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

Just One Question: Have you been involved in the arts?

I started Dartmouth in September 1940 in the class of 1944, and made it to December 1942. I had enlisted in June 1942 in a program that protected me from the draft as long as I stayed in college, but in December 1942 I left for Washington, D.C., and the Office of Strategic Services. Between those dates I devoted my efforts to the Dartmouth Players as part of the stage crew, particularly electrical. I recall a production of Heaven Can Wait where I was stage manager. I had always been annoyed by errors in the program, and made a $5 bet that there would be no mistakes. The student who bet with me tried to win on the theory that I had not listed the dog in the cast. But the dog was given credit elsewhere, so I won. This apparently made an impression on the membership, and they elected me president. Unhappily, I left before I could serve. It’s fair to say that life in Hanover was a bit confused at that point.

Another seminal event, at least for me, occurred when Paul Robeson gave a concert in Webster Hall and I was the stage manager. Mr. Robeson knew exactly what he wanted, and I was apparently able to rise to the occasion. I remember him as courteous and charming to the weedy sophomore he was dealing with.

After the war, living in a New York suburb with a wife and three kids, I took up the French horn. For the next several decades I enjoyed playing in community orchestras, summer concert bands, Christmas programs, and chamber groups. You can play almost anywhere with a French horn, which was one of the reasons I chose it. Eventually, business pressures closed in on me and I had to give it up, with great regret.
—Tom Streeter ’44 Tu’48 Th’48

Binary Arithmetic
The decimal system is based on “10”
Its origin’s not in doubt.
Just count the number of your toes
That’s how the “10” came about.

We share our limb number with monkeys and chimps
Close DNA explains all we need.
Other species count four, six, or eight
And of course, there’s the millipede.

Learning decimal math involves
Distinguishing 10 different shapes.
A difficult task, to say the least
No thanks to the primates and apes.

Ten-toed creatures have lived here on earth
For eons and eons of years.
So our decimal system’s been around for a while
But not by itself, it appears!

We claim we originated our system of “two”
To simplify computer design,
For it’s simpler to recognize “on” versus “off”
Than the symbols “zero” through “nine.”

Had we but paid attention to the two-toed sloth
Rote learning our “10s” wouldn’t last.
We’d be used to a totally binary world
Making decimals a thing of the past.
—Ace Taylor ’54 Th’55

Between my senior year at Dartmouth and my last year at Thayer I attended the Art Center College of Design. Today, the main campus is in the Pasadena, Calif., hills, and “the main building is a dramatic postmodern steel-and-glass bridge structure spanning an arroyo in the San Rafael Hills, just above the Rose Bowl,” to quote from the school’s website. It’s a spectacular site, but in my day the campus was in downtown Los Angeles. At the time, I was considering a career in industrial design, and the Art Center had a fabulous reputation. It is best known for its automobile design program, but it also has outstanding photography, product design, packaging, graphic design, fine art, illustration, advertising design, film, and environmental design programs. I loved it there. After four years at Dartmouth focusing on math, science, and engineering, working at the Art Center was liberating and a nice break from engineering school. The experience certainly changed how I thought about engineering design—and inspired me to work for engineering designs that were beautiful as well as functional. Architect Louis Sullivan said, “Form follows function.” (Actually, he really said, “Form ever follows function,” but that’s been shortened to the more recognized phrase.) In industrial design, a particularly effective design will not only be beautiful to have and to hold, but also will call attention to how it is to be used. There are lots of good examples in kitchen gadgets, everything from corkscrews to garlic presses. Sadly, I can’t claim to have designed anything particularly beautiful myself. For most of my career I worked at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, a University of California research center in northern California. We built prototypes of a wide variety of hardware. For example, at the lab I was involved in helping to manage our work on high-power lasers, which I think are quite beautiful. I did not design those lasers myself; nevertheless, throughout my career, I was inspired by my experience at the Art Center to work for engineering designs that were beautiful.
—Philip Coyle III ’56 Th’57

From 1980 to 1995 our daughter Susan and our son Bob were involved in three local community theaters. Susan was an actress and Bob was a technician with a specialty in lighting and pyrotechnics. As parents, we supported their activities, driving to auditions, rehearsals, and performances, and attending them. From mid 1985 to about 1995, I was on the board of directors of the Indianapolis Civic Theatre, our largest community theater and one in which both our children were involved. Susan was also a charter member of the Indianapolis Children’s Choir, founded in 1986 and now one of the largest such choirs in the country. We were parent volunteers: I went on the choir board of directors in 1988, served as president of the board from 1989 to 1996, and have continued as a board member and served as assistant treasurer since 1996. From 1963 to the mid 1970s, I helped as a fundraiser for the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. For the last several years, we have been active financial contributors to these organizations as well as the Interlochen (Mich.) Arts Academy.
—Bill Batt ’60 Tu’61 Th’61

