The University of Massachusetts Amherst
University of Massachusetts Amherst

Search Google Appliance


Old History of COE Newly Recovered

A history of the institution and College of Engineering, as written in 1973 by Professor John H. Dittfach.

The School of Engineering [now the College of Engineering] in the university was established on September 1, 1947. Instruction in engineering had been a part of the curriculum on the campus since the founding of the Massachusetts Agricultural College in 1863. However, it did not develop as rapidly here as at many other land-grant colleges throughout the country, largely because of the many other fine engineering schools in Massachusetts, including M.I.T, which shared the original land-grant funds.

A Department of Agricultural Engineering was established in 1914, and for many years a Department of Mathematics and Civil Engineering existed. In 1936 this work was combined into a Department of General Engineering, lasting only long enough to separate in 1946 into two separate departments, again Agricultural and Civil. The pressure for a full-scale School of Engineering came from the returning veterans of World War II, who returned to civilian status with a G.I bill for education in their hands and found inadequate facilities in the Commonwealth for engineering education. Thus, the history of the School of Engineering really begins with the establishment of the University of Massachusetts as a university in 1946 and the establishing of the School of Engineering as a member of the academic community in 1947. To accommodate the surge of veterans at that time, classes were conducted at two locations, some on the Amherst campus, but the bulk of engineering students received their first two years of instruction at Ft. Devens, until that university activity was phased out about 1951. These students represented some of the finest men and women that we have had in that their motivation, as older and war-matured people had an incentive to work to their highest potential.


The first Engineering building to be so indentified and built on this campus was Gunness Laboratory, constructed in 1949 at a cost of $400,000. Additional buildings came “on stream” as follows: Marston Hall, one-half, 1950, $500,000; Marston Hall, one-half, 1954, $850,000; Goessmann addition for Chemical Engineering, 1959, $1,000,000; Engineering Laboratory, 1964, $2,200,000; and Engineering Building East, 1965, $1,900,00. Summarizing, the five buildings, at a construction value (including equipment and furnishings) of $6,850,000, provide an excellent physical plant to carry out our programs of teaching, research, and service.


With the establishment of a School of Engineering in 1947, the four major Departments of Agricultural, Civil, Electrical, and Mechanical Engineering were authorized to have degree-granting programs. The first designated engineering degree to be awarded was a B.S in Civil Engineering in 1949. The Agricultural Engineering department was transferred to the School of Agriculture in 1954. Chemical Engineering was established as a program in 1948 in the Chemistry Department. In 1952 it was transferred to the School of Engineering as a department. Industrial Engineering was initially an option within the Mechanical Engineering Department, but in 1966 it was established as a separate department. More recently, in an effort to identify its educational role more correctly, it has taken Industrial Engineering and Operations Research Department.

It was also in 1966 that the Mechanical Engineering Department responded to national need and expanded to include the aero-space designation in its title, as well as offering the separated degree in that specialized field. At the present time, the Mechanical and Aero-space Engineering Department retains that name, but the aero-space activities, as well as material study, are included as options within the Mechanical Engineering degree program. A natural result of the computer age was to expand the Electrical Engineering field, so in 1972 the Electrical Engineering Department changed its name to the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department. At present it awards one of the two degrees to its graduates; namely, Electrical Engineering or Computer Systems Engineering.

It should be mentioned that all undergraduate engineering curricula are accredited at the present time by the Engineer’s Council for Professional Development. Civil Engineering distinguished itself by being the first Department accredited in 1949; followed quickly by the Electrical, Mechanical, and Industrial Engineering Programs in 1950. This recognition in record time reflected the high quality of organization and staff put together by Dean Marston in those early days. Likewise, Chemical Engineering was immediately accredited after it became a Department within the School of Engineering.


The large wave of World War II veterans passed through the campus in the early 50s, peaking in 1951 when 251 engineering degrees were awarded. The low point following this wave occurred in 1954, when only 45 engineering degrees were awarded. From that point, undergraduate engineering showed steady climb, with minor ripples, to peak at 1,050 undergraduates students in 1969-70. This was followed in the next few years by a declining enrollment to minimum of 907 undergraduates in 1972-73. For the current academic year, 1973-74, it has increased to 983 students, and predictions for 1974-75, based on freshman and transfer student applications, indicate that this figure should increase about 5%.

