To venture, to innovate, to create – all the quintessential undertakings of the entrepreneur. While Dartmouth has absolutely invaluable resources for startups and budding ideas – which I'll be sure to detail in depth – these pursuits are altogether ingrained into Dartmouth's academic culture, specifically at the Thayer School of Engineering. From day one, undergraduates are trained to be more than just engineers; from cash flow analysis to market research, evidently combined with the engineering essentials, students are taught not just hands-on skills, but how to apply them, specifically in a lucrative, market-driven fashion. Specifically, I'm referring to ENGS 21, Thayer's Intro to Engineering course, which like all courses at Thayer is open to all undergraduates with only a few prerequisites. Perhaps my favorite class this Fall, ENGS 21 felt far more like a prolonged exploration than it did a typical Dartmouth course, and it was certainly much more informative than any lecture ever could have been. Altogether, it truly shows what sets Thayer aside as an engineering school, highlighting its liberal arts and inter-disciplinary focus as an institution.
The course starts out with a bit of group bonding; teams are assigned based on a survey of schedules, personalities, and interests to make sure that everything moves fluidly. The first step is for members to brainstorm problems in the world that could be solved with an engineering solution, specifically something that’s viable and marketable. Then, groups pick a couple of those problems, sketch out their preliminary solutions, and then present their ideas to the class (don’t worry if you’re not good at sketching – there’s actually a whole lecture spent on drawing a bunch of different kitchen utensils for practice, and it’s really a lot of fun). After receiving feedback from other groups, teams choose one idea to focus on (or an entirely new one) and move into the prototyping phase. While that might seem like a big step, there are weekly Tools & Techniques sessions to help along the way, focusing on things like CAD, material selection, and ultimately different fabrication techniques such as machining and 3D printing. Also, each group is assigned a unique TA, a full-time shop instructor, and is introduced to a massive network of Thayer professors and employees for guidance all along the process. Altogether, it gives groups a massive amount of freedom while making it very hard to get lost.
Most of the work is done in the machine shop and in Couch Lab, which is a perpetually-open workshop full of supplies, resources, and woodworking tools. Most progress is made outside of class, while the later lectures are on topics such as startup capital, patenting processes, and market analysis. Students present their progress on three occasions to the review board – a group of professors and employees from all different ends of Thayer – and at the last one students are expected to present a looks-like works-like prototype.
The best part about ENGS 21is that for many groups, it doesn’t end after the course is over; the staff encourages groups to file provisionary patents and pursue future guidance from the new Magnuson Center for Entrepreneurship. Teams in the past have won awards and launched startups, and all patents are owned and maintained by students, which is untrue at many engineering schools. Altogether, Into to Engineering has truly been an experience for me that will define my time here at Dartmouth, and it will certainly be an adventure I never will forget.