My most recent artistic activity was to perform the Brahms Requiem baritone solos last May with the Sangre de Cristo Chorale in Santa Fe, N.M., where I live. I have through the years had numerous opportunities to perform this work, in both English and German (this performance happened to be in English), but my most challenging performances of this work took place in February of 1987. Due to a scheduling problem brought about by a large snowfall in Los Alamos, I performed the solos in German with the Pacific Mozart Ensemble in San Francisco on a Saturday evening, flew the next day to Albuquerque, drove to Los Alamos, and did the solos in English with the Los Alamos Choral Society.
—Loren “Jake” Jacobson ’60 Th’61

I’ve been involved in the arts since I moved to Washington State. I was a member of the board and president of the Mid-Columbia Symphony in the 1980s. My wife and I have collected visual art, and we have been loaning some of it to local organizations to show. My engineering contributed to that effort when it was time to hang it on walls.
—Jerry Greenfield ’61 Tu’65 Th’62

From 2006 to 2012, I managed the Waste Not Center (WNC), which accepted donated materials and supplies from businesses and residents in Columbus, Ohio, that were redeployed as arts and crafts supplies used by teachers and artists. The nonprofit was started by the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio in 1989 and I took over in 2006. On an average day, the center will host 40 to 50 clients who collectively select about 2,500 pounds of materials and supplies for which they pay nothing other than the small annual membership fee. Member clients estimate the collective value of what they obtain at the center each week is about $4,500 based on what the items and supplies would cost if they were purchased commercially. The WNC accomplishes the dual objectives of enabling teachers to obtain materials for their work that would otherwise be unaffordable and reducing the burden on local solid waste disposal systems. It is in recognition of this dual objective that we adopted the tagline “Unleashing Creativity Through Recycling.”

There are many success stories, including the solution we found to a monthly donation of about 200 ladies shoes—right shoes only!—from a local photographer after he photographs them for manufacturers. Many members have found creative uses for the shoes. The most creative: A local elementary schoolteacher was taking a creative writing class last summer along with other local teachers. One of her assignments was to develop a writing lesson and deliver it to her classmates as if they were her elementary students. When she saw the shoes she had an inspiration: She took a variety of shoes, gave one to each classmate, and asked each to write about the person who would wear the shoe.

Business skills, entrepreneurial interests, and an appreciation for sustainability developed at Thayer and Dartmouth were instrumental in preparing me for this endeavor.
—Neil Drobny ’62 Th’64

If engineering sciences was my major, then the theater was my minor at Dartmouth. I was actively involved as a technician in the Players all of my years at Dartmouth. I spent two summers as master electrician at the Dartmouth Repertory Theater. I took courses in theater lighting design and theater technology (they appear on transcripts as English 84).

While figuring out what to do for my B.E. project, Professor Laaspere suggested that I talk to the new professor in the music department who wanted to upgrade and improve the primitive electronic music studio. That professor was Jon Appleton, who ended up being at Dartmouth for 40 years. The design of the electronic music studio became my project. My research included a trip to Trumansburg, N.Y., to visit Moog Music and another trip with Jon Appleton to N.Y.C., where we visited Milton Babbitt at Columbia’s electronic music studio (and saw this incredible movie, 2001).
—Bill Judd ’67 Th’68

Richard Livingston ’68 Th’69 was the coeditor of Jack-O-Lantern.

I was coeditor of the Jack-O-Lantern humor newspaper from 1967 to 1968. The accomplishment of which I am proudest was a Shakespearean tragedy about Winter Carnival that was based on a mixer fiasco that Robert Reich ’68 organized freshman year. I also wrote a Field & Stream-style article about Dean Thaddeus Seymour hunting down the last Dartmouth animal. After graduation I did not write any more fiction, unless you count numerous government documents.

I was a dual major. My other major was medieval history, which led to an interest in Gothic cathedral architecture. I am now an adjunct professor of materials science at the University of Maryland. Through the years I have worked on the conservation of a number of architectural monuments, including Cologne Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, and the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Buildings from other periods that I have worked on include the Parthenon in Athens, the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Colonial Williamsburg, and the Alexander Hamilton Custom House in New York City.

