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

Just One Question: What Was Your Greatest Experience at Thayer?

My greatest experience, strangely enough, was testing the compressive strength of concrete in the big machine on a cylinder of concrete that I had mixed. In a beautiful conical fracture, it failed in shear! I have thought of this many times and used it to show beginners the wonders of stress analysis, which I have practiced for 73 years. On a personal note, I remember all the happy comrades-in-arms times with Nate Ward ’43 Th’43, Bill Knoff ’42 Th’43, “Black Jim” O’Mara ’42 Th’43, and all the rest. Much later in life this aeronautical and electronics engineer, practicing civil yet, looked to our favorite professor, Brownie [Ed Brown]—then boss of the Hanover Water Co.—for critiques on getting a practically vertical tail-pipe, sucking a nearly horizontal lake drain, to pull its full head with its discharge end submerged in a catch basin without having been purged of its air first. “Unlikely,” was the prognosis. But after rumbling and belching for a couple of minutes, it ran right on the numbers for a full pipe! (This was to keep a lake level in a severe rainstorm and prevent it from flooding newly built PGA golf greens worth $70,000 apiece.)
—Tom Harriman ’42 Th’43

Ed Brown
“Our favorite professor, Brownie [Ed Brown].”—Tom Harriman ’42 Th’43. Thayer School Archives.

We were detailing a steel truss bridge—ink on velum—in one of the structures class labs, showing each rivet head. Professor John Minnich ’29 looked over my shoulder and gave me the finest piece of advice I have ever received: “Johnston, don’t ever try to make your living on a drawing board.” And I never did—not one line, ink or otherwise! At a reunion many years later, I reminded John of that one, and thanked him heartily as we both enjoyed a good laugh.
—Hal Johnston ’47

It was the teaching fellowship granted me by Dean Bill Kimball, which involved spreading my graduate year across two years while I put in time conducting lab sessions and correcting students’ papers. This provided a special education for me, and getting to know that marvelous group—the Thayer School faculty—through faculty meetings and other contacts, was a great experience.
—Foxy Parker ’48 Th’49

My greatest memory at Thayer was George Taylor, who taught “Engineering Law” and what we used to call time and motion study. Great man.
—Prentiss Carnell ’56 Tu’57 Th’57

I did my master’s thesis on the properties of a multi-stage amplifier, using, of course, vacuum tubes. Each early evening I would get it tuned, connect instrumentation, and begin my testing. Suddenly, all instruments would go off scale. I would re-tune everything and again begin testing, when suddenly the instruments would go back to almost zero. After some very frustrating times and getting nowhere on my thesis, I called up to our graduate assistant. He said he would be down to see me shortly, after he completed his call to a buddy in Africa and turned off his short-wave radio. And then I knew the source of all my problems! I got a C+ on my thesis, a charitable grade considering the limited value of my work.
—Porter Kier ’56 Th’57

When I was in my graduate program as a Tuck-Thayer student I had an idea that I might improve the efficiency of jet engines. I took the idea to thermodynamics Professor Jim Browning to see what he thought of it. His first response was something like, “Well, that won’t work because…,” followed by a long pause, then, “let’s take a closer look.” Finally he acknowledged that he was not sure my idea wouldn’t work and that it was deserving of further study. Ultimately, he suggested I take it on as a project, for one hour credit, and he would be my tutor, if we could get the dean to agree. Fortunately, the dean agreed and I benefited greatly from my many hours of one-on-one discussions with one of the great thermodynamics minds of the time. Professor Browning would review my progress, suggest areas for future examination, and critique my thought processes. Our conversations often would go well beyond the project itself, and they contributed immeasurably not only to my specific education in jet engine cycle analysis but to engineering problem-solving in general. As a consequence of our work together, Jim eventually offered me a job helping him develop the world’s first plasma jet cutting tool while I was still a student. The Upper Valley remains a central player in the entire plasma jet industry.
—Emerson Houck ’56 Tu’58 Th’58

My greatest experience was a class in contract law taught by George A. Taylor. He started out on the first day by saying he did not care whether we learned much contract law. The important thing was the process of problem solving, and the approach worked for law cases as well as engineering problems and life in general. He wrote down on one small blackboard what he wanted us to get out of the course, and said if we learned to apply those principles, he and we, as students, had done our job. He told us to spend all of our time identifying the critical issue on which everything hinges. He said this is the hardest part, because there is a lot of chaff. Once we had defined that, he said, we were to list the facts that relate to that critical issue and then list the laws (legal or engineering) that apply to those facts and the issue. Meld those facts against the laws (rules), and we would come out with an answer. I have used that approach for problems ever since.
—Bob Woolman ’57 Th’58

William Kimball
Dean William Kimball in 1955. Thayer School Archives.

