated understanding of quantitative methods and complex systems, they have to realize that no matter where they go or what kind of job they do, they’re always going to be dealing with human relationships. I think there’s nothing that prepares people to deal with the complexity of human relationships better than a liberal arts education. While our engineers obtain practical skills, they have to make sure to take demanding courses in the humanities and the social sciences in order to prepare them to take on the challenges that they will eventually face. No matter what you do, you still have to succeed in your relationships with other human beings, and I think there’s no question that Dartmouth College’s liberal arts education prepares you for that.
Kristina Brock ’01 Th’02 asks: Given the hundreds of thousands of engineering students graduating from India and China each year, and the fact that leading technology firms are increasingly looking off-shore for top technology talent, how can we ensure that today’s Dartmouth science and engineering graduates are prepared to compete and win?
We have to educate these companies on the value of an engineering and liberal arts education. I don’t care how technical problems are, it’s teams that solve those technical problems. So I want everyone to understand that when you hire a Dartmouth engineering graduate, you’re not only getting the quality engineering education, but you’re also getting someone who has had the Dartmouth College experience. These are people who are going to be much more successful at managing complex human relationships, and that’s a key to success in any line of work.