Helble reappointed as Thayer dean

by Rebecca Flowers | 7/13/17 11:45pm

Dean of the Thayer School of Engineering Joseph Helble began his fourth term on July 1. Engineering professor Ian Baker said this makes him the longest-serving dean of engineering in the Ivy League.

The announcement came on July 3, after a comprehensive review of Helble’s work from students, faculty, staff, fellow deans and alumni, Provost Carolyn Dever said. Helble’s accomplishments include achieving gender parity among undergraduate engineering majors and expanding the number of engineering faculty and students.

Fifty-two percent of undergraduate engineering degrees at Dartmouth were awarded to women in 2016, marking the first time a national research university had awarded more bachelor’s degrees in engineering to women than to men. This was accomplished by “supporting a culture and community that helps every student feel welcomed, intellectually challenged, engaged and supported,” Helble said.

Enrollment in Thayer’s undergraduate and Ph.D. programs have also doubled during Helble’s time as dean. The percentage of undergraduates majoring in engineering has increased from 5 percent of total students in 2005 to 9 percent in 2016. The overall enrollment in the graduate programs has also increased, from 164 students in 2005 to 294 in 2016. The total number of women in the programs has grown from 56 women in 2005 to 95 women in 2016.

The number of faculty has also increased, from 37 members in 2005 to 53 members today. Of those, the number of women has risen from four in 2005 to 10 in 2016.

In addition, Helble initiated the Ph.D. Innovation Program in 2008, which gave students both technical and entrepreneurial expertise. In 2014, Thayer received the Bernard M. Gordon Prize for Innovation in Engineering and Technology Education for this program, citing Helble specifically among the recipients.

“I think it speaks well to the efforts of our faculty to develop an integrated program of teaching engineering students how to think like entrepreneurs,” he said.

Baker said that Helble has been instrumental in focusing Thayer’s research to three specific areas: engineering in medicine, energy technologies and complex systems. Helble has also worked with faculty to help students who have not completed all of the engineering prerequisites in high school to catch up and join the engineering program, he said. The College’s dual-degree program, which allows students from other liberal arts colleges to spend their junior or senior year and a fifth year taking engineering classes at Dartmouth in order to earn their bachelor of engineering, has also expanded under Helble, engineering professor John Collier said.

Collier said that Helble has been “enormously supportive” of the machine shop at Thayer and has contributed towards expanding its size, outfitting it with state-of-the-art equipment and supporting the training of student teaching assistants.

“We have on average somewhere between 25 and 35 [teaching assistants] who are either in training or doing teaching, and so it’s a pretty significant program,” he said.

Collier also said that Helble has been very supportive of hands-on project courses, in which students build engines, machines or bridges.

In the future, Helble plans to expand Thayer in both faculty and physical size, Baker said. This may include a new building which might also house the computer science department. According to Dever, the next term will be devoted to recruiting the resources for this project.

Helble said that the “digital integration” of the computer science department will be important for “engineering students [to] understand deeply the importance of software in all that they do, [and to] help the computer science students understand the deep connection to the physical world.”

Helble was first appointed as dean of Thayer in 2005. The process of selecting Helble was a complicated one, said Baker, who was on the hiring committee for the dean in 2005. A search firm provided 10 applicants, and the top candidates were brought to campus, where they met with faculty and gave a talk in what was essentially a two-day interview. The search committee then recommended three unranked candidates to the president, who made the final decision to hire Helble.