The Exeter Bulletin — Winter 2011

Ingenuity On Campus and Off

January 15, 2011

By Principal Thomas E. Hassan ’56, ’66, ’70, ’06 (Hon.); P’11

The ability to innovate is one of the hallmarks of an Exeter education, and this issue of the Bulletin highlights Exonians who exemplify that aptitude. The inventors featured on pages 26-31 are classic examples of original thinkers whose vision and determination have transformed their respective fields. Similarly, the article about Exeter’s sustainability efforts (pages 20-25) in our dining halls illustrates the creativity and resolve necessary for the success of any pioneering endeavor.

Phillips Exeter Academy was incorporated close to two centuries before the beginning of the modern environmental movement. You won’t find words like “sustainability” in our 1781 Deed of Gift. But you will find PEA founder John Phillips’ vision of a school that prepares its students for “the great end and real business of living” and encourages the pursuit of goodness as well as  knowledge, which “united form the noblest character, and lay the surest foundation of usefulness to mankind.” His words impel us to not only study sustainability but also explore new ways to practice it.

One of the most satisfying experiences of my 21 years at Exeter has been my association with the Academy’s sustainability program. Begun by just a few committed faculty and staff members,our program has blossomed over the years to a point where sustainability is now a shared schoolwide endeavor. Our approach is neither top-down nor strictly grass-roots. The key to our success has been the combination of the two.

Although the feature “PEA’s Green Eggs and Ham ”focuses on efforts in our dining halls, Exeter has been committed to addressing sustainability in all aspects of school life for the past decade. Student environmental proctors—known as e-proctors—oversee recycling and conservation in dorms and classrooms. Students, faculty and staff also volunteer on several committees to further our sustainability efforts, including the Carbon Committee, Environmental Action Committee and the Farm and Garden Club. In 2004, the Trustees passed an environmental mission statement that stated, in part, “We must foster a culture of environmental awareness, which should be integral to our community in all venues of daily life,on and off campus—where we learn, where we work, where we live and where we play.”

Within the sustainability article, you will read about the letters I received last spring from students in BIO342: Human Population and Resource Consumption: Implications for Sustainability, taught by Science Instructor Anne Rankin ’92. You will learn how some of the students’ requests for food that has been grown“ ethically, safely and locally” have been implemented by Dining Services.

These letters reminded me of another student’s quest to support sustainability. Hillary “Hill” Ryan Jr. ’11 came to me at the beginning of his prep year with a plan to generate all the energy necessary for his own dorm room, and he asked that his room be taken off the school’s main power grid. After much consultation, we found that it would not be possible to isolate Hill’s room.

Undaunted, Hill put his inventive mind to other projects and founded MECexeter, a club that gives students hands-on experience using physics and mathematics in real-world applications. One of the club’s recent projects was to build a concrete canoe. These budding engineers worked for more than a year in a shop they
designed and built within a Phelps Science Center classroom. On a crisp, sunny day this fall, club members experienced the culmination of their work as they paddled their concrete canoe down the Exeter River.To see the launch and hear their enthusiasm, you can watch a video taken by Science Instructor John Blackwell at

As I read the stories of Exeter’s inventors in the pages of this Bulletin, I imagine that some future magazine will contain a piece on the ingenious feats of Hill and some of his fellow MECexeter members. I suspect that the concrete canoe was just the beginning of a lifetime of pioneering innovation.