My work involved mostly determining the cause of damage to the monuments, particularly from air pollution and soluble salts. I also have developed some nondestructive test methods. This helps the conservators determine the best treatment method. I have also worked on the materials science of historic brick and mortar to understand how they were made in order to predict durability. I have worked on some structural problems (including writing a paper that concerned cracking of some stone pinnacles at the National Cathedral). I also wrote for the Federal Highway Administration’s Public Roads magazine to try to explain how research in the materials science of conservation can be applied to highways.

The interdisciplinary approach of my Thayer School education was critical to all of this. The field of materials science combines aspects of civil engineering, mechanical engineering, chemistry, materials science, and nuclear engineering. In most conventional engineering schools, one becomes stovepiped in a single discipline. Also, Thayer School’s emphasis on a liberal arts education made it easier for me to take a lot of history courses.
—Richard Livingston ’68 Th’69

I became a black-and-white darkroom landscape photographer for several years after I quit being a lawyer. I did that for about three years until my husband was diagnosed with cancer, at which point I devoted myself to his care. Because he assisted during my photo travels, helping to carry tripods and extra lenses and such, I chose not to return to landscape photography when he died in 2006.
—Drea (Papp) Thorn ’82

Is writing considered an art? That’s what I do for a living. It really could not have worked out better. My beat at the Philadelphia Inquirer is science, and also to some extent medicine, so it is helpful that I am familiar with basic concepts of physics, chemistry, and mathematics—realms that are somewhat foreign to more than a few journalists!

I like to think of myself as a bridge between scientists and our audience. My Thayer education (along with my experience working at The Daily D) helped prepare me for writing about technical subjects in a way that is accessible without sacrificing any accuracy. While I was struggling through thermodynamics with Professor Horst Richter, I went to him for some career advice. I did not see myself as someone who would practice engineering for a living, so he clairvoyantly suggested that I might enjoy technical writing. I never did go into technical writing per se, but certainly I write about technical things for a lay audience, so he was right on target. A piece I wrote in November about new research on Parkinson’s disease is an example of the kind of writing I hope accomplishes that goal.

Because of my engineering background, I also try to write about engineers whenever possible. They are a valuable pillar of society that does not always get its due.
—Tom Avril ’89

Laura Iwan ’93 Th’94 plays trumpet
Laura Iwan ’93 Th’94 plays trumpet a few times a week. Photograph courtesy of Laura Iwan.

My involvement in music started as a youngster, when I used to sit under the grand piano while my father played Scott Joplin rags. I went on to learn piano and trumpet, and I was thrilled to continue trumpeting at Dartmouth in the Barbary Coast Jazz Ensemble, the orchestra, and various other groups. Now, almost 20 years after Dartmouth, I still play trumpet at least a few times a week with various ensembles, including a Swiss/German “village music” band. Although my music and engineering experience have not directly influenced each other, they have been integral and intertwined parts of my life. While racing with Dartmouth’s solar car in the Swiss Tour de Sol, I took my trumpet along and sat in with a jazz combo in a Zürich restaurant and played reveille to rouse the solar race participants camping by the Bodensee. In Hanover I was late to an orchestra rehearsal because my B.E. group had just gotten our electric pickup truck (dubbed “Electruck”) running for the first time and I felt compelled to take a victory lap around the Green. While on a business trip to Germany to commission hydrogen-powered fuel cell transit buses, I trumpeted the Canadian national anthem atop a bus roof to commemorate Canada Day (my company’s fuel cells were installed on the bus roof, so we regularly worked up there).
—Laura Iwan ’93 Th’94

Susan Ettinger Burkhart performs in a duo called Stumble Fox
STAGE PRESENCE: Susan Ettinger Burkhart ’96 Th’97 performs in a duo called Stumble Fox. Photograph courtesy of Susan Ettinger Burkhart.

When I was a student at Dartmouth, I took advantage of individual guitar instruction through the music department, but it wasn’t until I took a break in my technology career to have children that I started to devote more time to music. Since graduation, I have been involved in several musical projects as a guitarist. My current project is called Stumble Fox. We are a female duo and have been performing around the Tampa Bay, Fla., area for the past year. We are currently working on writing and recording original music. Our sites are and Prior to that I was in an all-female alternative rock/pop band called Kore.