Graduate student enrollment has also increased steadily to a peak of 351 students in 1972-73, with an insignificant drop off to 348 in 1973-74. To date approximately 500 students have received an M.S. degree and 65 students have received the Ph.D. degree. The First M.S. degree was awarded in Civil Engineering in 1953, followed by an M.S. in Electrical Engineering in 1954, and an M.S. in Mechanical Engineering in 1955. It should be noted that all departments offer both levels of graduate work in their respective disciplines at this time. The Ph.D. degree programs were first begun on a small scale about the mid-sixties, starting initially in the Civil and Chemical Departments. Additional M.S and Ph.D. degrees in Environmental and Ocean Engineering were started in1968 and 1969.

While the nationwide trend has been towards decreasing engineering enrollment for a number of years, we point out that our current enrollments have not decreased percentagewise as much as the national average, and furthermore, we appear to have turned the corner to an upward trend several years ahead of the national trend. We attributed this to several things, but most importantly to bringing knowledge of the university and of the Engineering School, in particular, to the high school and community college campuses through a vigorous information campaign. We expect this upward trend to continue in the future.

Student Activities

An important factor in the student/faculty/industry relationship is the establishment of student chapters of the national professional engineering societies on campus. The first such chapter to be established was a student chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers in January, 1950. This was followed by student chapters of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (September, 1950), the American Institute of Electrical Engineers (October, 1950), the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (February 1954), and the American Institute of Industrial Engineers (October, 1960). To reflect its current membership more aptly, the Electrical Engineering Society is now identified as the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

Scholarship has always been an important aspect of engineering education. National engineering honor societies exist to recognize and promote such recognition. Tau Beta Pi elects member from all disciplines of engineering and was established on this campus as Massachusetts Zeta Chapter in February, 1955, under the direction of its faculty advisors, Professors Hendrickson and Dittfach. At that time it was the 99th Chapter to be established in this country. Today, there are 144 active chapters of Tau Beta Pi. Three departmental honor societies have been, or are being, installed at this time. Eta Kappa Nu (Electrical Engineering) was established in May, 1960; Alpha Pi MU (Industrial engineering and Operations Research) was installed in October, 1966; and Pi Tau Sigma (Mechanical Engineering) expects to be installed in Fall, 1974.


The Department of General Engineering, which preceded the formation of the School of Engineering, had eight faculty members. One of these was Professor Christian I. Gunness, who was on the faculty from 1914 to 1946 and for whom the first building was named.

In addition, Professors John D. Swenson and George A. Marston should be noted for their contributions to the development of the School of Engineering. Both men were on the faculty prior to World War II teaching mathematics and general engineering programs. Professor Swenson came to Mass State College in 1936 and retired from the University in 1967. His specialty was steam engineering in the Mechanical Engineering Department.

Professor Marston joined Mass State College with a Civil Engineering degree from Worcester Polytechnic Institute and a M.S. in Civil Engineering from Iowa University in 1933. In 1947, at the request of the late University President Van Meter, Professor Marston became the first Dean of the School of Engineering, serving with distinction until his retirement in 1963. Under his direction, the school developed outstanding undergraduate and M.S. programs in all departments. The faculty had grown to a total of 49 at his retirement. Most recently in 1971, the second engineering building to be constructed was named in his honor as Marston Hall.

It is interesting to note that, of the faculty who were here in 1949, 11 are still here. Of these, Dr. Merit P. White has been in the Civil Engineering Department since 1947. Dr. Maurice E. Bates was the first Head of the Mechanical Engineering Department, although he relinquished that position in 1955.

The other faculty members who are still here are the following.

  • Chemical Engineering: Drs. Cashin and Lindsey
  • Civil Engineering: Dr. Carver, Professors Grow, Hendrickson, Marcus
  • Electrical and Computer Engineering: Professor Mohn
  • Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering: Professors Dittfach and Patterson.

Dr. E. Ernest Lindsey was the first Head of Chemical Engineering Department, and he also served as Acting Dean of the School of Engineering from 1963-66. It was during this time that the Ph.D. programs were started in Chemical and Civil Engineering.

