Bernard M. Gordon Prize for Innovation in Engineering and Technology Education

Acceptance Remarks

National Academy of Engineering
Bernard M. Gordon Prize for Innovation in Engineering and Technology Education
Joseph J. Helble, May 2, 2014


On behalf of my colleagues who joined me here on the stage, I am deeply honored to accept this award for Dartmouth College and the Thayer School of Engineering,

Our sincere appreciation goes to NAE President Dr. Dan Mote, NAE Executive Director Dr. Lance Davis, Ms. Deborah Young from NAE, Mr. and Mrs. Bernard Gordon, for making this award possible; and members of the Gordon Prize Selection Committee, represented today by Olof Johnson and Nicholas Donofrio, for traveling to Hanover to present and celebrate the Bernard M. Gordon Prize. The award was established in 2002, and is being presented at the recipient institution for the very first time. We are privileged to have this opportunity to host you.

In recognition of the significance of this award to Dartmouth and the Thayer School of Engineering, we are also honored to be joined by Dartmouth President Philip Hanlon, several members of the Thayer School Board of Overseers, members of the Engineering Management Corporate Collaborative Council, our families and friends, and by the greater Dartmouth Engineering alumni community, many of whom are joining us via live streaming of this event.

In particular I need to thank our students and alumni – the Thayer School of Engineering would not be what it is without your boundless energy, limitless intellectual curiosity, and willingness to tackle whatever the faculty throw at you – as true today as it was fifty years ago, when our School, and our curriculum, began to take its current form.

About five years ago, I took a look at engineering course catalogs from several major research universities, both public and private, comparing their engineering programs from the present, from the 1980s when I was a student, and from the 1950s. Little had changed. There was virtually no interaction between engineering departments at the undergraduate curricular level, no opportunity, for example, for mechanical engineering and electrical engineering students to take the same electives, or work together on integrated project teams. True collaboration with business schools to help teach skills associated with technology entrepreneurship were limited, and PhD programs remained structured the way they had been for nearly a century.

The departmental silos for which academic institutions are frequently criticized were very real.

The Bernard M. Gordon Prize has, over the past 14 years, recognized those institutions, and those programs, that have taken significant steps to break this mold, to engage students to cross disciplinary boundaries, to take steps to prepare them to become engineering leaders.

At Dartmouth, at an institution where our faculty have long been as dedicated to our teaching as to our original scholarship, we are deeply honored to be recognized in their company.

This award celebrates our problem-based focus in undergraduate engineering education, beginning with the required first course in Engineering Problem Solving, ENGS 21, whose simple title, “Introduction to Engineering,” seems to say little, yet at the same time – introduction to engineering - speaks volumes about the creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurial opportunity that represent the best of what engineering can be. It celebrates our strong partnership with our business colleagues in our Masters of Engineering Management Program, where students gain understanding of the business elements of assessing and developing technology. And it recognizes our experiment in Ph.D. education, the creation of our Ph.D. Innovation Program in 2008, a program that challenges some of our Ph.D. students not to rely on others, but to apply their scholarship directly, to put their work to immediate use and to benefit the greater good by becoming technology entrepreneurs. Combined, these programs are the pillars of the Dartmouth Engineering Entrepreneurship Program, a comprehensive effort to teach engineering students that they have an opportunity through their work to have an immediate and measureable impact.

They provide us the opportunity to teach our students, and remind ourselves, that as engineers, we have made a commitment to use science, and her at Dartmouth, our liberal arts education, to understand the world, and then to use engineering to change it.

On behalf of my co-recipients John Collier, Charles Hutchinson, Robert Graves, and of all who contribute to these efforts, I thank you for this award.

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