Laura Ray appointed as new Thayer interim dean

by Julia Grigorian | 9/14/18 2:30am

Last month, the College announced that engineering professor Laura Ray was appointed interim dean of the Thayer School of Engineering, a position that she will assume on Oct. 29. She will serve as dean through June 2019 or until a new dean is appointed.

Ray follows the 13-year tenure of Joseph Helble, who will become provost of the College at the end of October.

Since she began working at Thayer in 1996, Ray’s research has focused on system dynamics, controls and robotics. According to Ray, her work at the College has helped develop the “niche area” of polar robotics, which she finds to be an “interesting area both because of how robotics can support scientists [in polar regions] and carry scientists’ instruments and also because of the challenges in extreme environments.” Ray said that she also contributes to biomedical device research and computer vision for robots.

“She’s one of the only people doing robotics in those sorts of [polar] environments,” said Joshua Elliott, a fourth-year Ph.D. student who works with Ray.

Ray has co-founded two companies, Sound Innovations and Clarisond, and holds several patents that stem from her research at Thayer.

In addition to her research projects, Ray has taught a variety of undergraduate and graduate engineering classes during her 22-year tenure at Dartmouth, including ENGS 89, “Engineering Design Methodology and Project Initiation” and ENGS 90, “Engineering Design Methodology and Project Completion,” the two-term capstone design course required for all bachelor of engineering students.

“[Ray is] the quintessential Dartmouth and Thayer faculty member — a teacher, a scholar and an entrepreneur,” Helble said. “She’s a good decision-maker, a clear communicator and a well-respected senior faculty member.”

Elliott added that he thinks Ray’s “serious and focused” personality will make her a successful leader of Thayer.

Helble noted that he will remain as dean through the end of October in order to oversee the design phase of the new Thayer expansion. Ray will then take over as dean as the project moves into the stages of permitting and authorization for construction, he said.

Thayer’s $200 million donor-funded expansion includes the construction of a new building to promote interdisciplinary research that integrates Thayer, the department of computer science and the Magnuson Family Center for Entrepreneurship. The building will also allow for eventual increases in engineering and computer science faculty. The new building will be located near the existing Thayer buildings, Cummings Hall and the MacLean Engineering Sciences Center. Construction is expected to begin in early 2019 as soon as permits for the project are approved by the town of Hanover.

“[Ray] will play an integral role in managing and overseeing the groundbreaking of the project,” Helble said.

Ray said that, in addition to managing this project as the interim dean of Thayer, she hopes to “prepare for new leadership to come in and be able to start right away.”

A search advisory committee was assembled this summer in order to find the next dean, Thayer senior director of communications Eun Lee Koh said.

Led by emerging technologies professor Eric Fossum, the group will work to identify and interview qualified candidates for the position, Helble said.

Though the search is still in its early stages, the committee has met with a team from the search firm Isaacson, Miller, Koh said. The firm is now meeting with Thayer community members, including faculty and staff, to identify important qualities for the next dean of the school, she added.

Helble said he hopes that the next Thayer dean will have “a strong and fundamental belief in the opportunity that offering engineering in concert with a broader liberal arts education provides” for students. He also noted that commitment to interdisciplinary research and entrepreneurial activity are important values for the position.