2018 | 19

"The main aim of the class is just to get students familiarized with the engineering process, which includes both failure and success. So everyone is welcome here."


A letter from the dean

Dear Friends,

Tufts University’s School of Engineering is thriving! Thanks to you, our talented and passionate Tufts community of students, faculty and staff are setting records while serving as an engine for good.

The SOE yielded our largest-ever classes of both undergraduate and M.S. students. I am especially proud of the fact that of our 280 first-year undergraduate students over 50% are women, a record first for Tufts. Overall, the SOE continues to lead in terms of admissions, research, diversity and fundraising benchmarks.

We launched new graduate degrees in offshore wind energy engineering, cybersecurity and public policy, computer engineering, and data science as well as offering our engineering management M.S. degree online for greater flexibility. Fueled by entrepreneurship and research innovation, the SOE has filed more invention disclosures over the last 4 years than all the other schools at Tufts combined.

Your generosity helps drive our success. Thank you for your confidence in our mission to educate students to be civic-minded engineers and next-generation leaders. Together we are building a brighter world!


Dean Qu

Jianmin Qu
Karol Family Professor
Dean, Tufts University School of Engineering

in the news

Tell Me More: Women in Space

Astronaut Ellen Ochoa talks in a Tufts podcast about her career and how mentoring is crucial for advancing in STEM fields.

Space wasn’t always on Ellen Ochoa’s radar. Her path zigzagged its way from a love of music in high school, a undergraduate degree in physics, and a doctorate in electrical engineering to developing optical systems for image processing and leading a NASA research team in high-performance computing. And then, in 1990, she was selected for NASA’s astronaut program.

Ellen Ochoa

In 1993, she served on a nine-day mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery, becoming the first Hispanic-American woman to go to space. After three more flights and nearly 1,000 hours in space, Ochoa became director of the Johnson Space Center at NASA in 2013.

So how did this flute player make her way to outer space? In a conversation with Professor Karen Panetta, dean of graduate education at the Tufts School of Engineering, Ochoa discusses her love of music—she even played her flute in space—and how she navigated her path to NASA. She also gives advice to students and describes her own role models, while sharing her perspectives on the STEM disciplines—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Ochoa visited Tufts University in April to deliver the Women in STEM Lecture, and she will be the recipient of an honorary Doctor of Engineering degree from the university this year.

Matson named President of space research association

Associate Professor Douglas Matson has been elected President of the American Society for Gravitational and Space Research (ASGSR). He will serve a three-year term in the role.

ASGSR is an organization of scientists and engineers dedicated to the discovery and invention through biological and physical science research and technology in the field of space and gravitational sciences.

Douglas Matson

Rocket Science and Beyond

NASA engineering manager Debbie Martinez speaks to Tufts students about STEM careers—and persevering.

Debbie Martínez was the only woman in her class at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in the mid-1980s. Today she’s a high-level manager at NASA’s Langley Research Center in charge of research activities that test high potential ideas.

Martínez shared her insights on working at NASA—and her own NASA career, now going on twenty-nine years—when she visited the Tufts School of Engineering recently.

Debbie Martínez

Her visit included a Women in STEM presentation in Alumnae Lounge organized by the School of Engineering and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, as well as an informal lunch conversation with students at the School of Engineering.

Martínez officially works at the NASA Convergent Aeronautics Solutions Project, but it can also be thought of as the “Shark Tank for aeronautics,” she told Tufts students. It comes up with feasibility studies based on ideas that are both “transformative and also convergent,” meaning they merge different disciplines. Originators defend their proposal in front of a panel “and sell it, just like Shark Tank,” she said. Sometimes the work wins funding, but if not, “failure is not a problem, in fact, it’s a good thing,” she said, as engineers know it’s often the first step on the long journey to success.

Martínez has been an engineering project manager at NASA Langley Research Center since 1990, supporting NASA aeronautics and space exploration missions. She has more than twenty-eight years of experience in engineering, technical, and managerial positions supporting both aeronautics and space mission projects. She is currently execution manager for the Transformative Aeronautics Concepts Program in addition to the Convergent Aeronautics Solutions Project.

Martínez told students said that much has changed since she was the only woman at Embry-Riddle, adding “and there were no women professors at all,” she said. “As time has gone on it, it has become a matter of ‘can you do the work?’ When you deliver, you are part of the team.” That standard, she said, makes NASA “a great place to work.”

