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Unparalleled Opportunities

Dartmouth's seamless intellectual continuum
Matthew Schenker '09
Matthew Schenker '09 (left) works in the Wilder physics lab with physics and astronomy graduate student Timothy Gilheart. Schenker received a Mellam Nanotechnology Research Fellowship from Dartmouth and is spending spring term conducting quantum physics research. (Photo by Kawakahi Kaeo Amina '09)

Tuck School of Business Dean Paul Danos says that among Dartmouth's distinguishing characteristics are the seamless connections between the undergraduate curriculum and the cutting-edge work being carried out by faculty members and graduate students at Tuck School, Thayer School of Engineering, Dartmouth Medical School (DMS), and the arts and sciences graduate programs. "It's an academic continuum," he explains. Trustee Albert Mulley '70 says, "Faculty across Dartmouth have an affinity for undergraduates." Mulley, who served on two of the Board's working groups: academic excellence in the arts and sciences, and a similar group on the graduate programs, adds, "They're enthusiastic about giving undergraduates opportunities to work on ground-breaking research. It's a result of the good job Dartmouth does in recruiting faculty who are committed equally to teaching and research, and it's a value shared across the institution."

What that means is that undergraduates may find themselves not only studying with members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, but also with scholars who have appointments at Tuck School, Thayer School, or DMS. Brian Christie '07, for example, is taking advantage of this opportunity in a Global Health and Society course co-taught by DMS faculty members Lisa Adams DMS '90, and John Butterly. Adams, who coordinates Dartmouth's Global Health Initiative, is an assistant professor at DMS in the infectious disease and international health section. The connections she is already establishing for Christie will be invaluable in jump-starting the career in epidemiology to which he aspires. "I'm really excited," she says, "that as medical school faculty, we're able to cross over and do teaching at the undergraduate level. It's nice that this kind of cross-fertilization happens at Dartmouth." Butterly is a cardiologist who is also vice chair and executive medical director of the Department of Medicine at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. It's unusual, to say the least, that a student at the undergraduate level has access of this kind to in-depth study with practicing physicians with a passion for teaching.

The continuum Danos describes offers unparalleled opportunities for all Dartmouth undergraduates. Presidential Scholars, for example, frequently work with faculty members and graduate students when carrying out their projects or completing their honors theses. Since 2000, more than one-third of them have pursued studies in departments with graduate degree programs, working with faculty mentors in both the undergraduate and graduate settings, and undertaking research as an integral team member or on their own. They see their names in the bylines of journal articles, learn what questions are being asked at the leading edges of disciplines, and get a good look at what life as a graduate student is like should they decide to follow that path themselves.

Margaret Funnell, assistant dean of the faculty for undergraduate research, says, "Because Dartmouth graduate programs are small, there is no hierarchy that separates undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty." In fact, sometimes undergraduates become principal investigators on major projects. Tom McCoy '07 works with Associate Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences Catherine Cramer, writing grants, developing research protocols, running experiments, and analyzing data—all experiences that will contribute to his senior thesis. "There's a difference," says Cramer, "between being in a teaching lab where you're reproducing someone else's results and doing your own thesis. There, you're truly going into uncharted territory."

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Last Updated: 5/30/08