Engineering turns 150
Collaboration, alumni base, faculty key to CoE success
Collaboration and public/private sector outreach were not always the accepted norm for U-M's engineering disciplines. But as the College of Engineering (CoE) celebrates 150 years of engineering education in 2004, they are the cornerstones of the unit.
"It is important for us to have collaboration with industry because we want to make sure the educational and research programs we provide for our students are relevant," says Stephen Director, the Robert J. Vlasic Dean of Engineering since 1996. "Companies are constantly telling me they cannot get enough U-M engineering students."
Matthew O'Donnell, the Jerry W. and Carol L. Levin Professor of Engineering and chair and professor of biomedical engineering, and electrical engineering and computer science professor worked for General Electric Company for 10 years before the joining the engineering faculty in 1990.
"I come from industry, and I've seen how working with industry is valuable. It's the way to get your technology into meaningful practice," O'Donnell says. "Often only a single item is needed to enable a whole new industrial sector."
Of CoE's success, Director says, "You have to have outstanding facultyboth outstanding educators and researchers. They are working on problems that are going to help, when they are solved, improve quality of life for people. We also have outstanding students at the undergraduate and graduate levels."
Many CoE graduates go to work for the Detroit automakersFord, General Motors and Daimler Chryslerand engineering faculty are frequent collaborators with the industry. In February 2003, GM announced grants to the University of more than $10 million, primarily for research into advanced vehicle manufacturing and engine systems.
John Laird, professor and associate chair of the Computer Science and Engineering Division of the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) Department, says the collaboration is important for companies and the University.
"Having close interaction with companies like Intel and Motorola has been important for our faculty to be on top of the latest trends and for our students to find good jobs," Laird says. "By working with industry, our faculty have been able to have direct impact on the future of microprocessor design."
Laird says the future is bright for EECS after the Nov. 21 groundbreaking of a new building on North Campus that will bring together faculty and students.
During spring 2003, the Carl A. Gerstacker Building was dedicated as the permanent home of the Department of Biomedical Engineering. "We have great facilities," Director says. "It has become a real community up here."
The building of that community began in 1854 when Professor Alexander Winchell taught the first engineering course at 'U-M on Jan. 20 of that year. Winchell was one of the first in the U-M engineering family to build the bridge between academia and business; while he was a professor, he was working for $5 a day producing a survey for a regional railroad.
Some engineering faculty objected to mixing academia and business, according to "The University of Michigan: A Century of Engineering Education," a history produced in 1954 for the college's centennial.
Mortimer Cooley, who served as the college's second dean from 1904-28, encouraged such ventures, and in December 1910, the Board of Regents cemented the concept of public service for engineering faculty with a resolution:
"Teachers of engineering not only should be permitted to engage in professional work outside of their University work, but should be encouraged and where such work relates to problems of public interest the special kinds of skill to be found in such teaching staff should, as far as possible, be made available to the public."
U-M Engineering's tradition of public service and private-sector support grew in the early 20th century. During the early 1900s, U-M engineers consulted the Michigan Highway Bridge Department. During World War II, Dean Ivan Crawford went to Washington, D.C., to consult the U.S. Navy.
William Vanderan Snyder became the University's first engineering graduate in 1857, making U-M the sixth-oldest engineering degree-granting program in the United States after Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (1824), Union College (1845), Harvard (1847), Dartmouth (1851) and Yale (1852)and the first public institution to grant engineering degrees.
CoE alumni include Gloria Jeff (BSE CE '74, MSE '76, MUP '76)the first woman and first African American to direct the Michigan Department of Transportationand Larry Page (BSE Comp. Eng. '95), co-founder and president, products, of the Internet search engine Google.
"It is amazing the impact our alumni have had for over 100 years," Director says. "It has been eye-opening to see."