I was just starting my crossover year in Thayer’s 3-2 program when the former Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1 on October 4, 1957. Thayer’s Professor Huntington Woodman Curtis was asked by Air Force Cambridge Research Center (AFCRC) to be a part of a hastily constructed tracking network to track Soviet earth satellites. There would be three network stations in New England: the AFCRC itself, the University of New Hampshire, and Thayer School. Hunt Curtis was a scientist, an engineer, a radio amateur, a former Army Signal corpsman, an enthusiastic and inspiring teacher, and certainly a man of action and initiative. He agreed immediately, with approval from Dean Bill Kimball and the College. The objective was to determine the exact times of the satellite’s closest approach to each of these three listening stations in order to refine the AFCRC’s information on the satellite’s orbital characteristics. The elegant engineering solution was to determine those times by observing and analyzing the Doppler shift in carrier frequency as the satellite moved past each station. All the equipment had to be existing lab apparatus, configured to perform this never-before-accomplished task. Professor Curtis asked me to become a research assistant and help him build Thayer’s station and put it in operation as quickly as possible. The deal included a salary and an agreement to complete my final year at Thayer during the two-year span of the assistantship. I saw electrical engineering fundamentals being put to work on a very important Cold War project as I operated the listening station, eventually tracking a variety of U.S. and Soviet satellites, all on different frequencies and all with different orbital characteristics. The resulting experience was a completely unexpected, valuable, and much-appreciated part of my education at Thayer.
—Frederick Hart Jr. ’58 Th’60

George Taylor was a professor of industrial engineering. He taught us time and motion, more than we ever wanted to know about therbligs, etc. His mantra was, “There’s always a better way.” My classmates and I laughed about it among ourselves, but it stuck with me and informed my approach throughout my career and my life outside of work. It has to do with never being entirely satisfied with the status quo—being alert to opportunities to improve both personally and professionally. I never used a therblig, but I always remembered to look optimistically for a better way, thanks to Professor Taylor.
—Ray Becker ’59 Tu’60 Th’60

It was peaceful. And it was an important time in my life to be surrounded by peaceful things.
—Arthur Pritchard ’60 Tu’61 Th’61

Professor Robert Dean
Professor Robert Dean in 1992. Thayer School Archives.

Two experiences at Thayer made major differences in my life. The first was my introduction to computers in my senior year. We had access to a Royal McBee LGP-30. Our programming was terribly tedious; we had to keep track of every location used by either our program or any piece of data. We used a punched paper tape to program the computer, which meant that if we found an error, we had to recreate the entire tape. When we later used punched cards to program other computers, we were elated to be able to make corrections by simply replacing, adding, or removing a card. This early exposure to computers provided a lifelong interest in computers. The second experience was becoming Professor Bob Dean’s graduate assistant and project engineer in the plasma lab, where we studied anode behavior in arc jets. That opportunity provided a way to create technical papers as well as develop familiarity through the use of many research tools. The responsibility that I was given gave me the confidence for many later endeavors. In addition, Professor Dean’s mentoring gave me the impetus to pursue a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering at Stanford, a path that I would not have taken otherwise. I was fortunate to spend about 10 years in the aerospace industry with NASA and McDonnell Douglas; 10 years in snack food engineering, manufacturing, and research with Frito-Lay; three years in food equipment manufacturing back in Iowa, where both my wife and I had grown up; five and a half years in the printing business in Minnesota; and two years in consumer capital good with Sunbeam Outdoor products. Each of these industries gave me a challenge of learning new technologies and in each change I was able to use some of my engineering talents and experience as a bridge. In all of these transitions, the Thayer School and Stanford experiences provided me with the interest and ability to understand new technologies and make a contribution.
—Harris McKee ’61 Th’63

Dean Myron Tribus
“Dean Myron Tribus. He pioneered the statistics of thermodynamics, probably the hardest course I took at Dartmouth.”—Don Jansky ’62 Th’63. Thayer School Archives.

