University of Virginia Celebrates 175 Years of Engineering with an Eye Toward the Future

October 07, 2011

October 7, 2011 — In response to the needs of a nation embracing the Industrial Revolution, the Board of Visitors at the still-young University of Virginia in 1836 established civil engineering as a formal course of study. One hundred and seventy-five years on, the School of Engineering and Applied Science continues to educate students to meet today's national and global challenges.

"The power of engineering is not simply that it enables us to do accustomed tasks more efficiently," Dean James H. Aylor said. "Rather, engineering enables us to engage with the world and each other in fundamentally different ways.

"For instance, thanks to engineers, cell phone users can reach friends and family more easily than ever before, but this ability has irrevocably altered these relationships and their experience in the world."

The Engineering School is marking the milestone with special events, including a seminar series early in 2012.

"The seminar series will highlight the fundamental role of engineering in the 21st century, shaping modern life, driving change and providing the means to address the complex challenges – social, environmental, economic – that confront our global society," Aylor said.

The seminars will be held in conjunction with other U.Va. schools and will underscore the transformations produced by engineering as well as the potential of emerging technologies to impact the world even more profoundly. The series will focus on four areas: engineering and medicine, engineering and business, engineering and arts and humanities, and engineering and politics and public policy.

On Nov. 18, the Engineering School will dedicate the Rice Hall Information Technology Engineering Building, which will serve collaborative researchers as the nexus of information technology engineering activity. Rice Hall was made possible by a lead gift of $10 million from Paul and Gina Rice, through the Rice Family Foundation. Paul Rice is a 1975 electrical engineering alumnus,

Also, construction has begun on the engineering student experiential learning building, made possible by a gift from Chip Lacy. A joint project with U.Va. Facilities Management, the 10,000-square-foot building is near the Slaughter Recreation Center.

America in the early 19th century needed engineers to build machinery for its factories, bridges for its turnpikes and locks for its canals, but engineering schools were few and far between. U.Va.'s Board of Visitors created only the fourth engineering program in the nation, and the first enduring program in the South.

The fledgling program began with two faculty members and some 50 students who studied in the Rotunda basement and Annex. Today, the Engineering School includes 10 undergraduate and graduate programs, four off-Grounds and collaborative programs and eight minors. The school comprises 139 faculty members, 2,400 undergraduates, and 616 graduate students who teach, conduct research and study in nine buildings.

Gov. Robert F. McDonnell recently signed a Commonwealth of Virginia Certificate of Recognition in honor of the 175th, declaring that the creation of the Engineering School was a milestone in higher education. The certificate notes that the school offers a comprehensive and broad educational program and that alumni of the Engineering School excel in leadership positions in engineering, business, public policy, education and myriad other areas.

Engineering School alumni are leaders of Fortune 500 companies, deans of higher education schools, astronauts and successful technology and business entrepreneurs. To note only a few:

•    Gregory H. Olsen (materials science '71) is a successful entrepreneur who was the third private citizen to travel in space. He did so through Adventures Ltd., a company founded by Eric C. Anderson (aerospace engineering '96);

•    Chip Perry (civil engineering '75) is the founder of, an online enterprise that transformed automobile purchasing in the nation;

•    Win Phillips (aerospace engineering '66 and '68) was recently appointed senior vice president and chief operating officer of the University of Florida;

•    and Jill Tietjen (applied math '76) is the co-author of "Her Story: A Timeline of the Women Who Changed America."

As it reflects on its past and looks toward the future, the Engineering School has taken a number of steps to ensure its programs benefit the commonwealth as a whole. Recently, it launched the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing, part of a Rolls-Royce, U.Va. and Virginia Tech partnership, to coordinate its research with industry and government partners in southwest Virginia. The school also introduced Engineers PRODUCED in Virginia, an initiative that allows students in the Virginia Community College System to earn a bachelor of science degree in engineering science without leaving their communities.

The Engineering School recently completed a strategic planning process, which Aylor commissioned. "Strategic Vision 2011" maps out an ambitious series of strategies to strengthen the school, prepare graduates for leadership, heighten the impact of engineering research and reach more people.

"We want to ensure that the Engineering School continues its long tradition of innovation and service to society," Aylor said.

About the University of Virginia School of Engineering and Applied Science

Founded in 1836, the U.Va. School of Engineering and Applied Science combines excellence in undergraduate and graduate education in a robust research institution. The undergraduate program offers courses in engineering, ethics, mathematics, the sciences, business, entrepreneurship and the humanities. The program also places great emphasis on leadership and service. Faculty and graduate student research addresses societal challenges including creation of a sustainable future, improved health, cyber and physical infrastructure and personal and societal security. This research is often conducted in collaboration with U.Va.'s highly ranked medical, architecture, education and business schools, as well as the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.

Media Contact

Josie Pipkin

Director of Communications, School of Engineering and Applied Science