Olympic athletes optimize their training to peak at a certain time, so that they can run faster, jump higher, or lift more when they arrive at the Games. To a large extent, our students optimize their experiences, too, aspiring to accumulate as much knowledge, experience, and joy as possible before the transitional moment of graduation. So what happens when a global pandemic makes it nearly impossible to optimize any sort of plan? There is no unique answer to this question. Everyone’s experience is different. That said, perseverance and the ability to adapt to uncertainty are very often the hallmarks of success.
I’m proud of our recent graduates for their perseverance and adaptation during the last year. More than any other single event, our graduation ceremony in March put these traits on full display. Due to pandemic-related constraints on the size of gatherings in Massachusetts, we could not hold our typical end-of-year graduation festivities. As an alternative, every department at Tufts held a separate graduation ceremony for students and faculty only.
We made the most of unusual circumstances. The graduates took the opportunity to vote for two students to speak at our department ceremony. Brooke Peterson represented Human Factors seniors and Akshita Rao represented Mechanical Engineering seniors. They both offered impassioned, reflective, and humorous comments on their years at Tufts. It was a delight to listen to those speeches together and to see students walk across the stage in Distler—even in March, even with no audience other than the camera crew. I trust that students, parents, and faculty alike found some closure in May, when we rebroadcast the graduation for families and friends via a Zoom watch party. That’s the way it goes in 2021!
The department will continue to adapt in the coming months. We welcome new staff, including Courtney Russo in the Mechanical Engineering Office and Samanta Carias in Bray Laboratory. We welcome Assistant Professor Trevion Henderson to our faculty, after his recent PhD graduation from the University of Michigan. We welcome back Dan Hannon, who will be returning to teach full time at Tufts after several years balancing part-time teaching with a career as a practicing human factors engineer at the MIT Lincoln Laboratory. We also welcome the next class of human factors engineers and mechanical engineers to their senior year. We have adapted to mitigate COVID risk through vaccinations, masks, and weekly testing, but we will continue to be back in the classroom, where I’m convinced our students will persevere on the way to becoming world-class engineers.
Wishing you and your family good health and success during the 2021–2022 academic year.
Professor & Chair
Department of Mechanical Engineering