The University of Massachusetts Amherst
University of Massachusetts Amherst

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Brooks Writes History of College for Her Graduate Education Course

Cheryl Brooks, the very busy director of the College of Engineering Career Planning and Student Development Office, somehow found time last semester to take a UMass graduate course in History of Higher Education in America. In the process, she wrote an insightful, well-researched, and entertaining paper on the College of Engineering’s early history. Entitled “History of the University of Massachusetts School of Engineering: Curriculum Design, Academic Standards, and Accreditation,” the 15-page paper sheds significant light on the early years at the College of Engineering.

As Brooks defined the purpose of her paper, “This study seeks to examine the development of the UMass School of Engineering by focusing specifically on the curriculum issues that early educators faced, the way academic standards were measured, and the initial accreditation process. These three components were of utmost importance to the development of the individual departments as well as the School of Engineering as a whole.”

Hours and hours of time in the library archives gave Brooks an accurate picture of the college’s formative years. Though the Massachusetts Agricultural College was founded as one of the original U.S. Land Grant institutions in 1863 and soon included engineering related courses such as surveying and construction, engineering was not formed into a unified school for more than 80 years.

As Brooks reported in her paper, “In 1947, only four months after the college became the University of Massachusetts, ‘a School of Engineering was established within the university to have equal status with the Schools of Science, Liberal Arts, Home Economics, Business Administration, Agriculture, and Horticulture’ (Marston, 1949). This new School of Engineering included four departments: agriculture, civil, electrical, and mechanical engineering.  A separate curriculum in industrial engineering was administered through the Mechanical Engineering Department.” 

In 1952 Chemical Engineering moved from the School of Science and was incorporated into the School of Engineering, and the Department of Agriculture moved out of engineering and into a separate Agricultural School.  

“From the initial development of the School of Engineering, administrators took care to create a program that would balance the educational needs of the engineering students, both as well-rounded leaders and practical engineering problem-solvers,” wrote Brooks. “Developing this balanced program included addressing issues relating to curricula, academic and facility standards, and accreditation. Many of the factors affecting decision-making regarding these topics were grounded in the political and economic climate of the times.”

Brooks reported that, as the technical departments began to develop, UMass Amherst Dean William Machmer, who oversaw academic affairs and curriculum, wrote that he “wished to emphasize the development of the complete individual, including the mental, physical, social, and moral aspects.”

These “development of the complete individual” courses at the School of Engineering included English, Military, Physical Education, and one elective per semester in either History, German, French or Spanish.

Brooks also addressed the facilities crisis triggered by the return of veterans from World War II. 

“This influx of students,” she explained, “many of whom wanted to pursue technical degrees in engineering, created an immediate problem for the university—lack of space. In a 1947 article, H.T. Aplington told the Collegian that he regarded expansion of engineering facilities as ‘the greatest single need of the state college’ (UMass Collegian, 1947). The Engineering School would need dormitories, classrooms, and laboratory space to accommodate the new students.” 

As Brooks reported, in 1947 the School of Engineering admitted 549 freshmen, yet there were no official engineering buildings on the Amherst campus. Students were housed and some classes held at the Fort Devens military facility north of Worcester.  

“On the Amherst campus, the engineering faculty held classes in 14 different buildings—every building except the president’s office—with some faculty taking up office space in the attic of Stockbridge,” Brooks noted. “The only engineering-related laboratory facility that the university had was a machine shop, built in 1916, that included machining and woodworking equipment, welding facilities, and a motors laboratory.”

She went on to relate that in 1948 the university built the first engineering building, the Engineering Annex, which was a one-story brick building that provided an electronics laboratory, a large drafting room, and a food processing laboratory. Later that year, the Gunness Laboratory was built, which added facilities for materials testing, fluid mechanics, internal combustion engines, HVAC, electrical circuits, two large classrooms, and offices for 12 faculty. 

In an Engineering Newsletter dated 1949, Dean Marston reported that “Erected at a cost of $475,000 and dedicated on 22 October 1949 in a ceremony which saw the Governor of Massachusetts as the principal speaker, this laboratories building has been termed as ‘the last word’ in modern engineering educational program.”

There is much, much more in Brooks’ wonderful paper, with many juicy historical tidbits too numerous to detail in this short article. Brooks is working on her doctorate in Higher Education Policy, Research, and Administration. Oh, and by the way, she got an “A” on her paper! (July 2012)