Thayer, Geisel Deans Plan for the Future

Transitions at Thayer School of Engineering and the Geisel School of Medicine—expansion at Thayer and reorganization at Geisel—were the topics at a town hall meeting this week.

From left, Thayer School of Engineering Dean Joseph Helble, Geisel School of Medicine Interim Dean Duane Compton, and Executive Vice President Rick Mills take questions from the audience at a town hall meeting in Spaulding Auditorium on Wednesday. (Photo by Robert Gill)

Geisel Interim Dean Duane Compton and Thayer Dean Joseph Helble told an audience of about 120 that the schools are preparing students to be future leaders during a time of rapid change in their fields. The meeting was led by Executive Vice President Rick Mills, who holds regular town hall sessions for the Dartmouth community.

Mills prefaced the discussion by reading a quote from Dartmouth’s own Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel, Class of ’25, projected on the screen above the Spaulding Auditorium stage: “Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try!”

Seuss’ quote captures a spirit of creative innovation that does not shy away from trying new ideas, keeping what works and discarding what doesn't, Mills said. This is representative of the work going on at Dartmouth and at the professional schools, he said. 

At Geisel, the administration and faculty have worked for more than a year to sharpen the school’s focus to ensure a strong foundation for the future. The changes are expected to identify areas of excellence while easing an operating deficit at Geisel that Compton and President Phil Hanlon ’77 have said is not sustainable. Compton has led a series of working groups and discussion sessions across the institution as part of the reorganization work to strengthen Geisel’s leadership in medical education and impact in research.

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Compton told the town meeting audience that Geisel’s reorganization will “align resources to appropriately grow our programs.”

“The health care system is under extreme stress today and going through tremendous transition. Geisel is creating a curriculum to train physicians who will be leaders in change of future health care delivery systems,” he said.

The reorganization includes the transition of clinical programs to the Dartmouth-Hitchcock health system, where the physicians are also medical school faculty members. In addition, Geisel is dedicated to ensuring the “right resource allocation for science and research,” Compton said.

Changes at Geisel will be discussed further at a pair of meetings set for later this month. They are to be held March 21 at 5:30 p.m., in Geisel’s Kellogg Auditorium, and March 22 at 5:30 p.m., in Auditorium H at the Williamson Translational Research Building on the Dartmouth-Hitchcock campus in Lebanon.

Thayer’s Helble said the next few years would be pivotal for education in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering, and math. U.S. competitiveness, he said, is often linked to producing more STEM graduates at the expense of the liberal arts. He rejected the notion that they are in opposition. “This is often represented as a trade-off. That is a false dichotomy,” he said.

Thayer’s greatest strength is its grounding in the liberal arts, and the school’s plans to expand faculty and to begin new construction are undertaken with the idea that every Dartmouth undergraduate should be able to have a hands-on experience with engineering, he said. At the same time, the school is seeing many more “modified” engineering majors.

“Students are graduating from Thayer with degrees in engineering modified with physics, with public policy, or with studio art,” Helble said. The school vigorously encourages students to integrate entrepreneurship in all fields, which will lead the way in a world that is being rapidly transformed by connected, integrated technology, he said.