Dean Myron Tribus. He pioneered the statistics of thermodynamics, probably the hardest course I took at Dartmouth. A very dynamic man. Shook things up. Came to Washington, D.C., and did the same thing. Worked with John Kemeny, who was president at the time, to create the math center. Dartmouth needs more like those two.
—Don Jansky ’62 Th’63

Learning and engineering with electricity. That got me my first job engineering new TV sets for RCA in Indianapolis and then two years later moving onto Cummins Engines in Columbus, Ind., and being an application engineer for diesel engineering applications. It was all a great adventure and great fun. Most importantly, it instilled in me the engineering problem-solving method, which has been my go-to process for every problem in my career and life.
—Sandy Duncan ’63

My greatest experience at Thayer School was the ES 21: Introduction to Engineering course I took with 10 other students in fall 1963. Our advisor professor was Paul Shannon and we had to come up with a product to help people who had brackish water get good water at a reasonable cost. We decided to use a brand-new technology, reverse osmosis, invented by Dr. S. Sourirajan in 1959. We came up with a system to provide five gallons of de-mineralized water to a homeowner each day. We did this in the 10 weeks of the course. All 11 students were actively involved and helped in the planning and production. Then we presented our prototype to the judges in early December 1963. I believe there were five groups of students—or “companies”—and the competition was fierce but friendly. I still have my lab notebook used to take minutes of our weekly meetings and the various technical ideas, “inventions,” we worked on. We contacted outside companies by phone and learned a lot about how to interface with design engineers and sales and application engineers. This experience helped us recognize the importance of the courses we would take in the future, which gave us the tools to design and manufacture new products. Many of us ran businesses after graduating from Thayer. In 1969 I started Osmonics Inc. in Minnetonka, Minn., and built it to $210 million sales listed on the New York Stock Exchange and 1,500 employees when, in 2003, General Electric bought it to be their water equipment platform. At the time we were the most vertically integrated reverse osmosis and filtration company in the world.
—Dean Spatz ’66 Th’67

The last term of my fifth year, a friend and I took a two-person seminar from Professor Paul Queneau, a “grand old man” of metals smelting, refining, etc. The class was quite intense and we worked hard at it, but were rewarded when Paul arranged a first-class tour of International Nickel’s huge Sudbury, Ontario, complex. A great teacher and a great learning experience.
—Mike Onderick ’73 Th’74

Professor Paul Queneau
Professor Paul Queneau in 1997. Thayer School Archives.

Getting to know Fred Schleipman, who ran the machine shop, hearing his stories about building helicopters for the WW II war effort, making a Stirling-cycle engine for my thermodynamics class, and using the milling machine to make moulding for a grandmother clock I designed and built for my parents as a graduation present.
—Peter Mills ’77

Fred Schleipman
“Getting to know Fred Schleipman, who ran the machine shop, hearing his stories about building helicopters for WW II.”—Peter Mills ’77. Photograph courtesy of Fred Schleipman.

My greatest experience at Thayer was taking ES 21 during my sophomore fall quarter in 1977. It got me hooked on engineering, and more important, it introduced me to one of the most amazing people it has been my privilege to know: Fred Schleipman of the Thayer machine shop—master machinist, gentle genius, wise and encouraging mentor. He continues to inspire and encourage me!
—Alison Andrews Vogel ’80

The one that stood out most was the original solar car project. Looking back after more than a quarter century of a professional engineering career that’s had me in the thick of several startup companies (one of which went public, one of which was acquired, two of which imploded spectacularly, and one of which I’m still working at), I’m struck by how many similarities there were between that original adventure, where Dartmouth and Thayer School went to the races for the first time, and a few young companies I could name. They all started with a great idea, high hopes, enthusiasm, a blank sheet of paper, a staggering amount of naivety, and an overall management structure completely incapable of running the effort coherently. That’s what startups are all about, and in a microcosmic sense, Thayer’s first effort ever to get to the Tour de Sol was no different. In the end, the car itself was disqualified due to mechanical failure quite early in the race. With two and a half decades of being a practicing engineer, I can clearly spot the two critical flaws in the design of that drive system, into which I’d poured my heart and soul. And I can say with confidence: If you gave me about a month today, I could put the whole thing back on the road in perfect order, never to have another hiccup.

