Schools of Thought
Dual-degree students call two institutions home.
By Kathryn LoConte Lapierre
Some undergraduates make their way to engineering with a quick stroll beyond the Dartmouth Green. Others—Thayer’s dual-degree students—travel a more distant route from campuses across the country.
Since the early 1970s, Thayer School has welcomed undergraduates from other colleges during their junior or senior year and, after they graduate from their own institutions, a year of Bachelor of Engineering study. Originally open to students from the Twelve-College Exchange Program—Amherst, Bowdoin, Connecticut, Mount Holyoke, Smith, Trinity, Vassar, Wellesley, Wesleyan, Wheaton, and Williams, besides Dartmouth—Thayer’s Dual-Degree Program extended engineering to a wider number of young men and women with science backgrounds. Other colleges joined the program over the years. Colby, for example, began sending students in 1990. Today some 20 colleges officially participate in the Dual-Degree Program, and students at other institutions can apply for the program as well.
During the last decade, 104 students graduated from the Dual-Degree Program with their B.E. degrees. This year, 22 of Thayer’s 58 B.E. candidates are dual-degree students. Another 29 dual-degree students are completing their first year, fitting six engineering courses into a tight time frame. “They’re very enthusiastic,” says Professor Eric Hansen, director of the Dual-Degree Program. “They’ve bonded with their home colleges, yet they so want to do engineering that they uproot themselves to come here. They’re determined, they take a tough course load, and they enjoy what they’re doing.”
Below, dual-degree students tell us what drew them to Thayer and why two schools are better than one.
ALEXANDER CHIN DD’11
THE APPEAL: I heard about the Dual-Degree Program when I was in high school. I wanted to play tennis in college and that unfortunately limited the schools I could choose from that also offered engineering. I attended Carleton College, played Division III tennis, and pursued the Dual-Degree Program. I wanted the opportunity to explore and solve real world problems, and I knew that Thayer had the curriculum and resources to provide an in-depth and yet broad enough education to tackle that goal. I visited Thayer and met with a professor. After that, it was clear to me that professors here are not only invested in their research, but are also dedicated to their classes and to building relationships with students.
FAVORITE CLASS: My favorite class was ENGS 21: Introduction to Engineering because the scope was so incredibly broad. The assignment was to come up with an invention that could either improve safety or the way that someone learns. We built a prototype that teaches elementary school children how to type properly. We invented a pair of gloves with vibrational motors on each finger. When the letter A pops up on the software screen, the glove sends a vibrational stimulus to the child’s left pinky, indicating that the child should press A with that finger. Traditionally you’re solely supposed to rely on your sense of sight and memory. But this product added a new dynamic, your sense of touch, so that is what the premise of our project was.
SENSE OF BELONGING: I came to Dartmouth during my sophomore summer, which was an awesome experience. I feel a part of the Thayer and Dartmouth community. There are dual-degree students everywhere, at every hour. Going between both institutions has helped me be more adaptive to foreign situations.
PREPARING FOR THE FUTURE: From Carleton I developed a broader skill set in the liberal arts, and here at Dartmouth I developed a foundation in engineering. The Dual-Degree Program made me think in a more structured and more logical manner than I did before. Thayer added the innovative dimension. I’d like to combine my interests in an energy technology consulting role. That type of job would provide the dynamic that I’m looking for.
ARLINDA REZHDO DD’11
MAJORS: MATHEMATICS AND BIOLOGY
THE APPEAL: I initially didn’t want to do engineering, but when I went to Colby, everyone was talking about the Dual-Degree Program and how amazing it was. I really loved the experiences that I heard about. I didn’t expect to love studying engineering at Thayer quite as much as I do.
THE EXPERIENCE: I focused especially on the hands-on experience at Thayer, which is very real. Every class that I took required completing a project of some sort and involved things that I had not done before. I pulled a lot of all-nighters because working on a project is nothing like writing a paper. You have to be at Thayer and focus on how the prototype is working, and what changes you can make. And then you have to actually construct your design, which takes a lot of time. But when you actually get that prototype working, it’s the best feeling in the world.
I especially enjoyed the project we did in ENGS 21, taught by Professor John Collier. We designed an interactive learning system for children in primary school. Children would sit on our interactive exercise balls while teachers asked them questions, and the children would playfully touch the area of the ball where the color corresponded to the color of their answer. We tried it out with the kids, and they absolutely loved it and enjoyed playing around on our device. It was a very interesting experience, and I think it’s better if you focus on the societal need and try to come up with a solution to that problem rather than trying to design a product that is mind-blowing.
