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Car program takes on
stereotypes of engineering
Until recently Jeanell Gadson,
A03, hadn’t had much experience with a car beyond
learning how to drive. Now she knows how to put in a
transmission, engine, shock absorbers, brake systems
and solar-powered batteries.
Gadson is one of 13 women at the School of Engineering
known as the “Nerd Girls,” a project created
to teach invaluable engineering skills and help attract
young women to engineering.
Dispelling myths about a profession long associated
only with men is part of the school’s efforts
to close the gender gap in engineering. Thirty-two percent
of Tufts engineering students—approximately twice
the national average—are women. Sixteen percent
of engineering faculty are women—roughly four
times the national average.
“Tufts has taken the lead in drawing women to
a top engineering school, and part of our own Nerd Girls
success grows out of that reputation,” said program
director Karen Panetta, associate professor of electrical
and computer engineering.
The Tufts women also make quick work
of the geek stereotype. They include a ballroom dance
champion; a reporter for the Tufts Daily; co-presidents
of the student chapter of the Institute of Electrical
and Electronics Engineers; and a nationally ranked tennis
“We’re redefining what a nerd is,”
says Panetta. “We’re diverse and talented.
Young women in engineering can take on challenging projects
and be proud of them.”
The Nerd Girls first came together last April when solar
car parts arrived at Tufts from the University of Massachusetts,
Lowell. The team got down to what they call “reverse
“We just had an idea,” says project manager
Larissa Schelkin. “As such, it was a research
vehicle on which the women had to learn about different
subsystems: design, motor synchronization, solar technology.”
By fall, the Nerd Girls were ready to rev up their reconstructed
vehicle. Its streamlined shape just skims the ground
like a race car, but little else resembles a traditional
car. One agile driver can just squeeze into the cab,
behind which stretches the 12-foot solar panel comprising
solar cells wired together; the solar panels are then
joined to create a solar array. The solar energy captured
by the solar array feeds a current to batteries that
propel the car forward.
Technical and design integration wasn’t the only
accomplishment. When it came time to name the car, they
christened it the “Anne E. B.” in memory
of Anne Borghesani, 1989, who was murdered in 1990.
“We felt that Anne encompasses the spirit of the
project: bringing the team together to work towards
a common goal,” said Panetta.
This semester, they began building a newer version of
“Annie” from scratch. The car will be designed
to meet racing rules so that they fulfill their ambition
to compete in the World Solar Challenge in Australia
Panetta has a keen interest in the project’s potential
to attract women to engineering. She has teamed up with
Howard Woolf, with whom she co-directs the University’s
Multimedia Arts program, to create a documentary that
will follow several women as they pursue their engineering
“A negative perception of women engineers and
scientists is compounded by the ‘egghead’
stereotype associated with engineering and science,”
says Panetta. “We see the solar car project and
the film as two effective ways to showcase how well-rounded,
attractive, and intelligent young women can aspire to
In the meantime, the Nerd Girls continue to make a favorable
impression wherever they share their own excitement
about engineering. They’ve visited nearly 40 local
elementary and middle schools and they have been invited
to exhibit “Annie” at the Tour De Sol this
April in New Jersey.
But it is the response of young girls, in particular,
say the Tufts women, that is the most satisfying.
“The response is always great,” says O’Donoghue.
“We usually have ten-year-old girls saying, ‘Wow!
You guys built that? It’s really cool!’”
Adds Schwartz: “We have gotten as much from the
technology as from the outreach. Our impact has been
For more on the Nerd Girls, visit
to Chair Board of Trustees
James Stern, E72, has been appointed chair-designate
of the Tufts Board of Trustees. He will succeed Nathan
Gantcher, A62, who will step down in November.
For more than two decades, Stern and Gantcher have worked
together as trustees; their most recent achievement
is co-chairing the successful completion of the Tufts
Tomorrow capital campaign, which raised more than $600
“Tufts is proud to have a chairman, and now a
new chairman-designate, whose energies and talents are
so inextricably focused on the needs and aspirations
of this University,” said Tufts president Lawrence
Bacow praised Gantcher for playing “a vital role
as both a member and leader of our trustee board. Despite
the global demands of his own career, he has worked
tirelessly with three Tufts presidents, always making
the time to assist Tufts’ leaders with the challenges
we have faced. I am grateful that he agreed to stay
on as chairman this year, because he has been an enormous
help to me in my early days at Tufts.”
Stern is chair and founder of The Cypress Group, a New
York–based private equity firm that manages more
than $3.5 billion in funds. Prior to founding The Cypress
Group in 1994, he had a 20-year career with Lehman Brothers.
In 1982 he was named managing director. Six years later,
he became co-head of investment banking. He was named
head of merchant banking in 1989.
He also serves on the boards of directors of corporations,
including AMTROL, Inc., Westco International, Inc.,
Lear Corporation, and Cinemark USA, Inc. He is also
a board member of several philanthropic organizations,
including the Jewish Museum and the Cystic Fibrosis
Foundation. He holds an MBA from Harvard.
