Dartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of EngineeringDartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of Engineering

Spotlights

Guitarist J.D. Optekar
The go-to guitar for J.D. Optekar is a Lentz JR Reserve. "I just love the feel and sound of this specially made hand-built guitar," he says. Photo courtesy of J.D. Optekar.

On the stage and behind the scenes, guitarist J.D. Optekar ’91 Th’92 is bringing Tweed Funk to the forefront of soul and blues. Drawing on his previous career as a project manager and cofounder of a software development company, Optekar is expanding the sound of the Milwaukee, Wisc.-based band. “My background has helped me in taking a group of talented musicians and putting together a plan that gets their music out to a wider, global audience,” he says. The band released its fourth album, Come Together, in April. With two new musicians and a determination to involve each member in the song-writing process, the six-member group is drawing strong reviews and comparisons to Daptone Records artists Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley. Optekar, one of RockWired magazine’s “25 Guitarists You’ve Gotta Know” in 2012, continues to play guitar and serve as the group’s primary songwriter. He left engineering and software for music in 2006, after he and wife Dr. Tina Yen ’91, a surgical oncologist at Froedtert Hospital and the Medical College of Wisconsin, started their family. He became a stay-at-home dad during the day, a performer at night.

“I became the domestic engineer,” he says. Now, with three children ages 8, 9, and 12, he juggles the business of the band as well as coaching and PTO duties. “Similar to my previous roles in small businesses or product development groups, my focus is to help set a vision for where the band is going—most recently presenting a case for recording a new CD, hiring a publicist, advertising and promoting the CD, and touring in support,” says Optekar. “With a band, since we aren’t anyone’s sole source of income, you need all the members to buy in to the vision.” That includes organizing a 10-day East Coast tour—with a stop in Hanover to play during his reunion in mid-June—in support of the new CD. You can also get a taste of Tweed Funk on YouTube.

Bob Chamberlin Th’84 brings a scientific approach to stalking trout. “The best anglers are those who have keen observational talents that they put to use in approaching a stream, positioning themselves in it, selecting the right fly, and presenting that fly perfectly to a hungry trout,” he says. He also brings his artistic side to the stream, painting watercolors such as “Hag Trout of Coos,” one of several paintings included in The Confluence: Fly-fishing & Friendship in the Dartmouth College Grant (2016, Peter E. Randall).

Hag Trout of Coos watercolor
Courtesy of Bob Chamberlin Th’84.

Chamberlin’s watercolors brighten the collection of essays from seven friends with ties to Dartmouth, including David Van Wie ’79 Th’84. Painting is an art that Chamberlin says exercises his brain differently than his role as senior director at RSG, a market research and consulting firm in Burlington, Vt. “So much of life, including much of the engineering field, involves our interactions with rectangular screens that it is rewarding to be engaged in pursuits that require us to use our hands,” he adds. “Both flyfishing and painting require skilled manual dexterity. ‘Real engineers’ also use their hands to manipulate materials, so they fit into this description; however, the technologies that make us effective engineers often displace the use of our hands in this way. The Thayer education is smart to keep our hands in the game building small bridges, using the machine shop, and building circuits on a breadboard.”

Javelin thrower Sean Furey ’04 Th’05 Th’06 took a brief hiatus from his work as a senior mechanical design engineer at Raytheon in San Diego to compete at the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in August. “Qualifying for the Olympics means giving myself another chance to ‘swim in the deep end’ and compete against the world’s best on the biggest stage,” he says. “I have had major success at every level of my career so far, except for top international competitions, and I am determined to conquer this last obstacle.” This is Furey’s second Olympics. He came in 37th at the 2012 games in London and 35th in Rio. He has racked up some other significant honors recently. With a personal best javelin throw of 272 feet, 7 inches last year, he won the 2015 USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships, which he also won in 2014 and 2010. He came in fifth at the 2015 Pan American Games and third at the 2014 Pan American Sports Festival. At Dartmouth his record of 241 feet, 9 inches, still stands. The sport infused his studies at Thayer, where he co-created a “TurboJavelin” with Daniel Hassouni ’05 Th’05 and Colin Murray ’04 Th’05 as an ENGS 190/290 (now ENGS 89/90) engineering design project.

Shounak Simlai ’05 Th’07 and former engineering major Maia Josebachvili ’05 have earned Dartmouth's 2016–17 Young Alumni Distinguished Service Award. After graduating from Thayer’s MEM program, Simlai received an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business before becoming an advisor to CVS Health. He currently serves as a member of the Alumni Council on its Young Alumni and Academic Affairs committees and on the Thayer School Annual Fund Executive Committee. Josebachvili, founder of Urban Escapes, now part of SocialLiving, is a VP at Greenhouse, a hyper growth software company. VP of the class of 2005, she has served on the Alumni Council's trustee search committee and led her class in endowing the Seed Fund for Social Good to fund student entrepreneurial ventures.

Almost a century after the first poles and wires brought electricity into American homes and businesses, Keith Dennis ’03 Th’05 is championing a transformation from fossil fuels to cleaner, more efficient electrical options. As the senior principal of National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), he is the technical expert on energy efficiency and end-use of electricity for more than 900 consumer-owned cooperatives that provide service to 42 million people in 47 states.

Keith Dennis
Photograph courtesy of Keith Dennis.

“Trends in energy are expanding opportunities for ‘environmentally beneficial electrification’—increasing the use of electricity for end-uses such as space and water heating and transportation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” says Dennis, who recently made his case in The Electricity Journal. He is also exploring the idea of community storage, or finding common resources such as electric water heaters and electric vehicles throughout communities that could be aggregated to help make the electric grid operate more efficiently. In an article published in Public Utilities Fortnightly, Dennis explains how coordinating existing devices may offer previously untapped storage capacity. He explains the concept of using a water heater like a battery for the grid in a Popular Science online article with a video. “If the sun is shining, you can say, ‘Now it’s time to heat the water.’ If a cloud goes down, you can say, ‘Stop heating the water.’ And you can really balance the grid that way. That’s what the water heater does for integrating renewable energy.”

Young women with irregular menstruation cycles often experience anxiety about staining and leakage—issues that Jacob McEntire Th’15 is determined to alleviate. “We’re developing a tampon monitor that will let women track the saturation level of their tampons and make leakage obsolete,” he says. As the lead hardware engineer at women’s health startup my.Flow, McEntire writes software, designs and tests hardware iterations, and sources components.

Jacob McEntire as lead engineer with my.Flow
Photograph courtesy of Jacob McEntire Th’15.

He also recently finished a four-month stint developing hardware at HAX Accelerator in Shenzhen, China. He draws on his previous tech and team experiences as a research and development intern with Takamoto Biogas in Kenya and an engineering fellow at Burro Brand Solar in Ghana to coordinate my.Flow’s design and mechanical engineering efforts. One of the biggest challenges is convincing investors, most of whom are men, of the market for menstruation-related solutions. But McEntire is optimistic he’ll soon bring peace of mind to many young women. “The most rewarding experience is seeing potential customers light up when you hand them something that they’ve always wanted, but never even known to ask for,” he says. “That sigh of relief and excitement as their world changes because of your work, even just a little bit, is the whole reason I’m doing this.”

Categories: Alumni News, Spotlights

Tags: alumni, award, energy, entrepreneurship, MEM, projects

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