I immediately fell in love with engineering because of the way that Professor Collier explained the material and how he makes you feel passionate about what you are studying—it just really hit me. So I decided to do even more engineering research, and have joined his biomedical materials research lab.
THE INSTITUTIONS: Coming here to Dartmouth I’d already had some experience at Colby as a freshman and sophomore, so I did know that getting involved in campus activities is big. I’m from Albania, and I joined the International Students Association at Dartmouth. It’s incredible to meet people from all over the world who share the same experiences as you do. At Thayer it seems like we’re a big family. We engineering students are here all of the time. We complete group projects together, take classes together, and help each other in everything that we do.
Colby was a great experience because it was my first time in the United States, and for me college was a new world filled with new experiences. It made me realize that there are a lot of different types of people in the world, and that there are a lot of different types of things you can do as a student. At Colby, I learned how to be my own person away from home. Here at Dartmouth, I found myself understanding more about the world of professionalism. When I went back to Colby I realized there was a great difference between my friends who didn’t participate in the Dual-Degree Program, and those who had gone to Dartmouth and studied at Thayer. We were much more involved in professional activities, with interviews, and with networking. The Dual-Degree Program became part of who we are, and I value the experience because it has been very important for my career. It has been really enriching.
PREPARING FOR THE FUTURE: Studying engineering put me on a different academic path. Before coming to Dartmouth, my path was based upon the very theoretical education that I was receiving at Colby. In professional terms, the Dual-Degree Program gave me a better understanding of how the real world works. I learned exactly what companies are looking for. But, at the same time, all of the theoretical information that I received from the physics and math classes that I took at Colby ended up being very useful. At Dartmouth, I found myself suddenly needing to use this theoretical knowledge to solve project-based problems.
My dream job would be something that challenges me every day and makes me think about how to improve society’s quality of living. Working in world health institutions would be ideal.
JAMES CHIN DD’14
MAJORS: BIOCHEMISTRY AND ECONOMICS
THE APPEAL: At Brandeis I studied biochemistry and economics. I loved how biochemistry helped me to understand the complex world of biology and the human system. But I soon found that it wasn’t as quantitative as I wanted it to be. I wanted to bridge the two and make it more applied, so thought I should try some engineering. Dartmouth appealed to me because of its interdisciplinary style of teaching. I also liked the location.
FOCUS: I’m in my first term of the program and love it so far. I’m considering focusing on chemical engineering, and within that I will probably specialize in biochemical engineering, which fits well with my background in biochemistry. I am still very much fascinated by complex systems in biology and I think that will give me good quantitative tools to study it further.
THE INSTITUTIONS: Studying at two different institutions has been good for me. Coming from a research university to an engineering school has helped me appreciate things like access to faculty and the kinds of relationships that you can build with professors in a small classroom setting. Here there’s a collaborative community. In the Couch Lab you can ask anyone a question and come together and talk about ideas. That kind of community wasn’t really apparent at Brandeis because you’re kind of siloed into your own field of research. Dartmouth as a whole has been really welcoming to me—the institution, undergraduate clubs, and Greek life as well. I really feel at home here.
PREPARING FOR THE FUTURE: I would like to apply what I have learned in engineering, economics, and biochemistry to solve problems on a daily basis and be challenged by that. I think that all of my majors will come together into some sort of career, perhaps consulting or healthcare management.
The Dual-Degree Program will definitely give me an edge when I graduate. Having the additional engineering degree really does show that I can approach problems in a structured way. I’ve spoken to alumni, and they have said that this is a really strong academic program with great access to professors and post-graduate opportunities. That story has been consistent from alumni to current students to professors, and it’s been true for me, too. Having that consistent story speaks volumes to what the program stands for.
KARINA KOSSLER DD’14
THE APPEAL: I wanted a diverse experience, and Dartmouth encouraged me to balance the liberal arts and engineering. Thayer has smaller classes, the faculty attention of a small college, and there is also a lot of hands-on learning. I like the fact that there are not specific concentrations, and you don’t graduate with a specific focus, so it’s a different kind of engineering. At Thayer you gain access to all aspects of engineering, which makes you more versatile.
THE UNEXPECTED: In ENGS 25: Introduction to Thermodynamics, we made Stirling engines. I originally resented the project because I wasn’t trained on the machines in the machine shop. Eventually I got more comfortable, and took more pride in my work during the last week of the project. I became one of the top ten machinists in my class based on speed. It was a challenge for sure, but what stood out personally was that I was more surprised with my ability to complete the project—and complete it well.