All things considered, it probably matters a whole lot less whether the 1988 Solarmobile won the Tour de Sol as where the people who built it ended up later. And herein lies the virtue of being able to say with a clear conscience that, ultimately, it wasn’t exactly a startup venture to make investors money as much as it was an educational proving ground for the people involved. In that the Solarmobile succeeded far beyond anybody’s wildest hopes.
—Eric Overton ’87 Th’89

“1988 Solarmobile. It wasn’t exactly a startup venture to make investors money as much as it was an educational proving ground for the people involved.”—Eric Overton ’87 Th’89. Thayer School Archives.

I only spent one year at Dartmouth after graduating from Smith College to pursue my B.E. at Thayer back in 1989. I was not very familiar with the Apple network on campus, so my computing experience was limited to accessing the campus-wide Unix network via VT100 terminals, and I remember connecting my own terminal to the network from my off-campus apartment. I was taking a course in numerical analysis taught by math Professor Thomas Kurtz, whose assignments were based on programs installed on the Apple computers. I should have figured out how to use the Apple computers and programs to answer the homework assignments like everyone else, but I didn’t. Instead, I programmed most of the algorithms in C on Unix. A great experience that comes to mind is the handful of after-class teacher sessions with Professor Kurtz, who took the time out of his busy schedule to help me debug my code. The kindness extended by Professor Kurtz is worth mentioning and I am grateful.
—Merilyn Chesler Th’89

Professor Horst Richter
Professor Horst Richter. Photograph by Douglas Fraser.

My greatest experience at Thayer was Professor Horst Richter. I had a non-traditional college experience, as I joined the U.S. Army after high school. I started Dartmouth and then Thayer already married and expecting my first child. I was asked by the registrar: “I don’t know how you got into this school, and I don’t think you will succeed, but what do you want to do?” I told her, “Engineering.”

Horst Richter gave me some nuggets that I have always carried with me: “If you always want a job, work in the energy industry.” I have worked in the oil field my entire professional career, and am now the director of engineering research and development at Noble Drilling Services Inc. in Sugar Land, Tex. I have always had a job and have never been in fear of not having one.

He also asked: “What is conserved?” There have been countless times that I thought of this quote in my career. It has always guided me to think about things from that light. It works for many areas, even outside technical engineering.

I think of Professor Richter often.
—Dave Dartford ’91 Th’92

I had a very special experience during my B.E. year at Thayer. In the spring of 1992, Professor Kennedy helped me set up an exchange program at the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT). Located just outside of Bangkok, AIT is an engineering graduate school that attracts students from all over Asia. I believe I was the only American at the school and one of only a handful of Westerners there. My three professors were British, Japanese, and Thai. My friends were from Japan, Vietnam, Bangladesh, and Thailand. It was an incredibly rich cultural experience that I will never forget. I am thankful that the Thayer curriculum was flexible enough to give me that opportunity.
—Jim Meneely ’91 Th’92

I had a lot of great experiences in the halls of Thayer, but none better than ENGS 21: Introduction to Engineering. At the time it was the first class in the engineering major, and I had no idea what to expect on the first day of class. The open format of the class was amazing: We were challenged to find a problem and build a solution—as simple as that. We had no formal engineering training so we had to use whatever we knew to build something as best as we could and compete against the rest of the class, which was doing the same. What my team achieved in that class, and the resourcefulness we found along the way, have always stayed with me and motivate me even today.
—Sean Byrnes ’00

