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

Spotlights

GERBER’S 4 ESSENTIAL MINDSETS TO DESIGN THINKING 

1. Work together. “Important problems worth solving are often situated in complex systems that involve many stakeholders.” 
2. Build to learn, not to impress. “We learn more when we focus on what is possible rather than be preoccupied with appearing to have all of the answers.” 
3. Take many paths. “When we try out different ideas, we more quickly learn what works and what doesn’t work. When we commit to a single idea, learning takes longer.” 
4. Embrace change. “Question the status quo and regularly take risks to make the change happen.”

A decade after Liz Gerber ’98 founded Design for America (DFA), the national network of students, mentors, and community leaders has earned the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum’s National Design Award for corporate and institutional achievement. The prestigious award—which has previously been given to Apple, TED, and Etsy—recognizes the group’s focus on using human-centered design to address complex, real-world problems. Based at Northwestern, where Gerber is an associate professor of design, DFA is a national network of interdisciplinary undergraduate teams trained to go into a community, identify a social problem, and design and implement solutions. Now composed of 38 universities and more than 1,200 student members, DFA students tackle more than 150 projects each year. “In 1961 the Peace Corps mobilized youth to support economic and social development. In 1989 Teach for America encouraged a new generation of teachers,” Gerber said in her acceptance speech. “Today we have a thriving design corps that is changing higher education, industries, and our communities.”
 
Liz Gerber
Photograph by Lisa Beth Anderson.
 
At DFA, Gerber encourages students to tackle challenges outside their campus and comfort zone. “DFA doesn’t give students problems to solve; it guides them to walk around their local community to find problems they believe are meaningful, such as literacy and obesity.” One of DFA’s first social innovation projects looked at hospital-acquired infections. After studying hospital design and practices, the team found that providers did not wash their hands enough, in part because sinks were not located near patients. The DFA team designed a portable hand sanitation device that clipped to the provider’s clothing for easy access and tracking—and boosted hand hygiene by 64 percent. “Her work is centered on scaling educational innovations that will help create a generation of young people with the knowledge, skills, and creative confidence to address complex problems facing the planet,” says Professor Peter Robbie, who has known Gerber since she was a student taking design courses at Thayer. “She is a rock star in the field of creative engineering design education.”
 
Harris McKee
Photograph by Jeff Woodward.
Harris B. McKee ’61 Th’63 grew up a “farm boy” in Iowa and attended a one-room schoolhouse during his elementary years. His original plan? Follow in his family’s footsteps and attend Iowa State. But his course changed when Dartmouth’s then-football coach spotted his talent on the field and recruited him to play for the Ivy League. He set out to Hanover and the former “farm boy” from Iowa went onto play during Dartmouth’s 1958 championship-winning football season, major in engineering sciences, and eventually deliver the valedictory address to his graduating class. This fall, McKee was honored as one of three recipients of the Dartmouth Alumni Award for his decades of service to the College and for his extensive career. In receiving the award, McKee said, “Dartmouth turned my life into what it’s been. Being a volunteer for Dartmouth was a way that I could give something back. That’s really all there is to it.”
 
A little more than a year ago, Sean Casten Th’98, who earned his master’s in engineering management (MEM) from Thayer, announced he was running for U.S. Congress. This past November, Casten, a Democrat from Illinois’ 6th district, won his congressional seat. His term began in January. As Casten launched his campaign last year, he spoke to Dartmouth Engineer for the Fall 2017 issue about the value of a scientific approach to governing: “Scientists and engineers are trained to look at big, diverse sets of data, identify a problem, hone in on the root cause, and solve it. We don’t waste a lot of time talking about ‘alternative facts’ or worrying about the political fallout. To the contrary: We pride ourselves on being the first to identify and correct problems with a flawed paradigm. … If we were using facts and data to inform our policy discussions, we would be having a much different conversation.”
 
