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  Nerd Girls
Solar Car program takes on stereotypes
  Stern to Chair Board
of Trustees

James Stern appointed chair-designate
  "The Best Job in
the University"

An interview with David Cuttino
  Topic: Homeland Security
A new seminar
Nerd Girls
Solar 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.

Tufts students (l-r): Beibhinn O’Donoghue, Megan Schwartz, Jeanell Gadson and Stephanie Chin, part of the 13-member Nerd Girls team. (Photo by Mark Morelli)


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 player.

“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 engineering.”

“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 next year.

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 degrees.

“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 be engineers.”

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 fabulous.”

For more on the Nerd Girls, visit


Stern 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 million.

“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 S. Bacow.

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.

David 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 here.
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.
Topic: Homeland Security

CLASS: Seminar on Proliferation-Counterproliferation and Homeland Security Issues, offered for the first time in Spring 2003

PROFESSOR: Robert Pfaltzgraff, Shelby Cullom Davis Professor of International Security Studies, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy

Q: Is there a historical context for the notion of homeland security?

A: It’s 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.

Q: 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?

A: 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.

Q: To what extent can anyone be prepared?

A: There 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.

Q: Some would argue that President Bush made Americans lose confidence by creating the Department of Homeland Security.

A: 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 terrorist attack.

Q: Has your attitude toward human behavior changed since you first started working on security issues?

A: 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.