Five surprising tips for new engineering students at Dartmouth College

The study of engineering is creative, exciting and rewarding, with endless opportunities for personal development and career progression. It can open doors to the career you’ve always dreamed of but can also open doors to opportunities you never expected.

The Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth College has offered you five insider tips on how to make the most of ‘outside the box’ opportunities during your engineering degree. New engineering students – you may be in for a surprise!

1. Reach outside the engineering field

Take classes that have nothing to do with engineering and everything to do with gaining a deeper understanding of the world. At Dartmouth, liberal arts provide grounding for the study of engineering, students have the opportunity to study a broad range of humanities courses on top of engineering modules.

This exciting opportunity is invaluable in expanding your academic scope, improving your personal knowledge and skills to help you become a better engineer. Classes in the humanities – from African history to Italian art or English literature – will give you greater context for your engineering work. In-depth knowledge of historical events and geographical factors will inspire your engineering focus.


Classes in the liberal arts will hone communication and interpersonal skills that are critical to your future success as an engineer, team member and leader. All Engineering sciences majors at Thayer earn a Dartmouth AB, and most take additional courses in Liberal Arts or Engineering Sciences to earn a professional Bachelor of Engineering (BE) degree as well.

During your studies, you can even undertake Foreign Study in countries such as Thailand or Denmark where you will further develop your communication skills and international understanding.

2. Find opportunities that let you have fun AND build on your engineering knowledge

During your studies, it’s wise immerse yourself in hands-on, innovative work to give you crucial real-world experience when looking for your first job. For example, you could consider joining or starting a Formula Hybrid team at your own school. Formula Hybrid teams across the world spend an entire academic year designing and constructing their own fuel-efficient hybrid or electric vehicles.

At the end of the year, the teams converge just down the road from Dartmouth College (where Formula Hybrid was started) to compete in events ranging from design and project management to acceleration and endurance.

More than 3,500 students from 80 colleges and universities have participated in Formula Hybrid since it started in 2007. It’s an excellent opportunity for students from around the world to collaborate across academic disciplines whilst gaining excellent industry experience in a fun and exciting context.

Judges and sponsors include many of the leading automotive and electronics companies looking to recruit top engineers. So not only will you have fun, you’ll gain collaborative, cross-disciplinary experience, and could also receive an invitation for an impressive summer job.

3. Find classes that let you work on projects for the greater good

It’s incredibly motivating to dedicate yourself to a project that solves a significant problem. You will develop your engineering skills in a philanthropic context, getting creative to help people in need.

Students at Dartmouth College have worked on a variety of world-changing solutions from creating lights that don’t require electricity or traditional batteries to help victims of hurricanes, to designing a mobile and agile virtual tackling dummy that reduces concussions during American football practices.

These two solutions are now being used across the United States and around the world.


Whether your project becomes a breakthrough business or remains a valuable learning experience, knowing that you are tackling something of importance to you makes your work so much more exciting and engaging and meaningful. And that means you’ll learn a lot more in the process.

4. Work with people who don’t look or think like you

Forbes has found that around 85 percent of large global enterprises believe workforce diversity is critical in driving innovation. It has been proven that diversity in STEM subjects increases productivity and Forbes notes that teams with equal numbers of men and women generate on average 41 percent more revenue.

The importance of diversity comes into play long before you reach the workplace. At university, you’ll work with people who are completely different to yourself, and this is an excellent opportunity! Dartmouth is proud of its even split of genders and increasing number of international students.

People from backgrounds with life experiences different from your own bring unique and valuable perspectives to problem-solving, absorbing these different perspectives will ultimately help you to become a better engineer.

Meeting people from around the country and the world, all with different cultures and beliefs, will challenge you to think creatively, to examine and understand problems from alternative perspectives, and innovate solutions you may never have thought possible before.

In theory, this is all well and good, but until you experience it for yourself, you may not truly understand the wonder and incredible insight that comes from combining different life experiences when solving big problems. Not to mention making friends and colleagues from around the world is exciting and rewarding.

5. Don’t be afraid to ask for help – and don’t assume that everyone understands everything

Engineering is challenging! Not only do students come to study engineering with different life experiences, they also arrive with different educational experiences. Do not be afraid to ask questions of your professors, and don’t hesitate to seek out peer mentors to help you along.


Many colleges and universities nurture student success and offer different types of help. In addition to professors’ and teaching assistants’ open office hours, many schools like Dartmouth offer
  • Peer mentoring where sophomore, junior and senior women mentor first-year women about STEM.
  • Free nightly group study sessions with TAs and advising from engineering faculty
  • E-mentoring, which pairs students with science professionals from industry, government labs and academia, providing information, encouragement, advice and access to networks that are otherwise unavailable to underrepresented groups.

There is a tremendous opportunity for you all to do good for the world through engineering, develop as individuals and hone invaluable skills. Don’t forget to enjoy your courses, take opportunities and meet a variety of people.

Good luck and enjoy the challenge!

Originally Published on October 11, 2018 by Eric R Fossum, Director of the PhD Innovation Program and Associate Provost for Entrepreneurship and Technology Transfer at the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth College. Fossum is the inventor of the camera-on-a-chip technology found on more than 5 billion smartphones and cameras in the world. For his work, Fossum was honored with the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering in 2017.

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