A century after it first flew, the No. 191 “Tommy” rag-and-wood biplane took off again in Ithaca, New York. It was the culmination of a lofty effort by Dr. William Thibault ’64, son Bill ’94 Th’95 Tu’01, daughter-in-law Melissa ’94 ’Th’95 Th’96 DMS’00, and the Ithaca Aviation Heritage Foundation. One of 13 Thomas-Morse S-4Bs known to exist, Thibault’s Tommy is the only one in flying condition anywhere in the world. The single-seat trainer was part of a batch ordered up by the Army Signal Corps to prepare American pilots for fighting in the skies over Europe in World War I. Tommys that survived the war in decent condition went to civilian flight schools, barnstorming daredevils, and film production companies. Thibault donated his plane to the Ithaca club in 2013, when a complete ground-up restoration— and in some cases, reconstruction— began. The team soon discovered the airplane was a mash-up, a rare S-4B fuselage adorned with scavenged parts from other models. Fortunately, another Tommy was housed a few hours’ drive away at the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome and the team was allowed to examine the plane. During the seven-year effort, volunteers dismantled the body, wings, and engine; reverse-engineered fittings for the motor; and stretched new fabric over the frame. Nearby, Borg-Warner opened its doors at the facility where the planes were originally produced so the Tommy team could use the original tools to replicate a complete set of upper and lower wings. “You demonstrated you would do exactly what I had always wanted to do with the plane,” Thibault told the Tommy volunteers, “which was to restore the aircraft to its original configuration.”
 
From her office in Reston, Va., Abigail Davidson ’05 Th’06 Th’07 is working on a giant leap for mankind: launching AI into the cosmos. As CEO of Cubic Aerospace, Davidson leads a 10-person team developing computational power for large satellite providers Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman as well as the U.S. Air Force. One major project is a radiation-tolerant payload processing computer that adapts a terrestrial system-on-a-chip for use in a space environment. “By putting massive amounts of computational power in space, a user can process data on-board at the point of collection,” she says. “This allows users to get close to real-time answers instead of porting the data down the ground and processing it there, which can introduce significant time delays and valuable data loss.” Davidson is also excited at the potential of machine learning and AI algorithms: “Spacecraft could then find things we don’t even know to look for,” she says. “Imagine a pattern-recognition algorithm operating in real-time onboard a spacecraft that collects cosmic background radiation data, or a machine-learning algorithm running on data used to predict weather patterns.” NASA is interested in using Davidson’s processor to analyze gamma rays. “The missions we support have pretty significant potential to impact our lives,” says Davidson. “I try to remember that when dealing with all of the little things we need to do to get there.”
 
Hans Albee
Courtesy of Hans Albee.
 
Energy-storage ideas power the enthusiasm Hans Albee ’03 Th’04 brings to the office each day. As an engineer with renewable energy provider ReVision Energy—which has installed five photovoltaic projects at Dartmouth and has 15 more on the drawing board—he has played a crucial role in making the firm a leader in this rapidly growing sector. “I’ve led ReVision’s entrance into energy storage with innovative products such as the Tesla PowerWall and Maine-based Pika Energy Island systems,” he says. “Energy storage is a crucial part of widespread electrification and displacement of fossil fuels with renewables.” Albee’s trajectory has mirrored the growth at ReVision, from 19 employees when he started in 2007, to more than 250 now. He began by installing solar hot water and solar photovoltaic systems, then moved to sales and system design, and is currently overseeing commercial project management and engineering and design in the Liberty, Maine, office. “Solar energy development is growing so quickly that the size of our projects grows substantially each year,” he says. “I enjoy working on these larger and larger projects because they not only displace a lot of carbon dioxide pollution, each project also brings fresh challenges and opportunities for creative problem-solving.” He credits his Thayer degree with honing his problem-solving abilities on a team. “Those skills have translated directly to my work in solar energy,” he says. “In a small way, I feel that I’m fulfilling Sylvanus Thayer’s directive to ‘prepare the most capable and faithful for the most responsible positions and the most difficult service’ by working to advance solar energy development.”
 