ENGS 21. Great class.
—Sujan Patel ’01

I think it has to be my first and last team project at Thayer. My project was co-co-co-co-co-co-captaining (there were six of us) the Dartmouth Formula Racing team. It was a thrill to be building something from scratch with a real-world deadline. We traveled to Michigan and to the United Kingdom to race the car. Traveling with friends and classmates and rallying around a common mission was a gift, challenge, and a lot of goofy fun. My other great experience was in 2000, when I took ENGS 21—the classic course that every engineer talks about. It was my initiation into the human-centered design process, iterative design, and fantastic team collaboration with Julie (Kowalsky) Bradley ’03, Bill Shields ’03, and Aaron Goss ’03 Th’04. And now, 14 years later, I continue to strengthen my muscles in the design process through the host of projects on my plate at IDEO.
—Brian Mason ’03 Th’05

My greatest experience occurred after I graduated (for the third time) in 2005. My master’s thesis had been the design and control of a multi-panel solar power system for an autonomous rover. The rover, called Cool Robot, was designed for fieldwork in Antarctica. In the summer of 2005, one month after graduation and two weeks after getting married, I (along with Dr. Jim Lever from CRREL) took the rover to Greenland for field trials. We were stationed at Summit Camp, a small scientific outpost near the geographic center of the icecap, 10,000-feet above sea level. I was responsible for not only the power system, but also for getting the motor control, autonomous navigation, and communications working reliably. It was three challenging weeks of debugging, experiments, data collection, and occasional successes. By the end of the trip we had succeeded in demonstrating the basic functionality of the rover, and along the way developed a respectable pile of burnt-out parts, discarded and rewritten code, and head-slapping “duh” moments.
—Alex Streeter ’03 Th’05

Cool Robot
Alex Streeter ’03 Th’05, left, James Lever, and the Cool Robot in Greenland. Photograph courtesy of Alex Streeter.

My best experience in Thayer was ENGS 130: “Mechanical Behavior of Materials.” Professor Erland M. Schulson is an extraordinary teacher, and I learned a lot from his class. Now I am also a professor, teaching the same course for graduate students in Central South University in Changsha, China. I use the same teaching method and similar content in my class. I like Professor Schulson very much.
—Min Song Th’05

Professor Erland Schulson
Professor Erland Schulson. Photograph by John Sherman.

My most memorable experience was traveling the United States and the world with Dartmouth Formula Racing. Best education I ever received.
—Colin Ulen Th’05

Friday beers on the roof after slogging through a problem set all day.
—Andrew Argeski ’06

Dartmouth Formula Racing.
—Brad Fierstein ’06

One of my favorite experiences at Thayer was beating the Tuck students in competitions. Through the M.E.M. curriculum we were often matched against the Tuck students, and more often than not we Thayer “kids”—with our unkempt look and grease-stained hands (straight from the machine shop or some lab)—would beat our fresh-from-the-corporate-world counterparts. We learned a lot from them, and I think they learned from us as well. It is the blending of both worlds that make the Thayer experience, specifically the M.E.M. degree, so valuable.
—Daniel Tootoo ’06

My experience was a mix of involvement with Thayer, Tuck School of Business, and Dartmouth’s department of computer science. The open environment at Thayer encouraged participation in multiple disciplines. Since I was accepted for an M.E.M. and an M.S. in computer science, I approached the two schools and was provided an option to participate in a dual-degree program, which was great. The willingness and ability of the schools to allow a candidate to tailor his learning experience had a very positive impact on me. The Thayer and Dartmouth experience was an intellectually stimulating and enriching environment created by intense involvement through courses, projects, study groups, guest sessions, on-campus jobs, and community activities.
—Himanshu Chhabra Th’07

Caitlin Johnson
Caitlin Johnson ’10 dressed the part for LEGO League. Photograph courtesy of Caitlin Johnson.

Having 200-plus middle-schoolers from all over New Hampshire and Vermont invade Thayer School for a day to show off their Mindstorms robots in the annual Dartmouth LEGO League Regional Tournament! (And, as the tournament director and host, getting to dress up as a giant LEGO!)
—Caitlin Johnson ’10

