The Institute - March 2021 - TI-10

After earning a doctorate in electrical loved that process, " she says. " The idea
engineering from MIT, Dabby became of reaching one's full potential was very
an engineering and music professor. She powerful to me. "
She says she enjoyed taking risks in
taught at Tufts University, MIT, and The
Juilliard School. She also continued to play order to achieve her goal of bettering
concerts, performing at Jordan Hall, Tan- her skills as a musician.
" I built up a very strong
glewood, and other ventrack record with taking
ues in Massachusetts.
risks, " she says, " whether
In 2000 Dabby joined
Employer: Olin
College of
during a performance or
the Olin College of EngiEngineering
in my professional life. "
neering, in Needham,
Mass., where she was
Title: EE professor
And taking a risk is
and music program
exactly what Dabby did
one of 12 founding facdirector
after she came across
ulty members. In 2002
an engineering journal
she established the Olin
at the New York Public
Conductorless OrchesJoined IEEE: 2006
Library for the Performtra (OCO), which comAlma mater: MIT
ing Arts. The journal
pleted its 19th season
last year.
contained articles by
engineers whose avoNo one person leads
the orchestra; instead, the students work cation was music, and they inspired
together to perfect their performances. Dabby to ask: " What if a professional
The program is designed to give talented musician, one of my colleagues, or I
engineering students an expressive outlet acquired the tools of an engineer? Would
while also helping them develop profes- we invent something new for music in
sional skills such as leadership, teamwork, our own time? "
That idea pushed her to pursue a gradand communication.
In 2019 Dabby won a Best Paper Award uate degree in engineering while workfrom the American Society for Engineer- ing as a performer and freelancer.
In order to apply to graduate proing Education. Her winning paper- " The
Engineers' Orchestra: A Conductorless grams, she had to supplement her music
Orchestra for Developing 21st-Century bachelor's degree with postbaccalaureProfessional Skills " -describes the pro- ate classes.
" I had to [earn] around 127 credits
gram's benefits.
because I had no math or science background, " she says. She did so at the City
Dabby says music has always been an College of New York.
extension of herself, and she enjoyed the
" I retaught myself algebra and discovfocus and expressivity that came with ered that I loved it, " she says. " Engineerpreparing for her concerts.
ing became this wonderful respite from
Performing " just kept accentuating performing. The engineering felt fresh.
and improving my musicianship, and I The music felt fresh. "

I built up a very strong track
record with taking risks, whether
during a performance or in my
professional life.


MAR 2021



After Dabby completed the credits she
needed, she was accepted to MIT. For
her doctoral thesis, she merged engineering and music. She devised a chaotic mapping tool-a representation of
chaotic behavior that is typically used
in mathematics-that could be used to
make musical variations. The variations,
which could be either changes in pitch
or in the rhythmic sequence of a piece,
could be close to the original work or
mutate almost beyond recognition.
Dabby has been granted four U.S. patents for her work.
She says she wanted to " come up with
something for music in the 21st century
that wouldn't necessarily occur to those
who were not performers or professional musicians. "

In fall 2000, when the Olin College of
Engineering assembled a leadership
team and faculty to begin from scratch,
it paid attention to a list of skills the
U.S. National Academy of Engineering wanted in engineering students.
The list included leadership skills,
effective communication, and the ability to work as part a team. The Olin faculty members brainstormed how they
could help their students develop the
skills, and that's when the OCO was born.
The idea " just popped into my head in
our first meeting, " Dabby says. " I thought,
Oh my gosh, this could mean a conductorless orchestra. Everyone leads, and
everyone follows. "
The students learn how to collaborate
with one another and how to communicate effectively. The musicians learn
to watch one another to ensure everyone starts and ends together, as well
as adjust balance, dynamic levels, and
tempo by listening intently and cueing
one another, Dabby says.
" It requires the musicians to actively
listen to their parts within the context
of a larger whole and adjust accordingly, " she wrote in her chapter of the

The Institute - March 2021

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