“Refecting upon my first year as dean of the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), I can’t deny that it’s been a year of surprises. Good ones—and often incredibly great ones,” writes Cherry A. Murray.

Cooking up a course … A general education course on science and cooking, first thought up in 2008, has become an international phenomenon. Seven hundred students showed up on the first day in hope of grabbing one of the coveted 300 seats. Lines snaked around the Science Center and onlookers wondered if a rock band was in town. “60 Minutes” visited campus to shoot a segment on innovations in the culinary arts.

Flying high … Thanks to a $10 million National Science Foundation Expeditions in Computing Grant, “Robobees” (or Micro Air Vehicles) have taken off. One day, mechanical fliers may perform everything from pollination to even earthquake rescue missions. The project involves faculty and students throughout SEAS, departments in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the Wyss Institute, and nearby sister institutions in academia and industry partners.

Engineering innovation … With help from programs and courses dedicated to fostering innovation, a team of students created a soccer ball that, when kicked, charges a battery. Another group programmed a mobile app that connects the campus with surrounding businesses and events. The sOccket ball won a breakthrough award from Popular Mechanics and the app was featured as a lead story in the Wall Street Journal. Moreover, events like the CS50 Fair and the newly created Laboratory at Harvard brought thousands of Harvard community members together to see the results of hands-on learning first-hand.

Getting the call … I had my own personal surprise when I received a phone call from the White House requesting my participation on the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling. As I told a group of Harvard College admissions recruiters, being called by the President of the United States to serve as an expert is one of the fantastic things you get to do as a dean of engineering at Harvard.

As we think about how we want to best present ourselves to the world, being a place that offers surprising connections, conducts cross-cutting research that makes people stop and wonder, and offers courses that makes engineering “cool” and relevant for everyone may be right on target.