Joining the Board of Trustees in 1982, Stern went on
to serve on more committees than any other current member
of the board—including 21 years on the Administration
and Finance Committee and 19 years on the Development
Committee, which he chaired for eight years. He also
chaired committees focused on trusteeship, audits and
investments, presidential transition and public relations.
Stern has worked with Gantcher since 1982, when he was
believed to be the youngest person in Tufts history
to attain a trustee post. After completing a seven-year
term, he was elected charter trustee. Stern has been
a member of the executive committee since 1990 and vice
chair since 1998.
Gantcher joined the board in 1983 and was appointed
chair in 1995. Over that time, said Bacow, Tufts has
made tremendous strides. “When Nate joined the
board, the university’s endowment was $50 million,”
said Bacow. “Since then, the endowment has grown
twelvefold, and Tufts has raised more than $1 billion
in three capital campaigns. Nate’s loyalty and
that of his family has been extraordinary. Their passion
for Tufts has inspired countless others to join the
growing ranks of investors in Tufts.”
During Gantcher’s tenure, Tufts has grown in international
stature and new buildings have been constructed for
research labs, classrooms, student and career services,
and athletics. The Gantcher family contributions include
the Gantcher Family Sports and Convocation Center. In
recognition of his service, Gantcher was honored in
April with a Tufts Distinguished Service Award given
by the Tufts University Alumni Association.
Cuttino on "The Best Job in the University"
When David D. Cuttino, Dean of
Undergraduate Admissions, retires in June, he’ll
be leaving a very different university from the one that
he first visited in 1986. Interest in Tufts has grown
dramatically. This past year, more than 14,500 high schoolers
sought entrance for some 1,250 places, nearly a 100 percent
increase since the late 1980s. Their caliber and varied
backgrounds are impressive: 72 percent are in the top
10 percent of their class compared to 79 percent in the
top 20 percent on his arrival, and 28 percent have lived
outside the United States. His legacy also includes creating
networks of alumni admissions and student volunteers.
He’s championed greater financial aid, creating,
with the help and support of alumni and friends, scholarships
such as the Balfour, Calder, Male, Stern, Neubauer and,
most recently, the Chenault and Pritzker programs. To
create a Tufts community equipped to train “global
leaders,” he has bolstered diversity, including
cultivating opportunities for international exploration,
such as forming the Institute for Leadership and International
Perspective, based in Hong Kong, Beijing and the U.S.,
and building on Tufts programs to make possible the Institute
for Global Leadership. He talks with Tufts Magazine about
these and other changes at Tufts.
What was one of
your first challenges at Tufts?
One of the first things that we did when I came here was
to look at how we could broaden the base from which we
draw talented students, not just in areas that were traditional
for Tufts, but from all parts of the country, and how
we could enhance the quality of the experience.
Most students across the country do not leave their state
to go to a university. Only about 20 percent of students
leave their state to go to college. If college is only
a continuation of high school, they are not prepared to
operate in a diverse society and a rapidly changing global
community. More than ever, those who are to shape our
future need to understand other people, other experiences
and perspectives. Thirty percent of Tufts students, at
some time in their lives, have lived outside their country
and one quarter do not have English as their first language.
Today, nearly 30 percent of Tufts students are African
American, Latino, Native American or Asian American. Nearly
one fourth of our students are from small towns and rural
areas and more than 20 percent are from large cities.
We need to provide an environment for students to develop
strong analytical skills, the ability to act and think
independently, and the ability to communicate successfully
across cultures if they are going to be effective leaders
with complex issues, opportunities and challenges that
neither they nor we can anticipate.
So you see the
admissions process as overlapping with meeting the needs
of both prospective students and undergraduates already
In the admissions effort we try to imagine the ways that
prospective students will add to the quality of the educational
experience here. We try to reflect to the members of our
community the characteristics that are important to incoming
students, and we work to alert prospective students to
the special people and opportunities here on campus. One
thing that has changed over the years is that the aspirations
of everyone associated with the university have grown
and that is a critical asset. We are not going to continue
to leap ahead if we don’t believe in ourselves,
if we do not believe we can accomplish even more. But
in order to do this we needed to work with others. One
of the things we moved to very quickly was to increase
the involvement and assistance of alumni and students.
We expanded the Tufts University Alumni Admissions Program
(TAAP) from about 600 people to 3,000 alumni in a space
of less than two years. That network has been critical
to us in terms of appreciating who our graduates are and
helping us develop an effective network strategy for operating
here and overseas. The Student Outreach Program has grown
to nearly 700 students who volunteer as state and regional
representatives, are tour guides, orientation meeting
panelists, and run the April Open House and Student of
Color Outreach programs for admitted students.
How have perceptions
about Tufts changed?
Not long ago you used to hear Tufts referred to as a small
liberal arts school. Well, we’re not small. We most
frequently share applicants with schools such as Cornell,
Columbia, Johns Hopkins, MIT, University of Chicago, UPenn,
Georgetown, Northwestern, Dartmouth. But with the exception
of Penn, Cornell and Northwestern, the range of difference
in terms of size of class is not very great.
