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Visionaries in Technology: Distinguished Speaker Series

Dartmouth Engineering's annual Visionaries in Technology distinguished speaker series honors engineers and scientists whose insights have benefited humanity through revolutionary engineering solutions, paradigm-shifting scientific advances, novel fields of inquiry, or policy-shaping debate.

Due to the ongoing pandemic, plans for next year's event have not been announced.

2019 Visionaries in Technology

“Riding Data Waves: From Ripples to Tsunamis”

Brenda Dietrich, the Geoffrion Professor of Practice at Cornell‘s School of Operations and Information Engineering, was the 2019 Visionaries in Technology speaker. The 2019 event took place on October 25, 2019.

“Riding Data Waves: From Ripples to Tsunamis”

Brenda Dietrich (2019)

Geoffrion Professor of Practice, Cornell Engineering‘s School of Operations and Information Engineering

“Riding Data Waves: From Ripples to Tsunamis”

The 2010s have arguably been the decade of data, with “big data“ becoming bigger, data-driven decision making becoming a corporate imperative, data analytics becoming the hot new degree, data being called a natural resource, and data scientist being awarded the dubious title of “sexiest job of the 21st century.” In many ways, the focus on data is just the next logical and inevitable stage in the evolution of information technology; it required the previous stages and it will provide the foundation for future evolution. In this talk, a quick history of the past six decades of IT will be reviewed with a focus on the digitization of data and the creation of new data by-products. A brief detour will be a discussion of technology projections made in 1995, including what happened, what happened much later than projected, what was projected that didn’t happen, and what happened that was largely unforeseen. The talk will resume with examples of current and emerging use and creation of data and will conclude with a view of future possibilities, technical and non-technical issues that may accelerate or delay the possibilities, and some musings on methods to defend first-principals driven methods from displacement by purely data-driven approaches.

About Brenda Dietrich

After studying abstract mathematics at the University of North Carolina, Brenda Dietrich drifted into operations research and earned a PhD in the field at Cornell. She joined IBM in 1984 to gain a bit of real-world experience before launching an academic career. Thirty-some years later—having led IBM’s mathematical research team, driven the creation and deployment of math and data-based business applications across IBM, been instrumental in defining IBM’s data and analytics strategy and investments, and raised four children—she finally made the transition to academia by returning to her alma mater as the Geoffrion Family Professor of Practice in the School of Operations Research. At Cornell, she teaches, ponders future research, and has established an industrial affiliates program to connect the research and educational missions of the department to the current and near-term needs of industry.

During her IBM career, she was appointed IBM Fellow and held several IBM vice president roles, including strategist and chief technology officer for Business Analytics, head of emerging technologies for the Watson group, and head of data science for IBM Consulting. she also served as president of INFORMS (the largest operations research professional society), launched the COIN-OR open-source initiative—which was awarded the INFORMS Impact Prize—co-authored a book on analytics, served on the Board of Trustees of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, and served on numerous National Research Council boards and studies. She was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2014 and currently serves on the board for Science, Technology, and Economic Policy. In her spare time, she spins yarn, dyes, weaves, knits, and designs.

VIT Image Contest

Some images in research can captivate the mind and inspire thoughtful questions. Students, post-docs, and research scientists: you are invited to submit images related to your research that exemplify these attributes. Images will be judged both for their aesthetics and the curiosity that they inspire..

2019 Submissions & Winners

"POP Art" by Catalina-Paula Spatarelu

Submission Information & Guidelines

Image Requirements

  • High-resolution digital image (at least 300 dpi)
  • File name format: FirstName_LastName_VIT
  • Informative title
  • Complete description
  • Method/s or equipment used
Dartmouth's Autumn by Xuan Lu

Rules and Judging Information

  • Images are judged more for aesthetics than scientific quality.
  • Images may be obtained by any technique or be the result of modeling and simulation.
  • Color enhancements and other modifications are welcome for artistic effect.
  • Multiple submissions by a single student are permitted.
  • Submitted images are included in a display and/or slideshow, including student names and captions, on the day of the event.
  • Selected images are featured on Thayer School’s website with those students receiving a winner's certificate signed by Dean Abramson.

Past Visionaries

“Resonant Systems for Physical and Biochemical Sensing”

Roger T. Howe (2018)

William E. Ayer Professor, Department of Electrical Engineering at Stanford University

“Navigating the Turbulence of the Global Energy System”

Arun Majumdar (2017)

The Jay Precourt Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Co-Director of the Precourt Institute for Energy at Stanford University

“Computational Thinking: My vision for the 21st Century”

Jeannette M. Wing (2016)

Corporate Vice President, Microsoft Research Consulting Professor of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University


“Symbiotic Systems for The Future of Energy, Water, and Food”

Alexander H. Slocum (2015)

Pappalardo Professor of Mechanical Engineering, MIT

“Machine-to-Machine Transportation Systems”

Jennifer Healey (2014)

Research Scientist, Systems and Software Research Lab at Intel

“‘Simplicity’ as a Component of Invention“

George M. Whitesides (2012)

Woodford L. and Ann A. Flowers University Professor at Harvard University