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


Laura DeNardis. Photograph courtesy of American University.

Growing concerns about cybersecurity, censorship, and social media regulation are on the front pages of national newspapers and before congressional hearings—and former engineering major Laura DeNardis ’88 has become the go-to expert on Internet governance. Slate magazine called her one of the field’s top seven international players in its “Cheat Sheet Guide to Who Controls the Internet,” citing her research into the power structures that have shaped Internet policy. In October, Google, Facebook, and Twitter were embroiled in controversy surrounding Russia’s involvement in last year’s U.S. elections, and DeNardis weighed in on the topic of greater regulation. “There is a lot of pressure to intervene in this case because of the democratic implications,” DeNardis, director of the Internet Governance Lab at American University in Washington, D.C., told Bloomberg. “Because of the rising stakes for cyberspace, for the economy, for democracy, there is greater attention on the part of all actors.” DeNardis warns against too much focus on the regulation of content; instead, as she told Yale Law School students at a recent lecture, the more pressing issues are infrastructure and security. It’s a topic she covers in detail in The Global War for Internet Governance (Yale University Press, 2014), “a rigorous exploration of obscure but important issues with potentially global effects,” according to Kirkus Reviews.

Rear Admiral Bill Hayden ’66 retired in 1996 after a 30-year career in the Navy, where, among other roles, he served as the first commanding officer of the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier and as the chief of air training for all Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard aviators. For the past 15 years, he has turned his attention to teaching STEM skills to the next generation of scientists. Through a public-private partnership he founded called Starbase Victory, more than 15,000 fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders in Portsmouth, Virginia, have “learned that math and science are an important part of their lives and are actually fun subjects to study,” says Hayden, who last year earned a national Point of Light Award for developing and raising funds for the program. “When you make it fun and interesting, you change a child’s perception of what school is all about,” he says. Fourth-graders learn spatial awareness, measurement, and mapping in a four-day interactive learning track; fifth-graders explore the parameters (and causes) of weather, followed by a discussion of rainwater run-off and erosion; and sixth-graders build and launch their own rockets while studying simple physics and the forces of flight. “Learning to be a critical thinker can’t start early enough,” says Hayden. “We want to focus on teaching, not testing. Starbase Victory gives me great hope for what our young people can do in the future.”

Jesse Foote ’01 Th’02 is combining rhymes, color tiles, and a cellphone app to lead children on treasure hunts with his new game, Color Clues. “Color Clues lets parents easily set up treasure hunts for their kids, even before those kids can read, by using sequences of colors and audio clues,” says Foote. Users tap in the proper sequence from an initial color tile to unlock an audio clue—in a recent game Foote led his 4-year-old daughters, Hazel and Paloma, through their house with a series of Dr. Seuss-style rhymes to the next color tile and subsequent clue, and so on until they discovered the treasure. The platform he is building will also allow parents and teachers to share the treasure hunts they create, building an ever-growing database of challenges “dreamed up by creative people all over the world,” he says. Foote is currently running a beta test at to gather feedback to improve the game.

When James Kaiser ’99 returned to Maine after earning his AB in engineering, he wrote and published a guidebook to Acadia National Park. It became the bestselling guidebook to Acadia, and through his Destination Press he has since published travel guidebooks to Costa Rica and the national parks at Joshua Tree, Yosemite, and the Grand Canyon. “Thayer taught me to view everyday objects critically, instead of passively, and consider how those objects could be improved. Most engineers apply this to household and industrial objects—I applied it to travel guides. I looked at what was available, realized improvements could be made, and made those improvements.” He also offers musings on various outdoor adventures and international travel at his blog, Beyond the writing and photography, Kaiser credits the skills he sharpened at Thayer with his success. “My familiarity with computers helped me quickly learn self-publishing software and enabled me to build a website, which I used to market my books,” he says. “And I have often used my mechanical skills to customize my outdoor and photography gear.”

Chrissy Bettencourt ’13 is over the moon with her first kids’ snow boot design. “Jack” is part of the fall/winter Interstellar collection at eco-friendly Plae, which incorporates such materials as recycled milk jugs and cork in its products.

Photograph courtesy of Chrissy Bettencourt.

Bettencourt also worked with the factory to develop the boot’s construction process and determine hardware details, materials, and colors. “I took inspiration from space-age materials and construction to develop a boot that not only keeps the kids foot warm with 400 grams of Thinsulate insulation, but also has them feeling like they’re walking on the moon,” says Bettencourt, who earned her AB in engineering modified with studio art. “I always strive to create products that are stylish, fun and active, but most importantly stand up to the test of kids, who can be extremely hard on their shoes.” Her next steps are to help launch the company’s first adult shoe collection.

Sharang Biswas. Photograph by Jessye Herrell.

An experience designer with Medici Group by day, Sharang Biswas ’12 Th’13 explores other aspects of art and technology by night. He has developed several games touching on these topics with fellow engineering sciences major Max Seidman ’12, including Mad Science Foundation, which won the 2015 DFW Nerd Night Game Design Competition. Mad Science is about mad scientists dividing up inventions and resources (lasers, dark matter, cryptonium, sharks) in a race to craft the most nefarious invention. The pair’s next collaboration—the performance game Basic Principles of Incantation and Applied Esoterics—drew on Biswas’ interest in immersive theater and his linguistics classes at Dartmouth and was first exhibited at a gallery in Manhattan. In the interactive theater game about linguistics and magic, players wrangle with tricky phonetics to learn and practice magic. Biswas’ most recent project, Feast, earned the Dark Horse Award at October’s Indie-Cade, where the judges raved  that the role-playing game “transforms the experience of a potluck dinner into a collaborative storytelling experience, where different foods are used to convey particular emotions.” Biswas says his various roles only enhance his creativity. “I think of myself as a cross-disciplinary practitioner, with the different projects I make feeding into each other,” he says. “I feel that the line between interactive theater and performance game is pretty blurry—my game design and performance experience feed into my work at the Medici Group. For example, we recently created a new corporate workshop, and I brought in a few theatrical techniques to enhance the pedagogical elements.”

Categories: Alumni News, Spotlights

Tags: alumni, design, entrepreneurship, innovation

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