Engineering Historical Collections

Dittfach History of Engineering Part 2

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

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


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)