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

Investiture: Class of 2016

Robert Fletcher Award recipient Arati Prabhakar
Robert Fletcher Award recipient Arati Prabhakar. Photograph by Mark Washburn.

At the June 11 Investiture ceremony, Dean Joseph J. Helble announced the shattering of a national glass ceiling—gender parity in engineering—with the graduating class of engineering majors consisting of more than 50 percent women.

“To my knowledge this is the first time, ever, in this country’s history, that a major research university has graduated an engineering class that has achieved gender parity—and I think this milestone speaks volumes about the culture and community that you, our students, have created, a culture that our faculty and staff have supported, a culture that says that a diversity of thought and perspective and background is not only welcomed but required,” Helble said.  

Helble also announced that Thayer’s largest undergraduate class ever—a final tally of 117 majors—would receive degrees the next day along with 143 BE and graduate students.

Arati Prabhakar, director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, received Thayer’s Robert Fletcher Award in recognition of distinguished achievement and service in the highest tradition of the school. Addressing the audience, she asked graduates to consider the choices they will confront as humans and technologies become increasingly interbound.

“I work in the Defense Department, where we grapple with whether and when to grant certain degrees of autonomy to weapons systems, like missile-defense systems that have to respond instantly if they are to protect the lives of hundreds of sailors on a ship. But that’s not the only arena where we engineers need to think through how we grant crucial decision-making powers to machines. Think about self-driving cars, which I suspect will be cruising our streets before long. They too will sometimes have to make extremely difficult, life-or-death choices instantaneously.

“How will you assess what machine intelligence can and can’t do and when to trust it? How will you decide how much power to delegate to a machine, as we and our machines become increasingly intertwined?”

“Nothing is more rewarding,” she said, “than wading into the sublimely rich intersection of technology and humanity, shaping its contours and dimensions, and bringing to that process the very best instincts we each can offer about how to make the world better and stronger, more technically empowered, and at the same time more beautiful and more simply human than ever.”

In his remarks, Helble asked students to resist the urge to always be on their smartphones or laptops. Admitting that he’s not immune, he said, “I have felt the gravitational pull of my iPhone. I have taken it out of my pocket at a meeting. Put it on the table. Taken it back and put it in my pocket again. Taken it out.

“Remember Newtonian physics that says there’s a 1/r2 scaling dependence of force on distance? It’s a lie. Clearly, the force of gravitational attraction for that device is much, much greater,” he said.

“But, our graduates,” he said, “I’m asking you to think about what it means to step away from your devices even briefly and be present in the moment and about when you are, how much you can not only see, but observe, interpret, understand, do what it is that society needs us, as engineers, to do.

“That is how you spent your time here. That’s how you did the work that led to incredible accomplishments, from a nicotine monitoring device, to a smartphone tool for the local bus system, to a cerebral shunt to improve treatment of hydrocephalus, to a medical device that uniformly applies minced skin to the wounds of burn victims, to analyzing emerging technologies in haptic surgical robotics, in desalination, in clean-burning power-generating portable stoves.

“This is how you accomplished what you accomplished. You presented, you published, you filed for 17 unique patents, you founded two companies, you started a nonprofit organization.”

And he added, “What I hope you’ll take away from here is that this is what you are capable of doing when you look up, when you fully engage with the people around you, with your community, and with the world.”

Conferring of hoods and awards
Photograph by Mark Washburn.

Class of 2016 Engineering Graduates

Doctor of Philosophy: 14
Master of Science: 8
Master of Engineerimg: 1
Master of Engineering Management: 37
Bachelor of Engineering: 83
Bachelor of Arts in Engineering Sciences: 117


View Investiture photos and videos.

Read full speeches.

Categories: The Great Hall, Investiture

Tags: award, leadership, students

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