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Dartmouth Professor Practices Mindfulness in Engineering

Dec 06, 2023   |   by Catha Mayor

Sol Diamond '97 Th'98, engineering professor and co-director of the Design Initiative at Dartmouth, recently reconnected with a Dartmouth classmate who is a senior monastic in the Plum Village Buddhist tradition founded by Thich Nhat Hanh. The serendipitous meeting with Brother Phap Luu '97—formerly Douglas Bachman—peaked Diamond's curiosity about Plum Village and led to an invited talk on "Mindfulness in Engineering Problem Solving" at the affiliated Deer Park Monastery, as well as to innovations in Diamond's approach to teaching human-centered engineering.

Brother Phap Luu '97 (formerly Douglas Bachman) and Sol Diamond '97 Th'98, engineering professor and co-director of the Design Initiative at Dartmouth. (Photo courtesy of Sol Diamond)

"Brother Phap Luu and I were on the same freshman trip," says Diamond. "My wife, Diane Gilbert-Diamond '98, a professor of epidemiology at Geisel, started a research collaboration with Brother Phap Luu, unaware of our past connection. When he stayed in our home for a few days last year, we were surprised and happy to reunite."

This past year, Diamond attended two retreats at the Blue Cliff Monastery in New York to learn more about the Plum Village tradition. And when Gilbert-Diamond and others hosted a delegation of ten Plum Village monks and nuns at Dartmouth in April, Diamond invited several of the monastics to participate in a hands-on activity in one of his engineering design classes.

"These engagements with the monastics—and reading several of Thich Nhat Hanh's books including, The Sun My Heart—led me to reflect deeply on how we teach engineering, the role of engineering in society, and how we as humans relate to ourselves, each other, and planet Earth while personally experiencing the effects of wicked problems like climate change."

"My framing of 'human-centered engineering' is now significantly informed by the reflections I've had since engaging with Plum Village."

Professor Sol Diamond '97 Th'98

Diamond and his wife were both invited speakers at "The Buddha, The Scientist" retreat that was co-sponsored by Deer Park Monastery and the Thich Nhat Hanh Center for Mindfulness in Public Health at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.

"I wrote my talk during quiet times at the retreat as a mind-map of hand-sketches in my design notebook. The narrative reflects my personal experience as an engineer and educator in light of Thich Nhat Hanh's teachings. I had several driving questions:

  • How can we as engineers increase our awareness of the interdependencies in the world?
  • How can we cultivate greater intentionality in the practice of engineering to support the greater good?
  • How can we transform feelings of despair that arise when engaged in problem solving to address climate change?

"Along with this talk, I've also been incorporating these lessons into my teaching at Dartmouth. Students this Fall experienced an entirely new lecture series on engineering problem solving with much broader societal and global context. While this remains a work in progress, I've already seen changes in their presentations and reports where a majority of projects include deeper than ever before contextualizations with respect to sustainability, social inequities, and historical and cultural factors. And the broader context isn't just talk, it's directly informing how they work as engineers to define problems, solve problems, and deploy solutions."

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