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

College Prep School Grooms Students for Dartmouth’s Project-Based Learning

By Anna Fiorentino
February 2014 • CoolStuff

Menlo School logo

At the Menlo School in Atherton, California students can take a sequence of engineering classes culminating with a custom hands-on project of their choice. For Dartmouth engineers, this will sound familiar. It bears a striking resemblance—and often acts as a precursor—to Dartmouth’s two-course sequence, ENGS 89/90: Engineering Design Methodology and Project Initiation/Completion.

This college preparatory school’s project-oriented approach to learning stretches beyond typical high school math, physics, chemistry and biology. Not surprisingly, Menlo School sends six to eight students a year to Dartmouth and a good portion of those ends up at Thayer School.

"The computer science department at Menlo is so popular the school now has 11 class sections for a total student body of 600," says Skip Stritter D’68, who sits on Thayer’s Board of Overseers and sent his son Kai '16, a psychology major, to Dartmouth by way of Menlo. "There are two levels of robotics courses and the school took home second place in the 2011 First Tech Challenge World Championship."

And in the past five years the connection between Menlo and Dartmouth has only grown stronger.

"We have arranged for Dean Joseph Helble to visit campus several times and speak at Menlo’s noon-time visiting lecture series," says Stritter. "This and other factors like lots of students following older siblings to Dartmouth has increased interest significantly."

Additionally, Menlo's Bridge to Engineering Science Math and Technology (M-BEST) program has encouraged Dartmouth engineering enrollment by increasing interest among female students.

Sophie Sheeline
Sophie Sheeline ’16, a graduate of the Menlo School

"Professor Vicki May will visit Menlo in March to trade ideas about M-BEST and other programs," says Stritter, who mentors students, facilitates internships and keeps in touch with Menlo's STEM teachers and Thayer professors.

Dartmouth received eight early decision applications for fall 2014 out of a class of 144. Sophie Sheeline ’16, a graduate of the Menlo School, offers insight into why students set their sights on Dartmouth.

"At Menlo my friend made a stuffed animal bear that used an Arduino (a single-board microcontroller) and attached sensors to converse about things like the weather and time of day. Other students built their own soundboard or instruments. Basically, it's a chance to pursue a personal interest and build something awesome," says Sheeline, who is considering a career in mechanical engineering.

She says her math and science teachers taught her to love the subjects and prepared her to pursue a career in engineering. The most rewarding experience for Sheeline so far has been a project with Dartmouth Humanitarian Engineering.

Sophie Sheeline in Rwanda
Pete Nshimyumukiza, Pascal Kwisanga, June Shangguan '13, and Sophie Sheeline '16 work on assembling an electrical board for their hydropower system.

"Through Thayer I was given the chance to travel to Rwanda for two months this summer and help develop small-scale hydropower sites with a team of five other Thayer students," she says. "We were given the knowledge, resources and support necessary to complete the project, which has been one of the most important and amazing experiences of my life."

Then as part of fall term's Introduction to Engineering class, her group created an assault-prevention device for college-aged women with the help of people all over Thayer.

"It was an amazing experience for us," she says. "I was very lucky to already have the prerequisites from Menlo."

Tags: alumni, curriculum, design, faculty, projects, students

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