UConn’s School of Engineering is growing as never before. It has smarter students, more productive faculty, attracts more public and private funding, generates more research publications and patents and has earned the trust of industry in Connecticut and beyond.
In the last decade, since dedicating itself to cutting-edge, industry-relevant education and research, UConn-Engineering has partnered with scores of companies, the State of Connecticut and UConn’s other Schools and Colleges to showcase vibrant research and collaborations.
Because of those partnerships and new leadership at UConn, Gov. Dannel Malloy and the Connecticut Legislature joined forces on two acts to forge a lasting bond between UConn Engineering’s educational and research mission and Connecticut industry.
In 2011 – Led by then Senate President Pro Tempore Donald Williams, Jr., they established the UConn Tech Park in Storrs. The inaugural “Innovation Partnership Building” is expected to open in 2017 and house Engineering & Industry collaborative research and development facilities.
In 2013 – The legislature passed the “Next Generation Connecticut” act – a 10-year, $1.5 billion-dollar investment in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education at UConn. As part of this investment, the School of Engineering pledged to grow its undergraduate enrollment by 70% within 10 years.
Since 1916, when two professors began its four-year degree program, the School of Engineering has transformed itself into the Northeast’s top public Engineering program. Today – 100 years later – 161 world-class faculty are pushing the envelope, driven by a passion for teaching excellence, innovation and making a positive impact on the economy.
Dean Kazem Kazerounian – a 31-year veteran of our school – and his predecessor, Mun Choi, who now serves as University Provost, have presided over an unprecedented expansion in industry partnerships. Among them:
The Pratt & Whitney Center of Excellence in Aviation Propulsion Systems (2010),
The GE Advanced Technology Initiative (2012),
The Center for Hardware Assurance, Security & Engineering (CHASE) (2012),
The Pratt & Whitney Center for Additive Manufacturing and Innovation (2013),
The United Technologies Institute for Advanced Systems Engineering (2013),
The Fraunhofer Institute for Energy Innovation (2013),
The Comcast Center for Security Innovation (2014),
The FEI Center for Excellence in Microscopy & Materials Characterization (2014) and
The Eversource Energy Center (2015).
(CHASE and Comcast CSI were established to counter increasing threats to cyber security.)
This year, more than 150 company-sponsored Senior Design Projects paired teams of 3-4 seniors with a faculty member and an engineering executive from each company to tackle real industry problems.
The School of Engineering has also made entrepreneurship and innovation the centerpiece of undergraduate and graduate education. A new Innovation House living/learning community was opened, and a revolutionary two-semester Experiential Technology Entrepreneurship course has been created to germinate student-launched startups.
The rising numbers of Engineering students (4,255 in 2015) will soon enjoy a five-story Engineering & Science Building, with laboratory space for bio-nano engineering, chemical engineering, cyber-physical systems engineering, and other sciences. Completion is expected in 2017. Many of them will be housed in the STEM dormitory being built adjacent to Alumni House.
These students are being taught by 64 new faculty with expertise in advanced manufacturing and materials, genomics and biomedical sciences, sustainability and cyber infrastructure resilience and more. UConn Engineering is also striving to attract more superb female professors; as of fall 2015 the School has 25 women faculty members. At the top leadership level, Dr. Mei Wei, an accomplished professor of Materials Science & Engineering, has become Associate Dean for Research & Graduate Education.
UConn Engineering also launched its seventh department – Biomedical Engineering – as a unique collaboration with UConn’s School of Medicine and School of Dental Medicine. Prof. Ki Chon – a UConn Engineering alumnus – returned to guide the department that is working with the UConn Health Center and involved with Connecticut’s bioscience initiative and the Jackson Laboratory in Farmington. The decision to build a state-of-the-art personalized medicine lab near the UConn Health Center affords UConn Engineering a unique opportunity to increase its cross-disciplinary research collaborations.
These were critical years for building UConn-Engineering sophistication and resources.
In 2007, the School of Engineering began an ambitious campaign to secure corporate funding for an “Eminent Faculty Initiative in Sustainable Energy.” The result was a $4 million private-public match that paired State and corporate investment from FuelCell Energy, the Northeast Utilities Foundation and UTC Power. Together their generosity created eight Endowed Chair and Named Professorships and positioned UConn Engineering to attract senior, world-class talent.