The present Dean of Engineering, Dr. Kenneth G Picha, joined the school in September, 1966. Since his arrival, the faculty has grown to a total of 107 at the present time. The majority of the new additions have arrived with the Ph.D. terminal degree and the desire to pursue research to complement their teaching responsibilities. Also under his direction, the School of Engineering has increased its funded grant research to a total of $1,732,000 (not including overhead) in the fiscal year 1972-1973.

In conclusion, the School of Engineering faculty prides itself on its attention to good teaching and student/faculty relation on a less formal basis than the classroom, as well as a continuing interest in performing high-level research. More recently, an increasing number of the faculty have participated in service projects, which expand the university interaction with the world outside our campus borders.

Current Area of Research

As mentioned previously, the School of Engineering has funded research underway at the present time approaching a rate of two million dollars annually. The type of research may be basic or applied; it can be noted from the titles of the following interactions between the university and the world around us. Arbitrarily, only two examples of current research for each department are given in this report. In 1972-73 for example, there were 90 grant research projects in the School of Engineering.

Chemical Engineering

  1. Air pollution Control – The use of a catalytic process for removing sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide pollutants from stack gases issuing from electric power generating plants.
  2. Enzyme Engineering – A study of the immobilized enzymes as catalysts which offers significant advantage and potential economy in Chemical and biochemical processing. This is carried on jointly with the department of Food Science and Nutrition.

Civil Engineering

  1. Ocean Thermal Differences – Research utilizing the temperature difference of ocean water at different depths to design equipment to produces electrical power from a non-polluting source. Carried jointly with the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department.
  2. Continuum Mechanical Modeling for Plant Growth – A study of the use of mathematical and mechanical concepts along with experimental techniques as applied to certain areas of plant growth, notably the cell structure.

Electrical and Computer Engineering

  1. Model of Ear – Research involving the mechanism of determining how ear determines the pitch of sound.
  2. Maser Research – A program identified with the NEROC Haystack Telescope and carried on jointly with the Astronomy Department. It utilizes advanced techniques in maser technology to improve the design of radio telescopes relative to detection speed. It currently represents the best effort in this country applied to this application of masers.

Industrial Engineering and Operations Research

  1. Design and Evaluation Methodology for Outpatients Facilities – A study of the application of engineering principles to determine a most efficient system for hospital outpatient’s service.
  2. Needle Trade Industry – Investigating the feasibility of designing a model for resources aggregation among small manufacturers in fragmented industries.

Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

  1. Transportation Grant – Implementation of a transit system for the Amherst area and a study of the effects of this system involving the university community. Jointly with the Civil Engineering, Industrial Engineering and Operations Research, and the School of Business Administration.
  2. Ocean Thermal Differences – Joint with the Civil Engineering Department. See description under Civil Engineering Department.

Future Activities

What has been written previously in this brief history of the School of Engineering indicates clearly that engineering education is a dynamic situation, and the “status quo” condition never exits for any great length of time. A view into the crystal ball of the future does suggest the following changes that are taking place now or will be taking place in the near future.

  1. President Wood has indicated very strongly that one of the University of Massachusetts missions as a Land Grant institution should be the expansion of the university involvement with the world that surrounds us. Work is already under way in providing service to the Commonwealth by our faculty and resources being directed to the following areas of activity: transportation, environment and energy, and industrial development.
  2. An M.S. program in Manufacturing Engineering proposed by the Mechanical and Aero-space Engineering, and the Industrial Engineering and Operations Research Departments becomes operational in 1974-75.
  3. An expansion of engineering oriented courses to non-engineering students will be stressed. Our focus here is to bring to our friends on the other side of the campus an awareness of the tremendous impact of technology on their lives. We feel that this is a most important aspect at this time.
  4. Efforts will be made to involve our students in real problems originating in industry or government sources. This will be carried on at both the B.S. and M.S. level. A pilot effort in this area on the undergraduate level has been carried on by the ESIC (Engineering Service to Industry and Community) program in the Mechanical and Aero-space Engineering Department. The results to date have been very satisfactory, and an expansion of the program is planned for the next year.
  5. For those faculties who prefer to complement their teaching with research, we would expect continued growth in sponsored research to occur in the future. Some will undoubtedly come from our service involvement mentioned in Item 1.
  6. Finally, more involvement will be projected in the Continuing Education programs here on campus. Our attempt here will be to make available an expanded part-time graduate program for practicing engineers in industry. This will be an expansion of several such department programs already underway into other departmental areas of study. (September 2010)