Joe Brown ’00 is tapping into some tiny tools with big potential applications. “I’m building a group centered on microdevices and nanomaterials,” says the assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Hawaii at Manoa (Honolulu). “My students are doing cool stuff; I’m looking forward to seeing if we can eventually focus these projects into accomplishments such as papers, patents, and startups.” He sees opportunities for water-based, energy-harvesting devices for powering consumer electronics with motion, 3D-printed optics, and low-profile, chip-integrated sensors for hearing aids, noise cancellation, and portable electronics systems. “I’m trying to bring an entrepreneurial mindset to be adaptable to the people and needs around me, rather than to force my plans forward in a straight line,” he says. “This is particularly important in Hawaii, where things seem to get done by ‘planting seeds’ and helping things grow, rather than by walking in a linear path to a goal.” He says the social science classes he took at Dartmouth help him think through group interactions. “I’m trying to build a team with a range of skills and foci and an ability to learn from each other,” he says. 
 

Kevin Rebenius
Courtesy of Kevin Rebenius.

Drawing on medical radiology research, Kevin Rebenius Th’99 helps geologists drill down through a wealth of data. Orexplore, the company he founded in 2010, has developed a novel X-ray technology that allows miners and mineral explorers to scan through rock samples to extract structural and elemental data—on-site and in a matter of minutes, rather than the six weeks it can take laboratory geochemical analysis. The cost is about $100 per meter of drill core. “The scanning tool can be used in both green-field exploration or in mine exploration, but we focus on the mines as they scan continuously and are less sensitive to changes in the market,” says Rebenius, who returned to Sweden to complete his master’s in mechanical engineering and later earned an MBA from Stockholm University. He spent three years assembling a team and developing the technology before landing his first investor, Australian drilling company Swick Mining Services. The process helped him identify two key components to startup success: “Persistence—I never give up—and being fortunate enough to find the right people,” he says. Orexplore has launched in Australia, with plans to enter the American and Canadian markets next. “People are a bit overwhelmed with the wealth of information, and I think the next horizon would be to apply AI on the data to allow the system to automatically identify interesting geological commonalities and patterns,” he says. “This would be of great value to the geologist, whose time is very limited.” Rebenius also anticipates using the technology in down-the-hole surveying. “The rationale is that with faster and cheaper percussion drilling, the mineral analysis could be done directly when the hole has been drilled. I also envision that in-depth analysis can be applied for mineral sorting.”

 

Alison Andrews Reyes
Courtesy of Alison Andrews Reyes.

Alison Andrews Reyes ’94 is turning her startup savvy to a tech venture fund. After 23 years working in startups, the engineering sciences major is now a general partner at early-stage technology venture fund 1843 Capital. “We advocate for gender equity in founding teams, not as a nice to have, but as a success indicator.” She would know: Recent firms she founded include Dezignable, a tech company that connects clients with an army of professional designers and socially responsible products, and cybersecurity firm Vigilant Inc., which Reyes grew into a 65-person organization before selling it to Deloitte. Her ingredients for a successful startup: timing, adaptability, passion, emotional intelligence, and luck. “Having run the gauntlet at five startups, I know a combination of clear vision and adaptability get you started, but it’s the passion and emotional intelligence that keep you going when the inevitable big crises occur,” she says. “I also can’t overstate how much timing and luck play a factor. We all want to believe that it’s raw skill or expertise that makes our startups successful, but right time, right place can be just as significant.” Her background also makes her sensitive to the gaps in support for women: Female founders make up nearly 20 percent of all startups, yet receive less than 3 percent of funding. In her role at 1843 Capital (1843capital.com) in Greenwich, Conn., Reyes hopes to change the statistics and capitalize on outsized returns. “We invest in deep tech sectors, such as analytics, AI, and cybersecurity as well as what we call ‘silver tech,’” says Reyes, pointing to opportunities to improve the lives of the aging. “Seventy percent of the wealth in the United States is held by people age 50 or older, and we are all living longer. The rise of voice recognition, self-driving technology, robotics, and more will create new applications that will allow us to age better and live independently for longer while reducing healthcare costs.” 

 

Categories: Alumni News, Spotlights

Tags: alumni

comments powered by Disqus