In 2015 we celebrated the 50th anniversary of The William State Lee College of Engineering at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. This anniversary marked the graduation of our first class of bachelor’s degree students in 1965.
When we first started taking stock of our history about 15 years earlier, we discovered a number of important dates and milestones in the history of engineering at UNC Charlotte. There was 1946, when the original Charlotte College opened and began teaching introductory engineering and technology courses. There was 1973, when the university changed the designation of engineering from a division to a college. But 1965 was the year we chose as the most appropriate to recognize as the true start of the college of engineering at UNC Charlotte. It was the year we awarded our first bachelor’s degrees, and our graduates began to take their place in the professional world of engineering. Our students are the heart and soul of the college, and it is the date when our very first graduates could say to their peers “I’m a UNC Charlotte engineer,” that we consider to be our beginning.
This history of The William States Lee College of Engineering is based on interviews with the people who made the history. This includes students, deans, department chairs, faculty and staff. Realistically, and unfortunately, not everyone who was important to the history of the college could be included, but their contributions are remembered in memories of the many students they impacted.
Through the interviews conducted to compline this history, several common themes about the college emerged. Almost to a person, those questioned said what brought them here and kept them here was the chance to build something, create something and be part of something new and dynamic. The opportunities to establish undergraduate and graduate academic programs, build new laboratories and develop research programs from the ground up were exciting and rewarding.
Another appealing aspect of the college shared by almost all was its dedication to students. Every engineering dean held to the principle that “the students come first.” Even as research programs grew, an equal balance between teaching and research was always maintained, and students at all levels were involved in and learned from the research.
A constant of student education here has been its foundation in experiential learning. Engineering and technology students at UNC Charlotte have always gotten their hands dirty. From freshmen Introduction to Engineering courses to senior design projects sponsored by industry, our students have taken the knowledge learned from books and lectures and applied it to real-world projects. Our students have learned by doing, and the employers who have hired them have been benefitted.
Those interviewed for this history have had one final shared insight into what has made the Lee College of Engineering such a special place to study and work – the people. The students, many of them first-generation college students and many of them older with families and jobs, have been hard-working and dedicated. They have understood the value of learning and have appreciated the opportunity to earn a higher-education degree. The faculty and staff have been dedicated to the success of the students, and have worked together to ensure students got the academic experience that would make them successful professional engineers.
This history of the college of engineering is organized into several sections and chapters. In The “History” section, the overall story of the college is told. Chapter 1, “Beginning,” encompasses the years from 1946 to 1965, when Charlotte College students worked on associate’s degrees and then transferred on to bachelor’s degree programs at other institutions. The next chapter, “Founding,” covers the years 1965 through 1977, when the founding fathers of UNC Charlotte engineering created curriculum, laboratories, degree programs, departments and the college itself. The years 1977 to 1982 are explored in the Chapter 3, “Establishing,” which introduces Dean Bob Snyder and chronicles growing facilities, department names changes and the beginning of computer science. “Advancing” is Chapter 4, and covers the years 1982 to 1998, when a new emphasis is placed on graduate and research programs. The years from 1998 to 2015, when Dean Bob Johnson takes over and the college begins ambitious new academic programs and construction projects, are covered in the Chapter 5, “Expanding”.
The “Departments” section is comprised of interviews with the people who made the history of the college’s individual departments, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Computer Science, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Engineering Technology and Construction Management, Mechanical Engineering and Engineering Science, and Systems Engineer and Engineering Management.
“Research Centers” explores the beginnings and evolution of research programs that eventually became the Center for Precision Metrology, the Center Biomedical Engineering and Science, the Infrastructure, Design, Environment and Sustainability Center (IDEAS), the Energy Production and Infrastructure Center (EPIC), and the North Carolina Motorsports and Automotive Research Center (NCMARC).
My special thanks to University Archives and campus photographer Wade Bruton for their help in pulling together the information and photos for this history of the college of engineering - Mike Hermann