Students from the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute program at Dartmouth College, located in Hanover, New Hampshire, visited the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Research and Development Center’s Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory, also located in Hanover, February 24, 2020.
The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute believes that regardless of age, learning never stops. This winter, they offered the course “Hot Topics at the Cold Regions Lab,” giving 46 students — made up of mostly retired professionals from a variety of backgrounds — the opportunity to hear from CRREL scientists and engineers about the type of work they do for laboratory and the ERDC.
“They had four classes that ran for two hours each,” said Jackie Richter-Menge, a volunteer with the Lifelong Learning Institute, who retired from CRREL after 36 years of service. “The first class hour, we talked about the laboratory and its history, after that, each hour we had a different researcher who talked about their research, themselves, and how they got into it and what they were doing.”
The course ended with a tour of the CRREL facilities. The campus, constructed in 1961, has held an air of mystery for some people who — throughout their own careers — have driven past the gates and wondered what goes on inside.
“We’ve been driving by here for quite some time, but have never been able to come in,” said Iain Sim, a retired microbiologist, who took part in the program. “When the Osher course came up, we wanted to get on that.”
“It’s quite a facility, it’s massive, and the extent of the engineering has been quite amazing,” said Sim. “The whole engineering of this place — the things that they are doing with these massive great big structures, how to build a runway for an airplane, or how to figure out how to build better roads — and by golly we could really use that.”
When the winter 2020 course was established, it initially had a size limit of 25 students, but Dartmouth College reached out to Richter-Menge asking if she could take an additional 21 students. CRREL Technical Director and Research Physical Scientist Martin Jeffries says this may be due to word of mouth from people who have previously taken the course and told their friends about the program, as well as, the laboratory scientist and engineers who teach each session, bringing the classes alive when they talk about the work they do.
“I think it’s just that communication,” said Jeffries. “By contributing to this course, our scientist and engineers get to talk to the students. It’s not just communicating the excitement of the work, but also the privilege of getting to do this and visit places that very few people do.”
Through his work, Jeffries has been able to perform his research around the world, from Alaska to Antarctica. While he enjoys being able to talk about the research he does and the places he’s been, engaging the community is one of the reasons why he volunteers for the program.
“I think any activity where we can engage with the community is a good thing,” said Jeffries. “It’s better for people to have that knowledge and a greater understanding of what CRREL does — the role we play within the Corps of Engineers, Department of Defense or more broadly across the government as a research and development organization.”
Jeffries explains that people who live in New Hampshire’s upper valley area have a good idea of what goes on at Dartmouth College — why it exists, what’s its purpose — and he hopes that CRREL can have the same standing within the community.
“It helps to at least reinforce the message that science, engineering and research are vitally important to the nation,” said Jeffries. “Here in the community, you have 200 scientists and engineers at the forefront of polar science and engineering. What’s cooler than that — having a bunch of clever people in your midst doing cool stuff?”