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

Spotlights: Fall 2019

Donna’s 3 Tips to Stay Active Without Injury

1. Enjoy it. “Find something you like, especially with a social component, or sign up for an event to have a goal to work toward.”

2. Go slowly. “Everything requires a slow phase in, even gardening or stacking wood.”

3. Act your age. “Avoid fast, reactive, dynamic sports with people half your age. Older people process more slowly and don’t bounce like they used to, so plan on that.” 


Donna Smyers ’79 Th’88, triathlon world champion and physical therapist, has been inducted into the USA Triathlon Hall of Fame in honor of her three decades of success and contributions to the sport. She has twice been named USA Triathlon Masters Triathlete of the Year and won four USA Triathlon national championships, two International Triathlon Union world championships, and six Ironman world championships. Back home in Adamant, Vermont, she focuses on problem solving for anyone trying to stay active at Fixer-Upper Physical Therapy. “My specialty is helping athletes of all ages return to their activities through manual therapy, exercise, and education,” says Smyers, who earned a master’s in materials science at Thayer and then a master’s in exercise science at the University of Oklahoma. “Materials science is about stress, strain, fatigue, fracture, plastic flow, materials aging, and mechanics,” she says. “That is exactly what PT is about on the human body, so it applies all the time. I think I look at things much more mechanically than most PTs do.”

Courtesy of Brian Nickerson.


Brian Nickerson ’00 is the man behind the curtain. As the founder of MagicLinks.com, he is tapping into the influence friends, family, and experts can have on customers’ decisions. His website allows “influencers” to share the products they love and earn income as their fans shop across any social media platform. To date, the engineering sciences major says, MagicLinks’ more than 20,000 influencers have advised more than 150 million shoppers in videos that have been viewed more than 21 billion times. “Brands pay based on sales driven by the MagicLinks community of influencers,” he says, pointing to a recent success story: “HP approached MagicLinks to drive awareness and sales of a wide range of back-to-school-related HP products,” he says. Although HP would typically focus on tech-focused influencers, MagicLinks recommended YouTube sensation Jen of JENerationDIY, “based on her affinity with a target demographic with high propensity to purchase technology products,” he says. “Here, we helped marketers identify unknown or unserved market segments to drive purchase activity.”


David Halpert ’77 Th’79 of Brownsville, Vermont, reached No. 11 on The Washington Post’s list of “Notable Influential Inventions” of the past 180 years for his work on bitmap graphics. As an engineer with Creare in Hanover, Halpert was awarded a patent in 1984 for a method that was further developed into a type of graphics used for computer displays and image storage. 

Sylvanus Thayer Fellows 

Robert Garman
Courtesy of Robert Garman.

In October, Thayer School’s Board of Advisors named Robert Garman ’69 Th’70 and Jessica Duda ’96 Th’97 Gr’99 Th’99 Sylvanus Thayer Fellows in honor of their service to the School. “Thayer is a very unique place,” says Garman, “and the intimacy and connectedness that comes with that builds bonds where you figure it’s appropriate to give back.”

After his service as a nuclear engineer for the U.S. Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program, Garman had a 25-year career with Exxon, retiring in 2002 as controller of its 150-person biomedical sciences affiliate. Garman is active with the Friends of the Irving Institute and the Dartmouth Society of Engineers and has volunteered on the executive committee of the Thayer Annual Fund since 2001, for the Career Network and Moosilauke Forum, and as an admissions interviewer. He has also supported research in energy through the Energy Challenge and Bengt Sonnerup Fellows initiatives, the latter in honor of his Thayer mentor.

“The highlight during the whole five years was working with Bengt Sonnerup as a computing assistant on his NASA grant in the summer between my graduation and Thayer,” says Garman. “We were developing ways to run on Dartmouth timesharing and output visual results and it helped me realize what I wanted to focus on in the fifth year.” He went on to earn a BE with a concentration in electronics and systems, and then an MBA from MIT’s Sloan School of Management in 1977.

Duda, who serves as chair of the MEM Corporate Collaboration Council, says Thayer’s hands-on approach to learning kept her engaged: “You learned textbook theory in class and you got to build a bridge or a Stirling engine—mine still sits on my parents’ bookcase.”

Jessica Duda
Jessica Duda. Photograph by Kathryn Lapierre.

She earned a BE as a Clare Boothe Luce Fellow and an MEM and MS through a dual-degree program with a focus on biomechanical and biomaterials research and orthopedics that included working on a thesis in John Collier’s lab. “I had the opportunity to explore real-world problems with John Collier. He had such a dedicated team of engineers and medical and industry experts that allowed me to see the impact we could have for patients,” says Duda, who has built a career around translating technology into medical products for patients, most recently as director of business development at Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering. In addition to the MEM Corporate Council, which she joined in 2004, Duda has volunteered with the Career Network, Thayer School Alumni Fund, and as an admissions interviewer and has been a member of the Sylvanus Thayer Society for Leadership Giving since 2012.