THE INSTITUTIONS: The good part about being a dual-degree student is that I have two different types of academic backgrounds. Amherst is smaller, so generally I walk around and know pretty much everyone on campus. It was hard coming into Dartmouth during Dartmouth’s sophomore summer, which is kind of that class’s bonding time. But Dartmouth is nice because you’re always meeting people from different backgrounds. It will be really interesting for me going back and forth. I’m also in two different alumni networks—well, almost three because Thayer has its own network. That’s three different career centers to build from.
PREPARING FOR THE FUTURE: I’m concentrating on biomedical engineering. I’ve always had an interest in medicine but have liked the technical side of math. My dream job is being a CEO of my own biomedical engineering company. The other aspect that I’m looking into is being able to be more on the financial consulting side of things. Being able to mix my interests would be a sort of ideal situation.
The bulk of my time at Thayer is still to come. There will be more adventures.
OLIVIA CAMERON DD’12
THE APPEAL: I have always loved math and science, but I didn’t want to go into pure mathematics, so I tried to find a way to study applied math. When I went to Skidmore, I heard about the Dual-Degree Program and thought it would be a great way to combine my interest in science, my love of math, and my desire to find something that was applied math.
THE FOCUS: The really nice thing about Thayer is that the program requires you to have a broad knowledge base before you go into any specific concentration. I wasn’t sure when I first came here in 2011 what I wanted to do. ENGS 21 was the first class I took when I came here, and it was a great class to throw yourself into at Thayer. I worked with all dual-degree students. Our project was an avalanche helmet. In an avalanche, the main cause of death is asphyxiation, so when people breathe on the snow in front of their face, it melts and refreezes as ice. So we created a helmet that had a heating device. The pressure of the snow would trigger the heating pad, and melt the ice to create a pocket of air to breathe. The project was definitely very stressful, and the batteries in the device died after about 15 minutes, but it was the process that was the most important thing. I think that’s the message: You do everything possible to prove that your product is going work or it’s not, and it’s okay either way.
THE INSTITUTIONS: I was very nervous about coming here my junior year of college and not knowing anyone. I was on the equestrian team at Skidmore, and I joined the riding team at Dartmouth. The girls there told me that Greek life was a huge part of the Dartmouth experience. That’s not something I ever would have thought of, but I have great friends now. I live with two girls in my sorority. I love school and love this program and I love Thayer, but having those outside groups and people who I’m really close with made such a difference to me coming here. Going back and forth between Dartmouth and Skidmore has made me love each place more.
PREPARING FOR THE FUTURE: I’m still trying to figure out what my dream job is. Though I love engineering, I’m not sure if I’m going to go work in a lab for the rest of my life. I completed a finance internship at a wealth management company as just another way to use math, and I loved that. I also worked at a real estate investment company this summer writing marketing reports on biotech properties. That was kind of a fun way to combine biomedical engineering and a little bit of finance and business.
I might not be an engineer or be in a lab, but I love engineering. Here at Thayer you learn more than just engineering. You learn presentation skills and team management skills. I’ve learned so much every term I’ve been here.
PATRICK HEFFERNAN DD’11
COLLEGE OF THE HOLY CROSS
THE APPEAL: I decided to do the Dual-Degree Program because I’ve always had an interest in engineering. I really liked the idea of combining a well-rounded liberal arts education with all of the technical aspects of engineering.
STUDIES: The studies I’ve focused on here at Thayer have been mostly mechanical and electrical courses. My favorite course so far has been thermodynamics. I really enjoyed the time in the machine shop that I spent building the Stirling engine. I feel like I’m more of a hands-on learner, so that was a great experience.
Combining physics and engineering has been a perfect fit. Math and science are really the languages of engineering, and it’s been important to understand the theoretical side of what you’re learning in engineering classes. Having the physics background has really allowed me to get a more intuitive feel of what I’m learning, and this background has helped me explain engineering ideas to other people.
THE INSTITUTIONS: It has been a privilege to attend two such prestigious schools. Dartmouth and Holy Cross have two very different settings. Worcester is a more metropolitan area with great culture and more of the city life, where Hanover is more rural and there are more opportunities to do things outdoors. I’ve been able to meet people in both schools, and it’s opened up a range of networking opportunities.
PREPARING FOR THE FUTURE: The experiences I had here at Thayer really affected my final year at Holy Cross. Thayer gave me a different view on problem solving. I was able use the tools that I learned at Dartmouth in the upper level math and physics courses that I took during my senior year at Holy Cross. To have a Bachelor of Engineering degree from Dartmouth College is a dream come true. My ideal job would be a position in the renewable energy industry. I really want a role that helps the environment as well as people.
SCOTT MITCHELL DD’14
MAJOR: BIOCHEMISTRY WITH A CHINESE MINOR
THE APPEAL: I’m really excited about engineering, and I aspire to be a surgeon. Surgery is changing a lot right now with developments in techniques and equipment. I want a background in engineering to interact with the changing environment for surgery.
