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Inauguration Panel Highlights Innovation

Sep 22, 2023   |   Dartmouth News

Dean Alexis Abramson and Professor Tillman Gerngross were part of a panel in Cook Auditorium Thursday evening discussing the institution's ability to make an impact through innovation.

President Sian Leah Beilock, right, speaks at a panel on innovation Thursday evening that included, from left, Thayer Dean Alexis Abramson and professors Daniella Reichstetter, T'07, Mary Flanagan, and Tillman Gerngross. (Photo by Kata Sasvari)

The hourlong conversation was the second in a series of activities celebrating the inauguration of Sian Leah Beilock, Dartmouth's 19th president, who also spoke.

President Beilock said that Dartmouth's size, scale, and collaboration across the undergraduate and professional and graduate schools make it uniquely positioned to translate ideas into impact.

She noted that half of the Thayer School of Engineering faculty have companies, and other faculty members are producing creative novels and plays, "really pushing the boundaries of what impact means."

And, Beilock said, she would be remiss not to mention Buddy Teevens '79, whose pioneering work to reduce full-contact practices and make football safer led to the development at Thayer of a robotic tackling dummy that has been used by multiple college programs and NFL teams.

"As we think about someone who innovated in so many areas of life, I think it's so important to remember Buddy," Beilock said of Teevens, who died on Tuesday following injuries in a bicycle accident.

During the wide-ranging discussion, which was also livestreamed, Mary Flanagan, the Sherman Fairchild Distinguished Professor in Digital Humanities, Gerngross, professor of engineering, and Daniella Reichstetter, T'07, adjunct professor of business administration, shared their definitions of "innovation," how they measure impact in their work, and their thoughts on the role of universities in supporting innovation.

Gerngross, an inventor, entrepreneur, and engineer who has founded several successful startups, described the feeling of knowing his work is making a difference in people’s lives.

"I cannot tell you the excitement when you run a clinical trial and you actually see the data coming back, and you see this really did something," said Gerngross, whose work in bioengineering has led to innovations contributing to new and improved therapeutics and treatments for disease. "You can just do the numbers and see, well, all of a sudden 3 million people are (being) treated with these drugs."

Gerngross described the support he's had from Dartmouth deans and from alumni who are active in venture capital.

"In my case, they've been extremely helpful in refining my ideas, sharpening them, and then ultimately funding them."

Asked by Thayer Dean Alexis Abramson, who was moderating the discussion, to point to Dartmouth's "secret sauce" for innovation and impact, Reichstetter said size and location play a key role.

The discussion also highlighted examples from across campus illustrating Dartmouth's innovation and impact ecosystem, including a new course called Entrepreneurship and the Arts, the Climate Solutions Accelerator, the Class of 1982 Engineering and Computer Science Center, the Design Initiative at Dartmouth, and the Magnuson Center for Entrepreneurship.

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