Product design with Professors Robbie and Collier!
—Nathalie Rivest ’10

Floating in zero gravity while testing our ENGS 89/90 design project onboard NASA’s Weightless Wonder! (Thayer made an “I’m an Engineer and…” video about it.) The project was the capstone engineering experience for Sean Currey ’11, Broghan Cully ’11, Mike Kellar, and me. We were building a dehumidifier for the next generation of crewed spacecraft. When you are in a closed volume such as a spacecraft, the water vapor that you exhale doesn’t have anywhere to go. All spacecraft that carry people have to have a system to remove that water from the air, and recycle it for drinking or washing. This is especially hard to do in microgravity, since there is no buoyancy to separate the water from the air. On the space station right now, they spin the air through a centrifuge to separate air from the water. For our ENGS 89/90 project, we built a working prototype of a device that would serve the same function without a centrifuge. It sucks the water right out of the air with a specially treated block of graphite that absorbs water like a sponge. To really prove it would work, we needed to fly it in a microgravity environment. So we flew it with the 2010 NASA Microgravity University flight campaign.
—Max Fagin Th’11

Working in Professor Karl Griswold’s lab as an undergrad and being included in the journal Protein Engineering Design & Selection with the paper “Design and analysis of immune-evading enzymes for ADEPT therapy.”
—Christabell Makokha ’11

One time Matt Dahlhausen ’11 organized a game of capture the flag that was played throughout the inside of Thayer School our senior year. It was a great study break.
—Garrett Simpson ’11

ENGS 21, where I founded a company: Spiral-E Solutions! Second best experience was ENGS 89/90, where my team won $25,000 from the National Institutes of Health for our fecal transplant project. I loved the project-based courses.
—Alison Stace-Naughton ’11

Learning that our 89/90 project earned the Special Faculty Award for Service to Humanity during Investiture. The previous few nights, I had been talking with our team leader about who we thought was going to win the various Thayer awards. “Of course we’re not going to win,” one of our teammates said, “there are so many excellent projects!” Our team leader remained confident: “We have a chance!” During the ceremony, when Dean Helble intoned my name (I was first alphabetically), I turned to see the open-mouthed expression on my first teammate: She was stunned. On our way to the stage, I whispered to our team leader, “You totally called it!” Her reply was her characteristic enigmatic smile and a barely audible, “I know, right?”
—Sharang Biswas ’12

Four experiences leapt to mind: my ENGS 31: Digital Electronics project with Professor Eric Hansen, running Dartmouth Humanitarian Engineering’s hydropower project, running Tau Beta Pi, and my ENGS 89/90 project. I chose a pretty complex ENGS 31 project, but Professor Hansen was encouraging. I’m super proud of what I built and still have the circuit diagram up in my room. DHE’s hydropower project was intimidating. I was 21 and responsible for seven other students’ health and safety for two months in rural Africa, $20,000, and the largest infrastructure project in a village of 7,000. But assistant dean Carrie Fraser ’87, Professor Charles Sullivan, Professor Doug Van Citters ’99 Th’03, and the team were phenomenal to work with. I tried to leverage Tau Beta Pi to support freshmen engineers and failed. But admitting I’d tried hard and failed was good for me. In ENGS 89/90 half of our project was to prove the project was possible. I got valuable experience that landed me my current job as a data scientist at Automatic, a startup using data to model driver behavior, provide more information about a car’s health, and model road networks to detect dangerous road segments. All these experiences had one thing in common: I was given responsibility beyond what I’d earned, but there was a great support system when I needed help.
—Ted Sumers ’12

Professor Eric Hansen
Professor Eric Hansen. Photograph by Douglas Fraser.

Kevin Baron
Kevin Baron. Photograph by Douglas Fraser.

First was my independent investigation into the “Structural Analysis of Earth-bag Systems,” with Professor Vicki May as my advisor. My research project stemmed from Dartmouth’s $300 House initiative, and I received the Dean of Faculty research grant to pursue fulltime research during summer term. My work culminated in an honors thesis and led to my current research on sustainable and resilient infrastructure. Second was the opportunity to be a teaching assistant at the Thayer machine shop for four years. I learned more about industrial engineering and manufacturing processes under the guidance of Kevin Baron and the machine shop crew than I learned from any engineering course. These experiences were an invaluable part of my life at Dartmouth, and I am indebted to the people at Thayer for making my four years in Hanover truly unforgettable.
—Awais Malik ’13 Th’13

Categories: Alumni News, Just One Question

Tags: alumni, faculty, projects, research

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