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

Club Scene

When students just can’t get enough engineering, a variety of clubs keeps them busy.

By Elizabeth Kelsey


ENERGY ENTHUSIASTS: Clockwise from left: Daniel Harburg Th’09, Matthew Christie Th’10, Mike Wood ’10, Lois St. Brice Th’09, Kara Podkaminer Th’09. Photograph by John Sherman.
ENERGY ENTHUSIASTS: Clockwise from left: Daniel Harburg Th’09, Matthew Christie Th’10, Mike Wood ’10, Lois St. Brice Th’09, Kara Podkaminer Th’09. Photograph by John Sherman.

The concept of the Dartmouth Energy Journal Club (DEJC) is simple: Grab your lunch and meet with peers once a week to discuss the latest on such topics as photovoltaics, the automobile industry, and the wind market.

Ph.D. candidate Kara Podkaminer Th’09 and M.E.M. student Matthew Christie Th’10 co-founded the club as a low-key way to keep on top of the energy industry. Students take turns selecting journal articles, which are projected on a screen during meetings. “It’s not like someone has to do a ton of work every week and give a lecture, but we all have a baseline of here’s this basic document that we can ask questions about, here is what we understand, and here is what we don’t understand,” says Podkaminer.

“DEJC has complemented my education in energy technologies and issues that would otherwise be left without discussion,” says Manaure Francisquez-Rodriguez ’11. “Every paper we read has accelerated my study of energy technologies.”

“Clubs like the DEJC are exactly what make a university experience remarkable,” says Ph.D. candidate Kathleen McGill. “It has allowed me the opportunity to learn about energy — something outside of my expertise — and mix with people outside of my academic circles. I also think it’s encouraging when we talk about critical problems and why they are hard with some eagerness and optimism.”


BUS POWER: Clockwise from left, Brandon Cohen ’11, Ann Elise DeBelina ’10, Robert Collier ’13, Mike Wood ’10, Betsy Dain-Owens ’10, Emily Mason-Osann ’11.
BUS POWER: Clockwise from left, Brandon Cohen ’11, Ann Elise DeBelina ’10, Robert Collier ’13, Mike Wood ’10, Betsy Dain-Owens ’10, Emily Mason-Osann ’11. Photograph by John Sherman.

It all started in 2004 when a group of Ultimate Frisbee players and a few Thayer engineers decided to drive across the country to attend an Ultimate Frisbee tournament on the cheap. The students bought a bus on eBay for $1,300 and converted it to run on waste vegetable oil.

Since then, 13 to 15 Dartmouth undergrads have taken the bus cross-country each summer to raise interest in environmental issues and solutions. The group maintains the vehicle, develops educational materials, and stops at high schools, libraries, universities, businesses, farmers’ markets — anywhere they can engage people in discussing climate change, alternative fuels, and sustainability.

“I first heard about the bus when I was a freshman,” says engineering major Mike Wood ’10, a Big Green Bus mentor. “I knew some of the upperclassmen on the Big Green Bus and liked the idea of a fun, summer road trip with a lot of like-minded people, seeing really neat things across the country but also getting the word out, getting people talking about these environmental ideas.”

Betsy Dain-Owens ’10, an engineering major focusing on environmental issues, obtained her commercial driver’s license so she could get behind the wheel this year. “Aside from getting to spend the summer with an amazing bus crew, I hope that this summer opens my eyes to the different outlooks that people have toward the environment and our surroundings, and the varied ways in which the natural world connects to social and economic forces within our everyday lives,” she says. “I’m excited to learn more about what drives people, and how the natural world fits into that.”


It’s easy to take part in the Dartmouth Society of Engineers (DSE) — in fact, every Thayer student is automatically considered a member. The DSE’s student chapter serves as a forum for the welfare of Dartmouth’s engineering students as well as a liaison between students and faculty, staff, and alumni.

FUN WITH SCIENCE: Left to right, Yolanda Lin ’11, Josiah Gruber Th’10, Elizabeth Kemp ’11, Lexie Tilghman ’10, and Ashley Martin Th’10 help kids make volcanoes in the DSE After-School Science program. Photograph by John Sherman.
FUN WITH SCIENCE: Left to right, Yolanda Lin ’11, Josiah Gruber Th’10, Elizabeth Kemp ’11, Lexie Tilghman ’10, and Ashley Martin Th’10 help kids make volcanoes in the DSE After-School Science program. Photograph by John Sherman.

DSE hosts social events, from the casual Friday Beers for grad students to the more formal “Celebrating Thayer” party that brings faculty, students, alumni, and staff together each spring. The group also has a weekly philanthropic initiative in which members volunteer at area middle and elementary schools to teach a hands-on After-School Science program.