STUDIES: I came in expecting to be a rigorous science major, which is what I’m doing. However, I’ve been able to incorporate other classes and course work. I’m trying to learn as many languages as I can because I plan to do a lot of medical missions. I’m almost fluent in Spanish, I’m studying Russian here at Dartmouth, and my minor back home is Chinese. To interact one-on-one with the patients and not have the barrier of an interpreter is really important to me.
The engineering aspect and the humanitarian aspect need to be bridged. That’s kind of the whole aspect of engineering. The children’s standing frame that we built for ENGS 21 incorporates this. Right now 17 million people in the world have cerebral palsy, and a lot of them are children. One third of those people are unable to stand by themselves, which is a very important activity for all of your bodily systems and functions. Physical therapists I had worked with in Arequipa, Peru, told us that standing devices are really needed for children. Currently they are inaccessible and expensive, costing anywhere from $800 to $1,500. So the therapist requested that we come up with a method for constructing a device with local materials. We decided that this could really become a global project and help more people if we looked into how we could make and get them to consumers for less than $45. So that was the goal. By the time we finished the project we were extremely excited. When our device came together it was just beautiful, it was easy to clean, and we were so proud of ourselves. [See Back Cover.]
THE INSTITUTIONS: Life at Thayer is great. I spend a lot of time in the building getting to know my fellow engineers. We slog through problems sets and run ideas past each other. It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s hard work that really brings you together. You really get to make those deeper connections, and that’s fantastic. At Bowdoin I spent a good amount of time going back and forth between buildings, between disciplines, whereas here it’s very focused toward one thing. I think that both have merits. Here you really set your mind to one thing at a time. Sometimes I’d spend almost the entire week working on my ENGS 21 project, whereas at Bowdoin I was balancing four things at a time. And that is definitely a different skill set.
Both places are very supportive and collaborative, and that’s something I appreciate. You’re really trying to help each other out, because when you help someone else, you’re also helping yourself understand. I think everyone benefits from that kind of environment.
PREPARING FOR THE FUTURE: I see myself more as a surgeon than an engineer, but I imagine working intensively with engineers, and helping them develop their ideas. Being here and understanding how engineers are trained to think and how they go about solving every problem—that’s extremely valuable. It’s definitely a very good education that is leading me down the path that I need to be a successful surgeon. And I see myself putting it to work already.
MAJOR: ENVIRONMENTAL STUDIES, CONSERVATION, BIOLOGY
THE APPEAL: I have an unusual background. I graduated from Middlebury College and then worked in New York City as a food writer/editor for eight years. After being in that world, I thought: What can I do with my science background that is not research based? I decided to come back to school to Dartmouth partly to attempt to go into environmental consulting. I knew that to do it the right way I would need more academic experience under my belt. The Dual-Degree Program would give me the foundational engineering tools that I would need to make a career transition. I like that Thayer has a very project-oriented curriculum. Utilizing these skills in real world situations, solving real life problems—I don’t think other engineering students get exposure to that. That was a huge selling point for me.
FOCUS: I’m environmentally focused, and my greatest passion is the natural sciences. I try to choose environmental classes. I’ve taken ENGS 44: Sustainable Design, ENGS 37: Introduction to Environmental Engineering, and ENGS 42: Contaminant Hydrogeology, which was one of the most informative classes.
THE INSTITUTIONS: I did four years at Middlebury, worked for eight more, and then came to Dartmouth for the B.E. program, so right off the bat, there’s an age difference that I had to get used to. But it’s really easy to meet people. You’re in class with these students all day, on equal playing grounds. You’re doing the same work, and you can bond over that. Outside the classroom, there are a lot of like-minded people around. You walk down the hall or see people and professors outside of the academic setting, and it’s kind of like a little family in a way.
Middlebury and Dartmouth are similarly aligned in many ways. At Middlebury I liked getting the liberal arts background. I wouldn’t trade that liberal arts background for the world. Supplementing those core classes with engineering classes here complements and helps round out a traditional undergraduate degree. You can have both. It’s not one or the other.
PREPARING FOR THE FUTURE: I want to go into environmental consulting, and sustainability has always been on my mind. One of the reasons I went to Middlebury is because of their environmental studies program. From my eight years in the publishing/editing world, I have a communication skill set. I want to marry the science, communication, and engineering worlds. I landed the first step toward my dream job last summer working for CH2M HILL in the federal sector in remediation and compliance contracts and I loved it. I loved the number crunching and solving real world problems, optimizing every step of the way.
Coming out of the program, having two different networks from both Middlebury and Dartmouth to tap is immense.
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