What makes Tufts stand out is that it is a place where
the faculty is involved in the creation of new knowledge
but in a way that increases the quality of undergraduate
education. Students are encouraged to be active and engaged
learners from their arrival on campus by participating
in research, projects and internships enhancing their
abilities as critical and independent thinkers able to
articulate their ideas. For example, when they did an
accreditation for the School of Engineering and asked,
“Where are your research labs and teaching labs?”
they learned that our students have access to everything,
we don’t have research labs and teaching labs, we
have labs. Tufts gives students the benefit of working
with people who create knowledge and of studying in a
place structurally prepared to share the process of learning
and development. The intentional preparation of our students
to be thoughtful, informed leaders and innovators prepared
for many endeavors to which they may be drawn in an interdependent
world will be critical to our students and, I expect,
they will continue to prove important reasons for talented
students to come to Tufts.
Seminar on Proliferation-Counterproliferation and Homeland
Security Issues, offered for the first time in Spring
Robert Pfaltzgraff, Shelby Cullom Davis Professor of International
Security Studies, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy
Is there a historical context for the notion of homeland
a term that we’ve used in the security studies community
because we have been concerned about the vulnerability
of the U.S. for a long time. In fact, in the summer of
2001, several months before the terrorist attacks of 9/11,
I was planning a large conference with the U.S. Coast
Guard on homeland security, together with other security
analysts. The term had been around for several years before
9/11; since 9/11, however, we have an official definition
of homeland security as “a concerted national effort
to prevent terrorist attacks within the United States,
reduce America’s vulnerability to terrorism, and
minimize the damage and recover from attacks that do occur.”
After 9/11 we focused the planned conference in light
of these tragic events and the requirements for homeland
security. We published a report summarizing and synthesizing
the results. I was then approached by the Massachusetts
Office of Commonwealth Security to help prepare a Homeland
Security Strategic Plan for the state, and did so.
You write in your syllabus that there is a new, broader
setting for security issues, “one in which the distinction
between foreign and domestic is no longer appropriate.”
Could you elaborate?
The seminar is based on the assumption that we now have
a new security paradigm that includes not only states,
but also other actors such as terrorists capable of using
weapons having vast destructive effects, as we saw on
9/11. The traditional distinction between international
and domestic security has been obliterated. Threats that
originate outside our borders may have their effects in
our towns and cities. Our borders are highly permeable.
At least 95 percent of our imports arrive by ship—about
6.5 million cargo containers each year. Millions of people
enter and leave the United States each year. We can be
targeted by missiles from almost anywhere in the world.
Our seaports are vulnerable, and yet protecting them is
complicated by overlapping jurisdiction of federal, state,
and local authorities as well as the fact that seaports,
unlike airports, cannot easily be isolated from the rest
of a city such as Boston. So our security instruments
must be utilized within an overall strategy that brings
them together in novel and unprecedented ways. This requires
that the government and private sectors work together.
what extent can anyone be prepared?
may be situations that we can do little or nothing about
and for which we must take a philosophical view. There
is no such thing as complete security. But we need to
be vigilant. There are impressive examples of actions
that individuals have taken. The shoe bomber who nearly
blew up a transatlantic airliner in flight last year was
detected and subdued by passengers and flight attendants.
Vigilance is a first line of defense. Since 9/11 we have
security that is more visible. Such security is welcomed
by most people, although we must always draw an appropriate
balance between security and liberty, and between the
need to secure our borders while promoting commerce. We
need to have intelligence agencies communicating with
one another more fully, and we need to share information
as fully as possible. We need also to develop new mind-sets
that, as the saying goes, “connect the dots”
in unaccustomed ways.
Some would argue that President Bush made Americans lose
confidence by creating the Department of Homeland Security.
I would not agree with such an assertion. In my view,
it would be a dereliction of duty for our government not
to give us whatever protection can reasonably be provided.
You can argue that those who are telling us there is a
threat are protecting themselves bureaucratically so that
they can say “I told you so” in the event
of a terrorist attack. But it would be worse for them
not to warn us of a threat about which they had credible
and specific information. When alert levels are raised,
the government is sharing strategic-level intelligence
with the public. For example, increased levels of communication
among terrorists may have been detected, as was the case
in the orange-alert high-threat level of several weeks
ago. This came as a result of a pattern of communications
within terrorist networks similar to what we saw before
9/11. The problem was that the U.S. government probably
lacked credible information about when or where a terrorist
attack would take place. Conceivably, raising the threat
level, in this case, led to the calling off of a planned
Has your attitude toward human behavior changed since
you first started working on security issues?
I have always believed that human beings have an immense
capacity to inflict great harm on each other—which
they have exercised throughout history. That is one of
the reasons why I study security issues—in order
to understand what motivates nations and other groups
to engage in armed conflict and, of course, to assess
strategies and capabilities for achieving and maintaining
security in a dynamic world. Understanding the basis for
security is an enduring problem for humankind. We are
now in only the latest phase of this unending phenomenon
about which the ancient Greek historian Thucydides wrote—that
what made the Peloponnesian Wars inevitable was that Athens
feared the rise of Sparta’s power. Nothing that
we have learned since the Peloponnesian Wars alters the
fundamental fact that armed conflict is part of the political
landscape, which we ignore at our peril.