Ashley Martin Th’10, 2009-10 president of DSE’s student chapter, says that although students are already members, she hopes more will become involved. “It’s really nice to have this as something I do besides my research,” says Martin, who received her M.S. degree in June. “It’s also rewarding to have at least one person come up to you after an event and say, ‘You know, you did a really great job,’ or for the kids in After-School Science to get so excited about the project that we’re doing. It’s really nice to see.”


LEGOs may be child’s play, but in FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) LEGO League, kids are in for some serious fun. Every year, teams of 9- to 14-year-olds design, build, and program robots using LEGO bricks and LEGO MINDSTORMS technologies. Their goal: to solve missions and compete in tournaments from the local to the international level.

LEGO LEADERS: Katherine Vonderhaar ’10, left, and Caitlin Johnson ’10. Photograph by John Sherman.
LEGO LEADERS: Katherine Vonderhaar ’10, left, and Caitlin Johnson ’10. Photograph by John Sherman.

“LEGO League provides a great forum for students to explore science outside the classroom — to learn not for a grade but for their own satisfaction,” says Dartmouth Lego League (DLL) co-founder Katherine Vonderhaar ’10.

FIRST was created by inventor Dean Kamen to inspire young people in science and technology. DLL began as a Schweitzer Fellowship project by Kristen Lurie ’08 in 2007. Since then, DLL has matched student mentors with local FIRST teams and has hosted an annual tournament.

Christian Ortiz ’11, who has been a technical judge at Dartmouth’s tournaments, participated in LEGO League when he was in middle school and has been mentoring since high school. “LEGO League provides the opportunity for children to explore,” he says.

DLL co-founder Caitlin Johnson ’10 says, “At that age there is a lot of glory being on the soccer team. Your fans will come cheer you on. But if you’re a mathlete or something — nobody comes and cheers you on for that. Lego League is like a sporting event for science and engineering, so the kids get really into it.”

Adam Strom ’10 has served as head referee. “I watched over the playing fields, scored them, and helped resolve any disagreements — which were usually from the parents.” His fondest memory of the event? “Definitely listening to the teams discuss strategy before they pushed ‘start’ on their robot. It’s serious business!”


By definition, engineers solve human problems. That’s the philosophy behind Humanitarian Engineering Leadership Projects (HELP) Worldwide, a Thayer organization founded in 2006 to address global poverty reduction through local and sustainable solutions.

HELPERS: Left to right, Manaure Francisquez-Rodriguez ’11, Zachary Losordo ’10, Parker Reed ’09, Jeff Spielberg ’10, Nick Edwards ’10. Photograph by John Sherman.
HELPERS: Left to right, Manaure Francisquez-Rodriguez ’11, Zachary Losordo ’10, Parker Reed ’09, Jeff Spielberg ’10, Nick Edwards ’10. Photograph by John Sherman.

Forty students comprise HELP, which sends groups of approximately seven volunteers to rural areas of Africa for eight weeks every summer. This year, the organization is working on two pico-hydro electricity-generating systems in Rwanda that HELP students installed a few summers ago. It is also working in association with Dartmouth’s John Sloan Dickey Center to develop fuel-efficient stoves and implement water and sanitation projects in Tanzania.

While communities in developing nations acquire improved sanitation and infrastructure, “there’s a lot of benefit for HELP’s members, too,” says Annie Saunders ’12, the group’s VP of communications. “It’s a learning process. You’re taking these classes and you have these theories of how they’ll work in the real world. But having the chance to get some practice and applying it to real-world situations is a great opportunity.”

“A lot of student groups will do educational or awareness initiatives, but I think HELP is unique in that students are involved in actually doing these projects,” says the club’s president, Nick Edwards ’10.

“In Tanzania, a lot of people were surprised to see us in the village and actually working every day, working hard,” says M.E.M. candidate Parker Reed ’09. “We were there for eight weeks and working with the people and were told afterward that most people in the village are used to seeing Europeans come in and sit in a meeting and leave. We were the first people they had actually seen working really hard to help their community.”


At the student-run store Thayer Gear, M.E.M. candidates such as Weirong “Jake” Chang put their theoretical knowledge to practical use. “Most of our courses revolve around business,” says Chang. “Working at Thayer Gear is a great way to see how these courses can be applied.”

MINDING THEIR BUSINESS: Left to right, seated: Wei Peng, Andrea Chan; standing: Weirong “Jake” Chang, Rohan Cherthedath, Aditya Chaoji, Vishoka Balasubramanian, Sarah Smiley. All are M.E.M. students. Photograph by John Sherman.
MINDING THEIR BUSINESS: Left to right, seated: Wei Peng, Andrea Chan; standing: Weirong “Jake” Chang, Rohan Cherthedath, Aditya Chaoji, Vishoka Balasubramanian, Sarah Smiley. All are M.E.M. students. Photograph by John Sherman.

