Investiture Address: Dean Joe Helble

June 9, 2018

Through all the years I have been privileged to serve as the Dean of Dartmouth’s Thayer School of Engineering, I have frequently had the opportunity to speak with different groups—alumni, prospective students, parents, other engineering educators—about Dartmouth’s approach to engineering education, about what makes it unique and, I think, special.

You, our students and soon-to-be-graduates, know what I mean.

I am sure that many of you could quote the statistics or tell the stories about what makes us different—our embracing of the liberal arts, our majority female graduating class of 2016, our pioneering MEM and PhD Innovation programs, our first-in-the-nation entrepreneurial faculty.

When I speak about Thayer, I tell these stories, proudly cite the accomplishments of our faculty, and then make a point of noting your incredible creativity. In fact, this year alone, you:

  • won the Formula Hybrid Competition, an interdisciplinary design and engineering challenge, for the first time in 11 years
  • competed in the world’s first ever omnidirectional vehicle triathlon
  • traveled to a Haitian hospital clinic to better understand airflow and ventilation alternatives to help prevent the spread of airborne diseases in the clinics themselves
  • designed a catheter that reduces leakage and significantly decreases the time required for patient insertion
  • and developed a sensor that helps competition biathletes improve shooting accuracy
I have found that what is of greatest interest are not the stories of technical accomplishment, but those of community.

These impressive accomplishments will be added to the long list of Thayer stories I tell to give the world a sense of the incredible intellect and creativity of our students, faculty and staff.

And yet...

I have found that what is of greatest interest are not the stories of technical accomplishment, but those of community.

And I have been struck by how truly global our Thayer community has become.

ASEE, the American Society for Engineering Education, tracks engineering enrollments and degree totals year after year.  Their most recent data tell the story of the graduating classes of 2016.

Nearly 113,000 bachelor’s degrees were granted nationally, with 9.1% of these going to international citizens.

Master’s degrees? 47.0% international.

And of the nearly 12,000 doctoral degrees, 54.7 % went to international students.

The Dartmouth story is not so different from the national story.

Our degree recipients this year? 18% of our BEs, 75% of our combined master’s, and 41% of our PhDs are international citizens.

And they—and you—come from nearly all the corners of the globe. From the United States, of course, and China and India, as you might expect. But also from Argentina. Bangladesh. Canada. Iceland and Iran. Malaysia, Mexico and Mongolia. Nigeria and Norway. Senegal and South Africa. Uruguay and Zimbabwe. And 13 other countries—30 total!—in this year’s Thayer graduating class alone.

You have come here not to be surrounded by the same, but to learn from, collaborate with, team with the world’s best and brightest.

Our faculty are no different.

Sure, I’m from New Jersey. Professor Fossum is from Connecticut. Professor Ray, New York. Doug Van Citters, Maryland.

But the percentage of our faculty who are foreign-born?

This fall, it will be 23 out of our 56 faculty.  

That’s 41%.   `

I am telling you this because, as you reflect on your time here at Dartmouth, American and international alike, you have come here not to be surrounded by the same, but to learn from, collaborate with, team with the world’s best and brightest.

You are here because engineering education, and engineering research, and engineering invention in the United States have become a global enterprise, like nowhere else on earth.

You are better for it.

Dartmouth is better for it.

And the engineering community is better for it.

In a few moments, you will join our community of alumni and soon enough will begin to reflect back on your days at Dartmouth. When you do, in addition to thinking about the time you have spent:

  • sleeping on the Atrium couches
  • finishing problem sets at dawn
  • conducting original research
  • writing papers...and rewriting 
  • letting off steam at 3 in the morning…juggling, roller skating—things I only learned about at the barbecue at my house earlier this week
  • or chasing free food….

I’d ask you to also think about the impact, on you, of being educated here as part of this global community.  

There is what I will generously call a 'national conversation' about the challenges we face striking the right balance among security, open access, and immigration.

It’s an important question.

But I will ask each of you to remember the diversity of this global Thayer community and how that has made the experience richer for each of us.

When our ceremony ends in just a few moments, we will gather outside of Thayer for the reception I announced at the start of my remarks.

And when you are there, I ask that you wander into Thayer’s Great Hall one last time—and look up.  

Hanging high from the ceiling, surrounding the skylight, you will see the flags of all of the nations represented by our community.

These flags were first hung in the aftermath of 9/11 as Thayer’s statement to our students that no matter what may happen in the world, from near and far, all are welcome here.  

No matter what may happen in the world, from near and far, all are welcome here. All we ask is that you come prepared, you come willing to work, you come willing to learn, and we will welcome you into the Dartmouth engineering community.

All we ask is that you come prepared, you come willing to work, you come willing to learn, and we will welcome you into the Dartmouth engineering community.

And so to all of you, domestic and international, as you leave us today, I ask that you carry that message to your friends and family

The message that says, whether from near or far, we hope to see them here.  

That ALL are welcomed as the next generation of Thayer engineers.

Welcomed as the next group preparing for “the most responsible positions and the most difficult service.”

To you, our students, who have left your mark on us, your faculty and staff, I say thank you.  

And to your family and friends, gathered here today, I say as I do every year, thank you for lending us your sons and daughters, your family and friends, an extraordinary group of talented individuals.   

On behalf of the entire Thayer community, it has been a privilege.