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

First Majority-Female Undergrad Engineering Class: Why We Love Thayer

By Anna Fiorentino
July 2016 • CoolStuff

The women of Dartmouth's undergraduate class of 2016 made history last month. They became the first in the country at a research university to take home more undergraduate engineering degrees than their male counterparts. While 54 percent of the degree recipients were women, the US national average lingers at just 19 percent.

Many of these women will tell you they chose engineering at the encouragement of the females who came before them at Thayer, where an emphasis on liberal arts is embraced. "My freshman year, I got very involved with Dartmouth Humanitarian Engineering's hydropower team and through it met a lot of older female students whose energy made their love for engineering and Thayer very clear," says Shinri Kamei '16. "I looked at them and realized they were exactly the type of people that I wanted to be in four years. Seeing them succeed gave me a clear goal to work towards." These notable women — many with provisional patents already under their belts — will now enter a workforce still skewing heavily toward men. Here's what some of them had to say:

Mary Grace Weiss '16

Mary Grace Weiss

"The biggest challenge I had to overcome as a female engineering student was dealing with initial impressions and stereotyping. At one of my internships, a graphical designer asked me — the mechanical engineering intern — if I knew how to use a hammer. It’s a funny story now, but shows the underlying assumptions that women may need to face in this field.

"I think Thayer attracts so many women because it is a part of the larger liberal arts college of Dartmouth. That was the main reason I chose to attend. I wanted the flexibility to study engineering with having other great majors open to me should I decide to switch out. Thayer does a phenomenal job at retaining women who decide to start studying engineering and that is largely in my experience due to great professors and project-based courses. Most of my AB courses were about half male, half female. In my BE courses for mechanical engineering, some were more heavily male, but I never felt uncomfortable. I worked on a number of projects in my time at Thayer, some of which I was the only female, some of which the entire team was all women, and this created a great community at Thayer for me."

On Twistii...

"Our capstone exercise chair team consisted of Korina Kossler '14, Eleanor Pryor Th'16, Coralie Phanord '15, and myself. Our sponsor, FitnessCubed, asked us to come up with a new product for their line of office fitness projects. We performed studies on what muscle groups people in offices needed to exercise most and ended up developing an office chair named Twistii to target users' core muscles. Going forward, our sponsor has expressed interest in continuing development of the Twistii. In the meantime, in August, I’ll begin as a business consultant at Applied Predictive Technologies."

Shinri Kamei '16 

Shinri Kamei in Rwanda
Dartmouth Humanitarian Engineering members Shinri Kamei '16,  Max Sloan '13, Joey Anthony '12, Alison Polton-Simon '14, and Pascal Kwisanga carry PVC pipes for a pico-hydropower system in Kigogo, Rwanda.

"I think more females are interested in engineering at Thayer because of a positive feedback loop of women being able to see and relate to older role models who can help them navigate both the challenging curriculum and extracurricular opportunities. I came into Dartmouth unsure about what I wanted to study but knew that I wanted to spend my time at college developing hard skills. I tried out classes in a couple of different departments, but what made engineering click for me were two main things: the teamwork-oriented culture and the presence of strong, often female, mentors. Alison Polton-Simon '14 and Julie Ann Haldeman '14 were Dartmouth Humanitarian Engineering presidents my freshman and sophomore year, respectively, and I am so grateful that Thayer gave me the chance to meet them. They've been such incredible role models to me throughout my time at Dartmouth, and both of them have taken the time to talk me through different challenges in my academics, extracurriculars, and professional goals. I also met one of my best female friends through being in and studying for Physics 13, the first introductory course needed for the engineering major. We all take so much pride in Thayer and being engineering majors to the point where we convinced one of our non-engineering friends to buy herself Thayer gear."

On Tray Bien…

"Sophomore year, I was working with Krystyna Miles '16, Yvette Zou '16, and Carly Kuperschmid '16 in ENGS 21, in a project design course. We didn't know each other before the course but quickly bonded through the sheer amount of time we spent working on the project. We came up with an ergonomic serving tray, now called Tray Bien, and after almost three successful years as a business, we will soon be passing on the venture to our manufacturing partner. I became interested in learning more about business strategy and will be working in management consulting for McKinsey & Company starting this fall."

Gabriella Grangard '16, MEM Th'17

Gabriella Grangard

"I've had the best female mentors who've helped me choose classes and find internships, assisted me with projects, and think about my future plans. I have chosen to continue to do the same and mentor many of my friends who are underclassmen. My sorority also has a group just for engineers and it's been awesome to have a completely open forum where we can all discuss our projects, support each other's presentations, or ask for advice. Regardless of gender, the Class of 2016 has been challenged to think critically. We are constantly pushing each other to be the best, but at the same time, a huge part of Thayer and being an engineer is collaboration."

On PopFlow…

"My capstone project, with Scott Mitchell Th'16, (Cook Engineering Design Center Fellow) Waad Kahouli Th'16, and Chris Dalldorf '16, sponsored by Dartmouth-Hitchcock pediatric neurosurgeon David Bauer, was a valve system that alerts a physician, patient, or caregiver when a shunt fails. The current treatment for hydrocephalus — a buildup of fluid in the brain — is a shunt system that drains excess fluid from the brain into the abdomen, where it can be absorbed. The problem is that these shunts fail, as often as 40 percent in the first six months, and there is no symptom or sign to let you know, other than a headache, nausea, or a baby crying. This can lead to problems such as a coma, blindness, or even death. Many of the patients can't talk yet because they are young, or due to mental illness. PopFlow solves this problem by signaling when the shunt fails. We have filed for a patent, have started a company with our sponsor, are continuing work on the device, and are looking forward to more benchtop testing, hopefully on animal models. As for the future, this summer I'm working at a medical device company in the Bay area and will enter Thayer's Master of Engineering Management program in the fall, with an expected graduation date of June '17."

Tags: career, leadership, students

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