Thayer celebrates its 150th year

by Racquel Lyn | 2/23/17 2:05am

by Saphfire Brown / The Dartmouth

A century and a half ago, the Thayer School of Engineering opened with only three students and five classrooms. This year, Thayer is celebrating its 150th anniversary with a calendar of events through December, commemorating the school’s history and outlining goals for the future. Celebration planning has been carried out by the administrative staff, including Thayer dean Joseph Helble, senior director of communications Karen Endicott and associate director of advancement events and special projects Jennifer Seiler.

Some of the events that have taken place in the past two months include a community celebration and an alumni dinner. Many of the upcoming ones will highlight the history of Thayer.

“Photographic displays, social media and the Dartmouth [Engineer] Magazine will be the main tools used to broadcast the anniversary,” Helble said.

The biggest event of the celebration, Thayer Alumni weekend, will take place from May 5 to 7. The weekend will open with the STEM Arts Concert, which includes composer Molly Herron. The school also plans to host a panel of speakers, including both Thayer alumni and current professors of engineering. The weekend will conclude with key note speakers Jeff Immelt ’78,who is the chief executive officer and chairman of General Electric, and former NASA astronaut Mae Jemison, who was the first woman of color to travel to space.

“Dr. Jemison talks a lot about women breaking the gender barrier, and how being interested in engineering wasn't the norm at the time she was growing up,” Seiler said. “Many of her philosophies in women in engineering greatly align with what Thayer School is trying to do.”

Professor of engineering Jifeng Liu said the celebrations will also include seminars and lecture series focusing on biomedical engineering and sustainable energy.

Helble, who has been in office since 2005, has noticed many changes in the demographics of the school and student interest.

“There has simply been a larger interest in engineering. [The student population] is now more than twice than what it was when I arrived in 2005,” he said. “In part, I think it’s because of the growing recognition of the creative elements of engineering.”

Helble also commented that last year Thayer was the first major research institution to graduate a majority female class. The faculty has also grown in the past 12 years. For instance, the number of tenure-track professors has increased from 24 to 40.

“We want our students to graduate with confidence and know how to approach challenges in the real world,” Liu said. “It is important for students to develop their own stature, and I think Thayer has a great tradition of doing that.”

Correction appended (Feb. 23, 2017):

The original version of this article stated Seiler was quoted as saying "engineering was the norm" when she actually said "engineering wasn't the norm."