The Eminent Chair in Sustainable Energy was married with the School’s newly established Connecticut Global Fuel Cell Center (now the Center for Clean Energy Engineering – “C2E2”), where researchers work on clean and efficient energy systems. Researchers are advancing science in smart grid technologies, photovoltaic solar energy, fuel cells, computational modeling, advanced combustion technologies, and other areas.
The School – undergoing tremendous growth – erected the Information Technology Engineering (ITE) building in the center of the Storrs campus in 2003, to house the Electrical & Computer Engineering and Computer Science & Engineering departments. Adjacent to it – in an underground space connected to Homer Babbidge Library, it created 20,000 square feet for the Booth Engineering Center for Advanced Technologies (BECAT) and the Engineering Computing Services units. And on the Depot Campus, a 16,000-square-foot building became the home of C2E2 (the Center for Clean Energy Engineering).
Outreach – honing the skills of engineers on the job, cultivating future Engineering students and increasing overseas programs – became central to our mission.
The Master of Engineering (MENG) Program, begun in 1999, expanded to offer masters degree courses to practicing engineers at their place of work. Begun with UTC and Pratt & Whitney employees, it moved to General Dynamics-Electric Boat in Groton and continues to expand.
Meanwhile, the School of Engineering introduced several K-12 student and teacher outreach initiatives to help build a pipeline of future Engineering students. National Science Foundation-supported programs offer high school teachers curricula and hands-on research in engineering labs, while also providing graduate fellowships that embed doctoral students in Technical High School classrooms.
The School’s Diversity Program, led by the BRIDGE program, reached its 25th anniversary of helping to attract and support minority and female Engineering students – and achieved a higher graduation rate than the rest of the School. As of 2015, the four-year graduation rate for underrepresented engineering students who participated in BRIDGE is 71 percent, versus 55 percent for the school as a whole.
And the School of Engineering won a three-year, $2.45 million award from USAID’s Higher Education for Development arm in 2010 to lead an education program that would increase the capacity of water resource managers in Ethiopia. UConn Engineering professors, in partnership with five Ethiopian universities, launched the first water research institute in the country in 2012. In September 2015, the University received a $4.3 million grant from the National Science Foundation to develop a forecasting system that will allow local governments and communities in Ethiopia to better manage water resources.
Freshman enrollment grew 97% in this period, bucking a national trend toward declining engineering enrollments. Average SAT scores continued to climb, rising by 40 points between 1998 and 2000 and the number of high school valedictorians and salutatorians soared.
Simultaneously, UConn-Engineering doubled its B.S. degree offerings to 12 as part of a campaign to invigorate engineering, attract a greater variety of talented students and remain dynamic. Degree programs were launched in computer science and computer 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. The department simultaneously unveiled the only undergraduate materials science and engineering degree program offered by a public university in New England.
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.
1960s – 1997
During the 1960s, computer science emerged as an increasingly vibrant and important area within the Electrical Engineering Department, and in 1986 UConn-Engineering established a dedicated Computer Science & Engineering Department. A similar transformation brought metallurgical sciences into its own rite. The subject, initially taught as a sub-unit within mechanical and later chemical engineering, was given its own department in 1967 and offered a graduate curriculum as well.
Environmental science and engineering arose in the 1980s 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.
Meanwhile, Dean Peter McFadden spearheaded fundraising for the United Technologies Engineering Building, which was completed in 1987. Attached to Engineering II, the building was an early public-private partnership, with UTC and its employees contributing $1 million for a building that cost almost $5 million.
The Impact of World War II
World War II saw University 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.
The “Engineering II” building was completed in 1959 and filled by the newly created Chemical Engineering department, which drew faculty from nuclear and mechanical engineering. Engineering III, later named 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.
Birth of Engineering
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 afterward, the School of Engineering was formally established with separate departments in civil, electrical and mechanical engineering.
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.
With special thanks and credit to Winthrop Hilding, professor emeritus, whose book, A History of Engineering Education at the University of Connecticut (1881-1995), inspired this page.