The University of Massachusetts Amherst
University of Massachusetts Amherst

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Establishing the engineering curriculum

1949 to 1966

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 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 later became the 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 aerospace designation in its title, as well as offering the separated degree in that specialized field. 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.

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.

As a research paper written by Cheryl Brooks, the director of the Engineering Career Planning and Student Development office, reported:

Established in 1863, the Massachusetts Agricultural College, like many other Land Grant Colleges in the United States, offered courses in farming, science and liberal arts in accordance with the Morrill Land Grant (Land Grant Act, 1862).Within only four years, engineering courses such as surveying and construction (taught through the mathematics department) were added to the curriculum (UMass, 2012). Almost 50 years later the Department of Agricultural Engineering was founded and was soon joined by the Department of Civil Engineering (UMass, 2012). However, it would be another 30 years before the Engineering disciplines joined together to create a unified school. 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. 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.