She’s grateful for the opportunities NASA afforded her as she has risen through the ranks, Martínez said. One highlight came in 2010 with the first fully-integrated test of the launch-abort system design on the Orion spacecraft. The test was a critical step toward developing safer crew escape capability during rocket launch emergencies.

The multiple demands of being a systems engineer on that project, she said, were at first “mind boggling,” she said, “but [everyone] was so helpful and if I had questions I asked them. Ultimately, we took the capsule to White Sands . . . and it worked—our team was elated. If that had been a real situation, people would have walked away safely. Never would I have every thought I’d be part of that.”

Still, she did relate how initially she was told there were no openings for her in engineering simulations part of NASA. Determined, she moved to the area anyway. “I just showed up and said, ‘I’m here,’” she said, and landed a job. “So you have to persevere and don’t take no for an answer. Find a way.”

Asked about the “one strength that a person should have” to succeed in her field, she said again it comes down to confidence.

“The main thing is to believe that you can,” she said. It’s not just rocket science, either; the work “depends on a wealth of expertise in fields that include biology and chemistry.” NASA, she reiterated, is not “just for fighter pilots. Don’t limit yourself.”

Karen Panetta, professor of electrical and computer engineering and dean of graduate education for the School of Engineering, organized the lunch as the first in a Women in Space speaker series she expects to roll out over the next few months to highlight opportunities in STEM fields, those encompassing science, engineering, technology, and mathematics.

Ellen Ochoa, the first Hispanic woman in the world to go to space and former director of the Johnson Space Center at NASA—and an honorary degree recipient this May at Tufts—will speak with students on Monday, April 22 at 51 Winthrop Street, Breed Memorial Hall. Dinner starts at 5:30 p.m. followed by her talk from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

“Because of student interest in space and because of the planned landmark all-women spacewalk, it seemed a good time to bring people to talk with students about opportunities that are out there,” said Panetta.

Women currently make up 38 percent of the School of Engineering, which is a partner with the Association for Women in Science. The partnership offers students (both women and men) free one-year membership and access to its professional development and leadership training.

Making Headlines

statue of Jumbo

Introducing the Tufts ECE Design Innovation Fund

Alumnus’s interest in creative lab work will support ECE Capstone projects through 2023.

Entrepreneur Joe Hill, EG86, attributes his success to the many people who provided a helping hand at the right time. He jokes, “They may not have felt their generosity was critical in timing, but it was critical for me in my business.” He is always aware of the support he received from others throughout his career, and now he seeks to do the same for students at Tufts.

The central tenet fueling his goal of paying it forward? “Goodness gives goodness.”

Hill and his wife Alison share a similar philosophy in philanthropy. A home health aide cared for Alison’s father in his later years. A nurse practitioner herself, Alison identified the woman’s innate ability and offered to send her to nursing school, with one condition: when she could, when her life permitted, the former health aide should help another go to nursing school. “We received a call several years later,” says Joe Hill. “She did not help one person — she helped two.”

Hill wants to give back and to help undergraduate students gain more experience in the lab with hands-on work. “I believe that there is more to a student’s portfolio than just grades and grad recs,” he says. “Creative lab work is important. This where the textbook becomes real.”

Hill’s interest in this creative work was the inspiration for the Tufts Electrical and Computer Engineering Design Innovation Fund (DIF). The establishment of the Fund will support ECE Capstone projects for the next five years. Current plans for the Fund include funding Capstone materials, software, and test equipment to address general or specific projects. The Fund allows flexibility in more robust, multi-year Capstone projects pertaining to drones, radar, GPS, data science, or signal and image processing – or combinations where a deep dive into subject matter is required.

Hill hopes to see students thrive from their gift and to see support for this invaluable learning experience continued by many in the Tufts alumni community.

Nolop FAST facility

Nolop FAST Facility opens on campus as makerspace

Nestled behind Kindlevan Café in the Science and Engineering Complex (SEC) is the Nolop FAST Facility, a newly-opened makerspace on campus. The Nolop FAST Facility opened after Jan. 21 and is managed by part-time lecturer in the Department of Mechanical Engineering Brandon Stafford.

Stafford said that the Nolop FAST Facility is a way to consolidate “maker” resources in a way that is accessible to all students. Tufts currently has several makerspaces around campus.

“Instead of being specific to any department, this is intro-level for everyone. [It’s for] anyone who wants to build something, whether you’re a scientist or you’re studying philosophy,” he said, “The real focus is building a culture where people feel comfortable exploring and building stuff with their peers.”

Dean of the School of Engineering Jianmin Qu has similar goals for the space. He said that the space will start with introductory workshops to encourage and educate those new to engineering fabrication and eventually host classes, activities and programs.

