*With special thanks and credit to Winthrop Hilding, professor emeritus, whose book, A History of Engineering Education at the University of Connecticut (1991 and 1996), inspired this page.
Like the University of Connecticut itself, the School of Engineering has evolved radically since its humble beginnings in 1881 as a program within the newly established Storrs Agricultural School. In April of that year, the Connecticut General Assembly set in motion the transformative events that erected a college atop the ice age debris and kindled Connecticut’s thirst for workers trained in both pragmatic and theoretical subject matter.
Charles and Augustus Storrs donated 170 acres of land, financial support and several frame buildings to establish the school, which today is Connecticut’s only land and sea grant institution. Early on, the purpose of the Storrs Agricultural School, as it was then called, was to train students in mechanical arts and technology, emphasizing agricultural practice and science, including agricultural mechanics. Just as today, society’s needs to a large degree dictated the curriculum.
In 1901, the renamed Connecticut Agricultural College established a two-year course in mechanical arts. In 1916, the College expanded its mechanical engineering program to a four-year curriculum taught by two instructors and culminating in a B.S. degree. John Nelson Fitts (class of 1897) became the first professor of mechanical engineering in 1918, then Dean in 1919.
In 1920, the Division of Mechanical Engineering moved into its own dedicated Mechanic Arts Building, and the College graduated its first engineering student, Earl R. Moore. In 1935, the College expanded its program to include civil, electrical and mechanical engineering offered within the Division of Engineering.
A second dedicated engineering building, initially named Engineering I (later renamed in honor of Dean Francis L. Castleman) was completed in 1939. Soon after, the School of Engineering was formally established with separate departments in civil, electrical and mechanical engineering.
During World War II, the University saw enrollments plummet as Connecticut’s young men went to war; however, the U.S. Army stationed 1,500 men on campus for college-level Army Specialized Training Programs (ASTP) in various phases of engineering. The war’s end brought not only relief to a weary American populace but also a defining moment in the history of the School of Engineering. Fueled by the GI Bill, the University experienced a sudden influx of students, many of whom chose to study engineering. In 1950, the University graduated 234 engineers.
Engineering II was completed in 1959 and filled by the newly created Chemical Engineering department, which drew faculty from nuclear and mechanical engineering. Engineering III, now the Bronwell Building, was completed in 1968 with funds secured by engineering dean Arthur Bronwell from the State and the National Science Foundation. Both buildings have undergone multiple renovations since 1999.
During the 1960s, computer science emerged as an increasingly vibrant and important area within the Electrical Engineering Department, and in 1986 the School of Engineering established a dedicated Computer Science & Engineering Department. A similar transformation brought metallurgical sciences to the technological fore. The subject, initially taught as a sub-unit within mechanical and later chemical engineering, was awarded its own department in 1967 and offered a graduate curriculum as well as an undergraduate dual-degree option pairing metallurgy with other engineering disciplines.
During the 1980s, environmental science and engineering arose as a distinct area of study in response to societal and industrial needs. The Civil Engineering department embraced environmental engineering, offering graduate degrees and coursework during the early 1990s.
From 1997-2002, freshman enrollment grew 97%, bucking a nationwide trend toward severely declining engineering enrollments. Average SAT scores continued to climb, and the School admitted a significantly greater number of high school valedictorians and salutatorians.
A number of important programmatic changes took place. The School doubled its B.S. degree offerings to 12 as part of a concerted campaign to invigorate engineering, attract a greater variety of talented students and remain dynamic. Degree programs were launched in computer science and computer engineering (offered jointly by the Electrical & Computer Engineering Department and the Computer Science Department).
The same year, the Metallurgy & Materials Engineering Department was renamed the Materials Science & Engineering Department to reflect the broadening role of polymers, composites and other materials in American industry and medicine. That year, the department unveiled the only undergraduate materials science and engineering degree program offered by a public university in New England.
Similarly, building upon its strong graduate degree programs in environmental engineering, the Civil Engineering Department was renamed the Civil & Environmental Engineering Department and debuted a new multidisciplinary B.S. program in environmental engineering. The School also introduced interdisciplinary baccalaureate programs in biomedical engineering and in engineering physics.
2002 – 2010
During this period, engineering enrollment continued its upward climb, prompting the School to accelerate its faculty recruiting efforts and hire a significant number of new, talented young faculty members.
Thanks to generous investments made by United Technologies Corporation, Northeast Utilities and Pratt & Whitney, the School was able to establish, for the first time, eight Endowed Chair and Named Professorships that positioned UConn Engineering to attract senior, world-class professors.
The School of Engineering established new centers of excellence in exciting research arenas, including the Connecticut Global Fuel Cell Center (now the Center for Clean Energy Engineering – C2E2), where researchers conduct cutting-edge fundamental and applied research on clean and efficient energy systems, from energy conversion to fuels to power management; and the Biomedical & Biocomputing Institute (BIBCI), which promotes collaboration between biomedical and medical researchers and computational engineers.
As space grew ever tighter, the School constructed three new buildings on the Storrs and nearby Depot campuses. The five-story, then state-of-the-art Information Technology Engineering (ITE) building was completed in 2003 and houses the Electrical & Computer Engineering and Computer Science & Engineering departments. A 16k sq. ft. building at the Depot campus houses the Center for Clean Energy Engineering (C2E2). The previous year, UConn Engineering carved a new 20k sq. ft. facility out of space connected to the Homer Babbidge Library, to accommodate the Booth Engineering Center for Advanced Technologies (BECAT) and the Engineering Computing Services units.
