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Wells Willett '24 on Bikes, Mechanics, and Human-Centered Engineering

May 08, 2023   |   Dartmouth Admissions

Wells Willett '24 (he/him/his)
Hometown: New Paltz, NY
Major: Mechanical Engineering; Minor: Environmental Science

Wells at Dartmouth Bikes' mechanics shop. (Photo by Don Hamerman)

"In my senior year of high school, my bedroom looked like a makeshift bike shop," Wells Willett '24 says, laughing as he recalls how he first began tinkering with bikes and unicycles. "I liked working with my hands, fixing up bikes in my bedroom or basement. And I'd always liked math. I think that was where my interest in mechanical engineering started."

For Wells, the decision to major in mechanical engineering—a branch of engineering rooted in physical machines, force, and movement—was inextricably tied to his enduring love of biking. "A bicycle is a mechanical engineer's dream," he says. "In one way, they're so simple and useful but they can also be really complex and very cool to study and build."

Some of the first engineering classes Wells took at Dartmouth—including Introduction to Engineering with Elizabeth Murnane, an assistant professor of engineering—helped him connect his interests in math and hands-on project work. "I realized I loved the process of figuring out how to solve a problem," he says, "and I became especially interested in topics like fluid mechanics—the study of fluid behavior—because they're key to understanding the operation of bikes."

Wells later joined Professor Murnane's Empower Lab, which aims to develop technology that promotes human well-being and the welfare of the environment. There, he studied how making it easier for people to access information about complicated electronic power systems, such as cars, can help them make more informed political decisions about those systems. "The research focused not just on what makes a piece of technology easy to sell, but also what makes a product good for humankind," Wells explains. "It completely reshaped my perspective on what I think is important about engineering."

Now president of the Dartmouth Cycling Team, Wells began racing competitively at Dartmouth. "As a high school senior, one of the things I loved about Dartmouth was that its students were excited about what they were studying, but were also deeply interested in being active outside," he says. Last spring, the cycling team funded Wells' trip to the National Collegiate Cycling Championships in Georgia, where he won the title of Omnium Champion, awarded to the top overall finisher at the event.

Wells still works in a bike shop—not the makeshift one he created in his bedroom, but the one Dartmouth Bikes occupies in the lower level of the Fahey and McLane residence halls. The members of Dartmouth Bikes—an initiative of the Sustainability Office—collect abandoned bikes, refurbish them, and rent them out to students. "I've gotten even more into tinkering by working at the bike shop," he says. "I'm so grateful that Dartmouth has opened up so many opportunities that have helped me figure out that I want to be an engineer."

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