“For example, in the spring of 2019, students from the SMFA [School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts] will be taking advantage of a design and fabrication class, to help introduce them to studio art and engineering fabrication,” Qu told the Daily in an email.

Qu’s hopes for the space expand beyond this semester.

“One long-term goal of the space is to help students reflect on what they do not know, identify that knowledge in others and learn to communicate and team up with those people with knowledge, so that the team has more knowledge than any individual student in solving a problem,” Qu said.

Stafford said facility will help supplement what students are learning in the classroom.

“We think that by helping people get some hands-on experience [with] building, it’ll add a practical side to the education we get here,” he said. “We’re really strong in teaching people the theoretical side of stuff and this helps balance that out to give people a broader education.”

Qu said that the Nolop FAST Facility was completely funded by donors, with the lead donation coming from the estate of former pharmaceutical executive Keith Nolop, who has familial connections to Tufts.

“Keith was passionate about hands-on learning, driving one’s own education, and helping young people learn,” Qu said. “The Nolop family thought this makerspace was the perfect way to honor his memory.”

Stafford explained that Robinson Hall was chosen as the home of the makerspace to attract both STEM and non-STEM students. He noted that its proximity to Kindlevan Café might draw in curious students passing by in the area.

However, the space is still being assembled. Stafford said that the makerspace will acquire tools according to student use and demand throughout the course of the spring semester.

“Right now we have a bunch of workbenches, but pretty soon we’ll have laser cutters, 3D printers, woodworking tools, metalworking tools, electronics and tools for making stuff out of fabric,” Stafford said.

A post dated Dec. 18, 2018, announced that the Nolop FAST Facility had chosen a laser cutter for the space.

Stafford added that students will be hired to run the space. Currently, 11 Tufts students run the space.

Students like Abigail Klotz, a sophomore studying chemical engineering, are already using the space. Klotz used the makerspace for a project in her numerical methods class and was able to get help with ideating from Stafford as well as the physical materials that she needed for the project.

Klotz noted that creating a welcoming space can foster a culture of making at Tufts.

“Having a space that says, ‘hey, come try out all these things and make something,’ is a really good way to encourage hands-on behavior,” Klotz said.

Arts and Sciences Dean James Glaser

Tufts Community Appeal Campaign a Success

The Tufts Community Appeal (TCA) campaign had its best year ever, raising a total of $475,000 and eclipsing its participation goal of 800 to set a new record of 867 donors.

Rocco DiRico, director of government and community relations at Tufts, said participation has more than doubled over the past five years, reflecting growing awareness of a university-wide effort that raises support for Tufts financial aid, the Tufts Neighborhood Service Fund (TNSF), and other charities.

“On behalf of the Tufts Community Appeal board, thank you to all the faculty and staff that donated to this year’s amazing campaign,” said DiRico.

The appeal’s upward trajectory, he said, encompasses significant growth for the TNSF: gifts directed to the fund grew 54 percent over the past five years. This year 126 donors contributed $25,832, all of which will be awarded as grants to nonprofit organizations in the university’s host communities of Boston, Grafton, Medford, and Somerville. (Applications for 2019 can be found are online.)

DiRico credits stronger participation to wider publicity, led in large part by the energy and enthusiasm for faculty and staff on the TCA board.

“They volunteered their time, they spoke at faculty meetings, and they staffed donation tables on Giving Tuesday,” he said. “Most of the TCA board returned from last year as well, and so they brought with them real dedication and experience, both key to our success.”

Faculty and staff are also “always coming up with the new ideas” to spur participation, he said, like this year’s ugly sweater competition between the School of Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering. The winning school got to select an “ugly” holiday sweater to be worn by the dean of the losing school at the Arts, Sciences and Engineering faculty meeting on February 6.

The School of Engineering ultimately won, having the higher participation rate overall, with the Department of Mechanical Engineering taking the lead for department participation and thus earning the privilege of selecting the ugly sweater.

At the faculty meeting, department chair Chris Rogers said his faculty and staff opted for something less ostentatious than the usual outrageous ugly sweater, and that could indeed be worn throughout the year. James Glaser, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, gracefully accepted the mystery sweater, which, in collegiate fashion, was emblazed with the logo for the Tufts School of Engineering.

