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School Notes: A More Creative Approach to Engineering

Jan 14, 2014   |   by Alex Hanson   |   Valley News

Dartmouth’s Thayer School of Engineering has received a measure of recognition for a program that’s unique to Dartmouth and likely couldn’t have been created anywhere else.

The National Academy of Engineering awarded the 2014 Bernard M. Gordon Prize for Innovation in Engineering and Technology Education to four members of the Thayer School’s faculty. John Collier, Robert Graves, Joseph Helble and Charles Hutchinson are responsible for creating parts of the Dartmouth Engineering Entrepreneurship Program, which weaves entrepreneurship through the engineering school’s curriculum at every level.

“We are really, really honored and thrilled to receive this,” Helble, dean of the engineering school, said in an interview. The Gordon Prize is one of the two big awards handed out each year by the National Academy of Engineering. It’s great for the program to get this kind of national recognition, Helble said.

The seed of the program was germinated in the 1960s by Robert C. Dean Jr., a Thayer professor and entrepreneur who had a hand in founding eight businesses, including Creare and Hypertherm. He introduced aspects of entrepreneurship to the undergraduate engineering curriculum, Helble said.

In the early 1980s, Collier turned an introductory course, “Engineering Sciences 21,” into a laboratory on business development. The class requires students to develop a solution to a problem, then research the market and develop a product to take to potential funders. It’s engineering as both means and ends, an uncommon approach in an undergraduate setting.

Hutchinson started Dartmouth’s Master of Engineering Management program, which combines graduate engineering studies with business management and entrepreneurship courses at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, in 1989. Graves expanded the program when he took over its leadership in 2003.

And Helble, who has been Thayer’s dean for nine years, launched a Ph.D. Innovation Program in 2008, the first doctoral program in engineering and entrepreneurship.

The dual focus on engineering and business development stems from the proximity of Thayer and Tuck, which are immediate neighbors at the end of Tuck Mall on the Dartmouth campus. Other schools could duplicate Dartmouth’s program, but the original developed in an easy, natural way, Helble said.

Even in undergraduate engineering classes, which tend to focus on engineering design and project work, Tuck professors will come into the classroom once or twice to talk about business development, Helble said.

Dartmouth is alone among American universities in requiring engineering students to earn a bachelor of arts degree before returning for a fifth year at Thayer to earn a bachelor of engineering degree, Helble said.

“Engineering is viewed as a creative outlet for an undergraduate student” in a way that’s new to current faculty, who studied engineering when it was considered a discipline, rather than a creative field, Helble said.

NAE 2014 Gordon Prize winners
NAE 2014 Gordon Prize winners: John P. Collier '72, Thayer ’77, Charles E. Hutchinson, Joseph J. Helble, and Robert J. Graves. (Photo courtesy of NAE.)

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