Brief History*

Click on the period of interest below, or scroll down the page for the full summary.

    109 Years of Engineering Instruction - 1881
    Mechanical Arts - 1901-1939
    The Impact of World War II - 1940s-1960
    1960s - 1997
    Continued Expansion: 1998 - 2000
    2000 - 2006
    2006 - Present

*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), was the inspiration for this page.

109 Years of Engineering Instruction

Like the University of Connecticut itself, the School of Engineering has evolved radically since its humble beginnings in 1881 as a core program within the newly established Storrs Agricultural School. In April 1881, 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.

Mechanical Arts

In 1901, the newly renamed Connecticut Agricultural College established a two-year course in mechanical arts. Fifteen years later, 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 1918, the Mechanical Engineering department moved into its own dedicated Mechanic Arts Building, and the College graduated its first baccalaureate student in mechanical engineering. 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. The Castleman Building was renovated in 1995 and now houses both the Civil & Environmental Engineering department and the Engineering Deanery. That year, the School of Engineering was formally established with separate departments in civil, electrical and mechanical engineering.

The Impact of World War II

During World War II, the University suffered a dramatic decline in enrollment 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 was 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 Engineering II and the Bronwell Building have undergone a number of renovations since 1999, and Bronwell was home to Electrical & Computer Engineering and the Biomedical Engineering program until April 2003.

1960s - 1997

During the 1960s, computer science began to emerge as an increasingly vibrant and important area within the Electrical Engineering Department and in 1986 the School of Engineering created a dedicated Computer Science & Engineering Department. A similar transformation brought metallurgical sciences into the technological fore. The subject, which initially was taught as a sub-unit within mechanical and later chemical engineering, secured its place in UConn engineering history in 1967 when the Metallurgy Department became an autonomous department offering both a graduate program in metallurgy and the option for undergraduates to earn a dual degree in metallurgy and another engineering discipline.

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.

1998 - 2000
In 1998, Dr. Amir Faghri, formerly Head of Mechanical Engineering, became Dean of the School of Engineering following a national search. Freshman enrollments grew 97 percent between 1997 and 2002, bucking a nationwide trend toward severely declining enrollments in engineering programs. 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.

Between 1998 and 2002, the School doubled its baccalaureate degree offerings, expanding its major programs from the original six 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, computer engineering (offered jointly by the Electrical & Computer Engineering Department and the Computer Science Department) and computer science and engineering.

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 a B.S. program in materials science and engineering - the only undergraduate materials engineering degree program offered by a public university in New England.

In a parallel vein, building upon its strong graduate degree programs in environmental engineering, the Civil Engineering Department changed its name to Civil & Environmental Engineering and debuted a new multidisciplinary bachelor's degree program in environmental engineering that ranks among those in greatest demand by undergraduate engineering students. In addition, the School introduced interdisciplinary undergraduate degree programs in biomedical engineering and in engineering physics as well as a minor option in information technology.

2000 - 2006
To meet the demands of its increasing enrollments, the School ramped up its faculty recruiting efforts dramatically beginning in the late 1990s and successfully hired a significant number of new, talented young faculty members. In parallel, undergraduate enrollments continued to rise dramatically. In 2007, the School of Engineering had 1,691 undergraduates enrolled, with freshmen totaling 422. In contrast, during the 1997-98 academic year, undergraduate enrollment totaled 908 and freshman enrollment was just 158.

Dean Faghri established eight Endowed Chair and Named Professorships, with funding available for additional positions. The Endowed Chair faculty positions are sustained by $1 million while Named Professorships are endowed by $500,000-$750,000.

The School of Engineering also established new centers of excellence in areas of strategic importance:

  • The Center for Clean Energy Engineering (C2E2), a collaborative alliance between the private sector, the state and federal governments, and the School of Engineering. The Center enjoys $20 million in support and is conducting cutting-edge research in micro/miniature/portable fuel cells for the U.S. Army as well as designing, developing and refining a spectrum of fuel cell types and component technologies for commercial applications.
  • The Biomedical & Biocomputing Institute (BIBCI), intended to promote collaboration between biomedical and medical researchers and computational engineers. BIBCI was founded with seed support from the National Institutes of Health.

In addition, the School expanded its facilities with the construction of three custom-designed buildings on the Storrs and nearby Depot campuses. The five-story, 110,000 sq. ft., state-of-the-art Information Technology Engineering (ITE) building, constructed with funding from the State, was completed in 2003 and now houses the Electrical & Computer Engineering and Computer Science & Engineering departments. A 16,000 sq. ft. building constructed on the Depot campus, with support from the U.S. Department of Commerce, houses the C2E2. The School also added a new 20,000 sq. ft. facility in 2001, connected to the Homer Babbidge Library, to accommodate the Booth Engineering Center for Advanced Technologies and the Engineering Computing Services units.

Dean Faghri oversaw the merger of two departments, effective July 2006: the departments of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science & Engineering were united to form a new Department of Chemical, Materials & Biomolecular Engineering.

That year, the Connecticut Transportation Institute (CTI) received $2 million as part of a six-year federal transportation bill, for the establishment of a U.S. DOT University Transportation Center. The center theme is smart transportation, air quality and congestion mitigation.

In early June 2006, Dean Faghri, United Technologies Endowed Chair in Thermal-fluids Engineering - along with two Associate Deans - returned to regular faculty duties. Erling Smith, formerly Department Head of Civil & Environmental Engineering and former Associate Dean, was appointed Interim Dean of Engineering.

2006 - Present
The School began an ambitious campaign in early 2007 to secure industrial funding for a new Eminent Faculty Initiative in Sustainable Energy. The initiative began with passage in July 2006 of Public Act No. 06-83: An Act Concerning Jobs for the Twenty-First Century, enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in General Assembly. The resulting bill charged the UConn Board of Trustees to develop a program to facilitate the recruitment of eminent faculty in key areas. Following a campus-wide competition, the University awarded the first Eminent Faculty position to the School of Engineering to address the critical area of sustainable energy. An ambitious development campaign ensued, and in mid-June 2007, the School of Engineering had garnered pledges of more than $2 million in support for the initiative, from corporate partners FuelCell Energy, the Northeast Utilities Foundation, and UTC Power. The School of Engineering will recruit an eminent faculty member of international stature and reputation in the area of fuel cells/sustainable energy, with a demonstrated track record of attracting federal and industry research funding and - ideally - proven success in securing patents and commercialization.

Between 2006 and 2007, engineering faculty secured seven National Science Foundation Early Career Development (CAREER) Awards. Of these, four were awarded in 2007 to Computer Science & Engineering faculty, bringing the departmental total to eight.

In July 2007, the Connecticut Transportation Institute (CTI), a unit of the School of Engineering, was named a Department of Homeland Security national Center of Excellence for Transportation Security. The announcement was made jointly by Connecticut Senators Chris Dodd and Joe Lieberman, who championed the selection of CTI, one of seven charter programs to receive a combined $18 million/year in homeland security grants over four years.

Also in July 2007, following a national search Dr. Mun Y. Choi was named Dean of Engineering. Dr. Choi received his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from Princeton University in 1989 and 1992, respectively, in the field of mechanical and aerospace engineering. He previously served as Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Studies in the College of Engineering, and as Department Head of Mechanical Engineering and Mechanics, both at Drexel University in Philadelphia. Dr. Choi began official duties on January 4, 2008.





School of Engineering
261 Glenbrook Rd., Unit 3237
University of Connecticut
Storrs, CT 06269-3237
(860) 486-2221