Tribute: The Ultimate Mentor
By Professor John Collier ’72, Th’77
I was an undergraduate in engineering at Dartmouth in the early 1970s and found myself in the first of the engineering systems courses taught by Professor John Strohbehn. He was known by the students as one of the sharpest analytical teachers amongst a team that included Professors Millet Morgan, Thomas Laaspere and Bengt Sonnerup in the radiophysics group, Dean Carl Long in structures, and Graham Wallis in two-phase flow. As the class got underway, I found that John was an excellent instructor who was patient and humorous and quick. John made the offer that students who had difficulty with the material could visit him in his office in the radiophysics building. In this way the students who, shall we say, were slower, got to know the professor better; I think I got to know the professor the best, and that benefited me later on. At each meeting John would clarify the points I had missed and always encouraged me. It was clear that he cared about each student and was determined to help us learn.
Later, when I was working on my doctorate in orthopedic biomaterials, John became one of my advisors. At that time the field of biomedical engineering was in its infancy. My timing was lucky in that John was looking outside radiophysics for a field in which he could put his prodigious analytical skills to work and became interested in medical applications. John’s decision to focus on biomedical research brought instant credibility to the field on the Dartmouth campus, and his leadership brought cohesion to the program. Over time John made numerous connections between Thayer and the medical community with projects and contributions in neurosurgery, cardiology, and oncology. He had a tremendous talent for networking, and he put together the ongoing collaboration between Thayer, the Dartmouth Medical School, and the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.
In the early days of the biomedical program, John observed that the biomedical students were woefully ignorant of human physiology. While he had no background in the field, he was determined that we would learn about it together. He organized an intense course combining engineering analysis and physiology and convinced Professor Frances McCann to co-teach it. It was an exciting experience, as there were only a handful of us in class. John was both taking and teaching the course and was only about three pages ahead of us in the book. We all strove to get ahead of him but were never able to do so.
Over the decades John guided many students to reach their goals. For four of us he made such an impact that we followed in his footsteps and took up the challenge of biomedical research. Thayer Professors Keith Paulsen, Stuart Trembly, Alex Hartov, and I were all graduate students of John’s and have been influenced for life by his guidance and example.
—Professor John Collier ’72 Th’77 is Myron Tribus Professor of Engineering Innovation and Senior Lecturer.
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