The School of Engineering began an ambitious campaign in early 2007 to secure industrial funding for a new Eminent Faculty Initiative in Sustainable Energy. With millions of dollars in state and corporate investments (FuelCell Energy, the Northeast Utilities Foundation and UTC Power), the School established an Eminent Faculty chair and associated junior faculty positions in the strategically critical area of sustainable energy technologies.
In parallel, the School of Engineering launched a concerted initiative to attract renowned researchers in a variety of strategic disciplines. This quality focus led to the hiring of young faculty who quickly amassed numerous National Science Foundation CAREER Awards and other national honors during the period.
In keeping with the increasingly multidisciplinary trend in engineering applications, the 2009-2014 Academic Plan outlined a vision to achieve national and international recognition for research and instruction in energy, informatics and bioinformatics, nanotechnology, biological and biomedical technology, secure and resilient infrastructure (built and cyber) and sustainable environmental and natural resources. Similarly, engineering faculty partnered increasingly with colleagues at the UConn Health Center to advance cutting-edge biomedical innovations.
The successful, ongoing on-site professional-practice oriented Master of Engineering (MENG) program was expanded beyond UTC and Pratt & Whitney employees to offer advanced study to engineers at General Dynamics Electric Boat in Groton.
Intent on finding ways to attract a greater number of qualified students, the School introduced a number of K-12 student and teacher outreach initiatives. Among them are NSF-supported programs offering teachers opportunities for hands-on research in engineering labs, and graduate fellowships that embed Ph.D. in Technical High School classrooms and in “areas of national need.” The School of Engineering Diversity Program, particularly the BRIDGE program, continued to play a key role in helping to attract and ensure success for a more diverse undergraduate population. And in 2010, Dr. Jun-Hong Cui, a professor of computer science, was appointed Associate Dean, becoming the first woman to hold a top administrative post in the School of Engineering.
In 2010, Pratt & Whitney Aircraft established a Center of Excellence in Aviation Propulsion Systems within the Mechanical Engineering Department, and USAID-HED awarded millions of dollars for an educational capacity-building program in water resource management within Ethiopia for which UConn Engineering was – and remains – a central partner.
The vital importance of academic-industry partnerships in invigorating American manufacturing came to the fore in 2011, when former Senate President Pro Tempore Donald Williams, Jr. championed the establishment of a UConn Tech Park in Storrs. The inaugural Innovation Partnership Building will open in 2017 and house engineering-industry collaborative research and development facilities.
During this period, the School of Engineering has invested significantly in entrepreneurship and innovation. Entrepreneurship experts team with faculty and students to identify and commercialize viable technologies, obtain seed funding, and establish stronger ties with industry partners. A new Innovation House living and learning community was opened, and a revolutionary two-semester Experiential Technology Entrepreneurship course was created to germinate student-launched startups. The intensive focus on engineering applications has also led to significant growth in the School of Engineering’s industry-supported capstone Senior Design Experience for engineering seniors.
The famed Jackson Laboratory’s decision to build a personalized medicine lab near the UConn Health Center affords UConn Engineering a unique opportunity to increase its cross-disciplinary research collaborations with researchers at JAX along with the Schools of Medicine and Dental Medicine. The collaborative Institute for Systems Genomics serves as a nexus for these activities. In response to the growing excitement and opportunities surrounding biomechanics, genomic science, biomaterials and personalized medicine, in 2013 the School of Engineering formally elevated the Biomedical Engineering program to a full department administered jointly with the Schools of Medicine and Dental Medicine.
With the alarming rise in cyber and computer hardware hacks affecting the nation’s defense, financial, insurance and government sectors, in 2012 the Center for Hardware Assurance, Security & Engineering (CHASE) was established with industry and government partners and continues to fill an increasingly important role in securing the nation’s chip-based electronic technologies. In 2014, communications giant Comcast established a Center of Excellence for Security Innovation within CHASE, underscoring the leadership role of CHASE on a national stage.
During 2012-13, groundbreaking major partnerships were launched with General Electric Corporation (GE Partnership for Advanced materials), Pratt & Whitney (Pratt & Whitney Additive Manufacturing Innovation Center), the Fraunhofer Institute (Fraunhofer Institute for Energy Innovation) and United Technologies Corporation (UTC Institute for Advanced Systems Engineering).
The State, with strong support from the School of Engineering, passed a new $1.5 billion bonding initiative, Next Generation Connecticut, aimed at growing undergraduate populations in the STEM disciplines. Engineering enrollments are targeted to increase by 70% within 10 years.
As enrollment pressures continue to mount, in 2012 the School of Engineering recruited its largest new class of faculty – 22 talented individuals – in advanced manufacturing and materials, genomics and biomedical sciences, sustainability and cyber infrastructure resilience. Over the last 15 years, UConn Engineering has striven to attract a greater number of superb female professors; as of fall 2014, the School had 22 women faculty members. At the top leadership level, Dr. Mei Wei, an accomplished professor of Materials Science & Engineering, was appointed Associate Dean for Research & Graduate Education, becoming the second woman to ascend to a top administrative post.
With exploding undergraduate enrollments and the increasingly complex and interdisciplinary nature of research as a backdrop, the University of Connecticut commenced the first stages of a new, five-story state-of-the-art Engineering & Science Building expected to open in the 2016-17 academic year. The new building will include high-tech laboratory space for bio-nano engineering, chemical engineering, cyber-physical systems engineering, and other sciences.