“I’ll wear it with pride,” said Glaser, who then donned it while giving a PowerPoint presentation on trends in undergraduate enrollment.

a sand castle

Engineering a Sand Castle

Students learn about the process of engineering the fun way—by heading to Revere Beach

On a recent Monday afternoon, four Tufts students were kneeling in the hot sand on Revere Beach, mixing sand and water in a bucket, then packing the mixture into a big, hollow LEGO brick. They were trying to make the building blocks for small structures to surround a large, two-foot-tall sand castle.

The first mixture was so damp and tightly packed that it wouldn’t come out of the mold. The second batch came out, but immediately fell apart—too dry. The third ratio produced a perfect mold and a chorus of “Wow!”

“As much as you try to plan, you still need to test and go back and retry and change directions”—it’s the essence of the engineering process, said Nicole Batrouny, a mechanical engineering grad student. Wei-ren Murray, A20, a computer science and cognitive science major, said it’s similar to the debugging process used in computer science. “You have to look at and test every part of your code, because any part could result in an issue,” she said.

Batrouny and Murray were at the beach along with child development grad student Emily Fuller and English major Samantha Leong, A20, attempting to build a two-foot-tall sand castle that could house their “clients,” a handful of LEGO people and survive the tide.

The real objective wasn’t just to build a sand castle, of course, but to learn more about how engineering works in fun, creative ways. Murray, Fuller, and Leong are summer interns at the Center for Engineering Education and Outreach (CEEO) working on K-6 engineering education initiatives for local schools, and learning like young kids learn—by doing—was their goal.

“As much as you try to plan, you still need to test and go back and retry and change directions”—it’s the essence of the engineering process, said Nicole Batrouny. From left, Samantha Leong, Emily Fuller, Batrouny, and Wei-ren Murray at work building a sand castle on Revere Beach. Photo: Alonso Nichols “As much as you try to plan, you still need to test and go back and retry and change directions”—it’s the essence of the engineering process, said Nicole Batrouny. From left, Samantha Leong, Emily Fuller, Batrouny, and Wei-ren Murray at work building a sand castle on Revere Beach.

Waves crashed onto the shore, seagulls swooped and cried overhead, and the sun shone down through a thin layer of clouds as the students, armed with a colorful assortment of plastic buckets, LEGO bricks, and egg cartons—mostly gathered from the CEEO—poured water on the sand to create a flat surface. They then dug a moat using large, flat shells, working quickly and efficiently. “I haven’t done this in so long,” laughed Batrouny.

After perfecting their sand-water mixture, Leong and Fuller started slinging handfuls of it onto the flat foundation to create a mound. “We can only build a tower as wide as the base is,” Batrouny said, referring to the civil engineering concept of the angle of repose, or how steeply you can pile up a loose, granular material before it starts sliding off.

But as they packed the outside of the castle with wet sand and spritzed it using spray bottles, the group observed that the moisture made it sturdier, and decided to go higher—much as a writer’s plan can change during the writing process, said Leong, who hopes to go into children’s publishing after graduating. “You do a rough draft and keep revising until you have a final product,” she said.

At one point, Fuller pulled out a ruler to measure the castle. “I would say fourteen-point-five inches,” she reported, and Batrouny plugged the number into the iPad where they were storing goals and data. As the castle continued rise, Batrouny crafted two arched sand bridges using her hand as a support, a technique Murray dubbed “technical glopping.”

LEGO people were posed on and around the castle. “Our clients are real fixer-uppers,” Murray joked. Leong crafted a spire at the top of the castle and artfully dribbled wet sand over its slopes. The castle was measured again: more than two feet. “Success!” said Fuller. “Huzzah!” said Murray. Batrouny did a celebratory pirouette in the sand.

As a finishing touch, Murray collected shells and pressed them into the sides of the castle. “To make it prettier and better for the LEGO people,” Batrouny said. “We want to keep our clients in mind.”

The group didn’t end up building smaller castles around the main structure as they had planned, and because the tide was receding, they didn’t get to check how their work held up against the water. “We had ideas at the beginning that didn’t pan out,” Batrouny said. “But that’s something that always happens no matter what you’re doing in engineering.”

Fuller, who’s researching how children develop role models, considered the project a success. “It’s about getting in touch with your inner kid, keeping at things until you get them right, not taking it too seriously, and having fun with it,” she said.

Showcasing our Donors

Thank you for your generous support of the School of Engineering. Please visit our searchable donor listing to find your name and those of other supporters!

an interactive donor wall

Stories from the year

By the Numbers

Sarah Carty, E19

Watch the Video

Sarah Carty, E19, shares her immense gratitude for the experience you’ve made possible.

"As engineers, you do all of this work, and you really want it to result in a project that has true impact on the world."