I feel that music taps into the same part of my brain that math and logic do—in a way that’s hard to articulate. There is something scientific about rhythm and harmony and the way that different instruments work together. On a practical level, my engineering background comes in handy when diving into the details of figuring out how to use technology (sound equipment, effects pedals, editing software, etc.) and discovering how to put things together to get a sound that you want.
—Susan Ettinger Burkhart ’96 Th’97

Most of my artistic endeavors were prior to college, when I attended School of the Arts in Rochester, N.Y., as a musical theater major for grades seven to 12. While I loved it, I knew I wanted a more stable career and went into engineering. I did perform in A Chorus Line my freshman year in college, but then it was many years before I had the opportunity to express my artistic side again. After Thayer for grad school, I was married and had my son Elliott, who showed his ear for rhythm and music at only 1 year old. At 4, he started drum lessons and now, at 8 1/2, he is a fantastic player. He and I formed a band called Lightning, and have given two fundraising concerts, one in 2011 and one in 2012. He played the drums and I played the piano, and we raised money for the American Heart Association and Children’s Hospital Boston. (Elliott had a heart defect when he was born and had open-heart surgery at 6 weeks old.) It has been great to see my musical interest come through in my son. He has even tried his hand at musical theater camp these past two summers. Now, as a human relations director at Allegro MicroSystems in Manchester, N.H., hiring many engineers, I love to see an interest in the arts come through in engineers’ resumes.
—Mandy Kraus Frank Th’99

After graduating from Thayer I started doing some acting. I have done a few commercials—for Sundrop soda, Miami Children’s Hospital, and INDY RaceCar—and I was also on the USA TV series Burn Notice for one episode as well as in many independent films and theater productions.

Lincoln Potwin appeared in the title role in the independent film Killswitch Billy
ACTOR: Lincoln Potwin Th’06 appeared in the title role in the independent film “Killswitch Billy“. Photograph courtesy of Lincoln Potwin.

It was engineering that inspired me to try acting. During my undergraduate studies at Wentworth Institute of Technology, our professors required that we present our projects to our class every month. This “rehearsal” helped me hone my skills as a presenter, which in turn helped me to win the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Old Guard Presentation Competition (Northeast Region) and go on to win fourth place at the National Competition held in California. I feel that acting was a natural progression that stemmed from these experiences. I believe that my engineering background greatly influences my acting because I was trained as an engineer to focus on the details. This becomes very important when creating a character. As in research and engineering, every detail about my character is first proposed, then researched and tested during the rehearsal process, and finally accepted or rejected, sometimes by myself and sometimes by the director.
—Lincoln Potwin Th’06

I’m on the U.S. biathlon team and training full time for biathlon in Craftsbury, Vt. But I need something to do in my off time when I am traveling and stuck in hotel rooms, so I’ve been doing a lot of painting. I am trying to sell my paintings to help support my racing. I have an art blog,, which includes a recent painting I did called Windmills. I’ve been watching all summer as more and more windmills slowly appear on the horizon. Everything else aside, I think that they’re beautiful—like big, functional kinetic sculptures. Our landscape in Vermont has been shaped so much by humans already—the fields, barns, stone walls, rows of corn. Many parts of this human-created landscape are what make Vermont beautiful. And they also serve(d) a function. Plus, the world needs more windmills and fewer oil wells.

I did a modified major with studio art, mainly because I love art and I found that it was a great way to balance my brain between engineering problem sets. I also think that there is a lot of room for engineering and art to combine and basically be the same thing—instead of just complementing one another. So I think I’ll try to do something like that when I am done with my biathlon career.
—Hannah Dreissigacker ’09 Th’10

Windmills painting
“Windmills” by Hannah Dreissigacker ’09 Th’10.

I started pursuing digital photography while at Dartmouth/Thayer School and greatly benefited from photographer Doug Fraser’s experience. I started by documenting skiing and biking adventures with friends. Since graduating I have moved to Utah and enjoy photographing the hugely varied landscape here (as well as continuing to document my skiing and biking adventures). Just recently I’ve started to have some success selling prints! See some of my images at
Tom Collier ’11

Digital photograph by Tom Collier ’11.

I used to paint a lot before starting my Ph.D., and I did paint once while I was at Thayer. I painted the Connecticut River and the train bridge viewed from the bridge between Hanover and Norwich. This particular painting was a result of a two-day break from a period of intensive and exhausting work on my research project in summer 2010. Sitting on the Ledyard Bridge and watching the Connecticut River with the train bridge on the back, I was inspired to start it! I believe engineering has influenced my artistic approach. In fact, I find my creative endeavor more consistent since starting to study engineering at Thayer.
—Amir Golnabi Th’11

Connecticut River painting
“Connecticut River” by Amir Golnabi Th’11.

For more photos, visit our Alumni Networks collection on Flickr.

Categories: Alumni News, Just One Question

Tags: alumni, arts, design

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