Ten Thayer students manage the shop, which was founded in 2007 by Meredith Lunn ’06 Th’07 and Sally Smith ’05 Th’06 ’07. Located in the main entrance to Cummings Hall, Thayer Gear sells T-shirts, sweatshirts, coffee mugs, water bottles, and other items that bear the Thayer logo. The club meets once a week for an hour to discuss business, and its members take turns running the shop, which is usually open twice a week during academic terms.

“We are always trying to put into effect new ideas, new products, and new strategies,” says M.E.M. candidate Ramkumar Jayasankar. “Working to create these new ideas, trying to promote ourselves, coordinating with vendors — all these make Thayer Gear a great thing to be involved in.”

The students recently launched an e-commerce site to serve some of the most interested customers: alumni. “Quite often when they come to visit, the store is not open,” says M.E.M. candidate Rohan Cherthedath. “Because of our classes, we cannot keep the store open for as long as we would like, and this would ensure that we are open 24/7 for everyone.”


The National Society of Black Engineers’ (NSBE) mission is to increase the number of culturally responsible black engineers who excel academically, succeed professionally, and positively impact the community. Dartmouth’s NSBE chapter, composed of 45 undergraduates, is open to all minority students and focuses on supporting academic work, professional development, and connecting students to available resources. The group meets every other Sunday in Dartmouth’s Cutter-Shabazz Hall.

“I joined NSBE my freshmen year here at Dartmouth because I found their mission statement interesting and profound,” says Nana Amoah ’11. “As a freshman, I was looking for a community of support in my area of academic interest and NSBE looked promising in that sense. My favorite memories in the club are our annual hospitality suite/ice-cream social we organize for admitted students and the days I spent with other members driving from Hanover to Toronto for an international engineers’ conference.”


Thayer’s intramural hockey teams give a whole new meaning to ice research. For five weeks every winter, the two teams (one M.S./Ph.D. and one B.E./M.E.M.) of 10 to 12 members hit the ice at the Dartmouth rink to play against opposing teams such as Dartmouth Medical School, Geology, Tuck School of Business, and several fraternities.

Engineers on ice
Engineers on ice. Photograph courtesy of Ashley Martin Th’10.

Doctoral student AJ Pattison says he joined because he grew up loving hockey but never had a chance to play in his hometown of Laconia, N.H. “The benefits are having a league where anybody can play, no matter the skill level, and we can all have fun and clear our heads after a work day. I am a Ph.D. student, so for me the most memorable moment was beating the Thayer B.E./M.E.M. team.”


Daniel Harburg Th’09, a teaching assistant for the design courses ENGS 12 and ENGS 21, would often see students excited about the skills they learned in design courses, but frustrated that they couldn’t apply them — until he heard about Design for America. He founded a Dartmouth chapter this spring.

“A lot of people take design classes and at the end, they say ‘Wow, design thinking is just this amazing tool.’ They talk about changing systems in colleges and environments and fixing something or building something new — all sorts of things. But to really take it to the next step and really take action is what this is trying to provide.”

In 2010, 12 members of the group competed in Design for America’s The Better Alternative, a challenge sent out to college students across the country to invent easy ways to conserve water. All ideas had to be submitted as two-minute YouTube videos. Dartmouth’s DFA group won the grand prize and $1000 for its video, “GreenScore,” which illustrated a scoring system for food products based on water and carbon footprint.

Founded by Elizabeth Gerber ’98 at Northwestern University in 2009, Design for America uses human-centered thinking to improve communities. Members collaborate with community organizations and nonprofits to solve real-world problems. Dartmouth’s chapter meets weekly and consists of 60 students from such diverse areas as environmental studies, economics, art, sociology, anthropology, and cognitive science.

Natalia Wrobel ’11 says, “One great thing about Design for America is the interdisciplinary collaboration. The diversity of DFA is the best part, encouraging the flow of wild ideas and thinking outside the box, with each person offering their unique input to collectively produce the best ultimate solution. As a Studio Art major, I have been cultivating my ability to think critically about the world and respond through creative means. DFA allows me to use this process to aid in designing solutions to local and global problems.”

“In these projects, our end goal is to evoke behavioral change — either by changing attitudes or changing the way that people interact with a space or product, says Misha Sidorsky ’10. “My background will help in some of the ways we understand people’s behavior or their perceptions of a particular task. That said, it’s unlikely that I’ll make a direct contribution as the ‘resident Cog Sci’ guy; instead, I think my academic background, which is largely interdisciplinary, will help me approach these problems with an open mind, looking at things from different angles.”