Snake robots, steerable needles, robotic skull surgery—they’re sci-fi concepts that Michael Miga Th’98 has grounded in real-world applications as cofounder of the Vanderbilt Institute for Surgery and Engineering (VISE). His motto: “So, you think I can’t do that? Watch me.” He adds, “It sounds a little reckless, but it is more about overcoming naysayers on truly ambitious undertakings, such as the creation of our institute,” says Miga, who joined the Vanderbilt biomedical engineering faculty in 2000. VISE moved last winter into a 7,000-square-foot suite in the Vanderbilt Medical Center that allows the 10 engineering faculty easy access to more than 40 clinicians, a machine shop, mock operating room, and wet lab. Since the program’s start in 2011, it has graduated more than 40 PhD students, secured 26 patents and seven licenses, and deployed $30 million in grants across dozens of cross-disciplinary research efforts. One of the latest is Miga’s training program in surgical engineering, “where they can invest a lot of time in understanding the cutting-edge areas of engineering that are impacting the clinic in terms of technology,” he says. “Oftentimes we can create technology and have no sense of how it will influence the trajectory of care,” he says. “Our students will have this experience to engage with clinicians to shape their ideas and the direction of their research.”


Electronics engineer Norman Fine ’55 Th’56 reveals the most influential invention of World War II in Blind Bombing: How Microwave Radar Brought the Allies to D-Day and Victory in World War II (Potomac Books, December 2019). The microwave radar systems emerging from British laboratories in the early 1940s enabled the Allies to overcome two obstacles to winning the war: German U-boats and weather. First, Allied forces were able to detect and destroy the U-boats that had shut down shipping lanes to the British. The radar also overcame the typically overcast European weather, which had grounded up to 80 percent of the bombing missions scheduled from 1941 through 1943. Microwave radar-equipped B-17s—“Mickeys”—led Allied bomber formations, dropping marker flares to highlight airfields, manufacturing plants, and oil refineries. Just six months after the introduction of radar bombing, there were scarcely any German planes in the sky or any fuel to run them and few experienced pilots to fly them. With access to the water and the air, the Allies launched D-Day on June 6, 1944, and began reclaiming the enemy-occupied continent. Fine tells an engaging story, full of details and accounts from some of the people involved in the development and implementation of the new technology. He also draws on his experience in the field—as a Raytheon consultant on the design for a large-screen radar display scope for use by U.S. air traffic controllers and cofounder of a cathode ray tube graphic display manufacturer—to explain in simple terms the most important breakthrough in the ultimate Allied victory.

Ice Trucker

Tracy Kim Horn
Courtesy of Tracy Kim Horn.

Engineering sciences major Tracy Kim Horn ’02 launched a new business last year, Parfait—a modern version of the ice cream truck—based in Lexington, Mass. She dishes up soft serve and paletas, Mexican-style ice pops made from scratch with mostly local ingredients and all-natural sweeteners (blueberry-ginger and chocolate fudge sweetened with Vermont maple syrup are crowd-pleasers). The adventure began four years ago when she and her 1-year-old twins were at the playground and heard the sound of an ice cream truck. “I was suddenly a kid again—an overly excited one at that,” she says. “Except…now I was a parent who cooked everything from scratch for her family, and there was no way we were going to spend money on food that was made with high-fructose corn syrup, modified cellulose, artificial flavors, or Red 40.” The former pastry chef drew on her background in restaurant operations and her toolkit from Thayer to take her idea on the road: “My engineering degree came in handy while retrofitting an old USPS mail truck that I got on auction into a board of health-approved mobile food facility,” she says. On her horizon: a takeout shop. “It’s right on the Minuteman Bikeway, so we’re excited to give the active community in the greater Boston area better food options when they’re on the go!” Follow her on Instagram @parfaitplease.


Biomedical engineering major James Jung ’14 Th’15 is off to study in Krakow, Poland, through a Fulbright scholarship. Jung will study the pathogenesis of psoriasis in the department of immunology at Jagiellonian University while taking classes in immunology, biotechnology, and the history, culture, and language of Poland. His interest in disease mechanisms grew out of witnessing friends and family experience illnesses such as psoriasis, diabetes, and cancer. “At a young age I didn’t understand the mechanisms of diseases, but I was curious about them,” he says. At Dartmouth, he worked in two research labs and served as a teaching assistant in chemistry and engineering courses. He worked most recently as a predoctoral research associate at the Lebanon, N.H.-based biotech company Adimab, founded by Thayer Professor Tillman Gerngross. 


Akwugo Nnama ’12 Th’13 began her three-year term as a Thayer representative on the Dartmouth Alumni Council in July, replacing Carrie Fraser ’86 Th’87. Nnama joins current councilor Pablo Stern ’01 Th’01, a San Francisco-based senior vice president with cloud computing firm ServiceNow. “The collaboration and community at Thayer is like no other,” says Nnama, who recently earned a master’s in public administration at Harvard and started working as an energy investment banking associate at JP Morgan in New York City. “This is a place where everyone knows your name and is willing to do everything to help you thrive.” She will also serve on the council committees for alumni and student engagement, young alumni, and honorary degrees. “I look forward to working with Pablo Stern to ensure we do our best to represent our Thayer alumni community,” she says, “as well as communicate effectively on behalf of Dartmouth.”

Categories: Alumni News, Spotlights

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