When Ph.D. candidate Amir Golnabi met IEEE’s University Partnership Program manager, Kris Fitzpatrick, in May 2009, he knew he should not miss the opportunity to revive the organization’s student chapter at Dartmouth. Already an IEEE member for several years, Golnabi could see how the organization would benefit his classmates and colleagues at Thayer. “IEEE is definitely the largest professional association for engineering, which despite its original name (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers), today covers a broad range of specialties within the field of engineering,” he says.

In the 2009-10 officer elections, Golnabi and Saryah Azmat ’11 became co-chairs of Thayer’s division of the organization. IEEE unites more than 395,000 members in more than 160 countries through more than 2 million documents from IEEE journals, transactions, magazines, letters, conference proceedings, and active IEEE standards. Within IEEE, there are 38 societies covering everything from computer to biomedical engineering. Based on the most recent report from Dartmouth IEEE student chapter, there are approximately 40 undergraduate and graduate student members at Thayer. Last year, students and faculty members from across campus participated in resume-writing and MATLAB workshops, attended local and national IEEE conferences, and participated in networking dinners with others in the field.

You never know how IEEE might keep you connected, says Golnabi. “Our goal in the chapter is to give students the opportunity to be involved in IEEE and to take advantage of benefits like publications and networking. In today’s world, networking is an absolutely essential component for being successful, especially for students who are going to look for a job in the near future. Being affiliated with important professional organizations such as IEEE enables you to be recognized and have common interests with other professionals in your field. Last month, someone at the airport recognized my IEEE bag and we had an hour-long conversation about an engineering-related topic. That guy could be my future employer!”


The Master of Engineering Management Council (MEMC) addresses the professional, academic, and social needs of current and future M.E.M. students, but “the goals are evolving based on what students want,” says the organization’s co-president and M.E.M. candidate Caroline Hamman. “A lot of the issues of the students just come by word of mouth.” Ten to 16 students of the M.E.M. Council meet biweekly.

This past year the MEMC worked to encourage camaraderie within the largest class of M.E.M. students in Thayer’s history, promoted its professional development initiative, and strengthened the M.E.M. program as a whole. The MEMC spurred the formation of clubs for students with career interests in consulting, finance, and operations and manufacturing to discuss current topics, interviewing strategies, and previous experiences. They also worked with a corporate sponsor to plan a professional etiquette event that they will host in the fall. In spring 2010, the group hosted a toga-themed party for all of Thayer that was well attended and collected over 50 non-perishable food items to donate to the Upper Valley Haven, a local food bank.


If there’s one organization that brings all Thayer clubs together, it’s Thayer Council. The group is a forum for students to voice concerns, serves as a communications buffer between faculty and students, facilitates interactions between the undergraduate and graduate student body, and delegates funds to different student social or academic activities. Thirty to 40 students meet twice a month to provide updates on their clubs’ activities and interact with classmates. “Just to see those groups get exposure around the school and see students interact in that way, I’d say, is very rewarding,” says council co-president and Ph.D. candidate Matthew Pallone ’07. “I think it contributes a great deal to the feeling of connectedness. It definitely gives the students a voice among the faculty and staff.” Pallone’s co-president, M.E.M. candidate Jonathan Sullivan adds, “I tend to just really enjoy the day-to-day interactions with the other Thayer student leaders. Meeting new people and helping them in whatever capacity I can has helped me to learn a lot about the way Thayer operates and in the process I’ve enjoyed making new friends.”


Tau Beta Pi as a national organization is devoted to Integrity and Excellence in Engineering,” says Evan Carlson ’08 Th’10, 2009-10 president of Thayer’s chapter, New Hampshire Beta. “Our chapter therefore seeks to develop the engineer as a scholar, as a professional, and as a member of the greater community.”

Thayer’s 12.5 percent of senior engineering sciences majors and the top 20 percent of B.E. students are eligible for the club, which has inducted 156 members since its 2002 founding. It currently has about 25 active members, and will initiate an additional 10 at the end of the term.

Thayer’s Tau Beta Pi members have helped the Montshire Museum of Science design projects, have organized the Thayer Relay for Life team, and have mentored middle school students participating in the Junior Solar Sprints Model Solar Car Competition.

M.S. candidate Alexander Latham ’09, 2009-10 vice president of the Thayer organization says: “Beyond its role as an honor society, the founders of TBP also wanted it to give back to the community, and so TBP does a lot of community service every year, which while it obviously helps the community, it also increases peoples’ general knowledge about engineering and its importance. What I enjoy the most are the service events where we help children in designing, building, and troubleshooting their ideas. They can sometimes come up with ideas you’d never think of, and then you’re able to help them modify those ideas just enough to make them work.”

—Elizabeth Kelsey is a contributing editor at Dartmouth Engineer.

Categories: Features

Tags: energy, entrepreneurship, extra-curricular, humanitarian service, M.E.M., projects, students

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