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Reflecting on the Past and Future: 175 Years of Engineering

The year 2013 marks 175 years of engineering at the University of Tennessee. The College of Engineering marked this milestone with a yearlong celebration that highlighted its graduates, students, and faculty members. The highpoint of the celebration was on October 4, 2013, which included the dedication of the John D. Tickle Engineering Building, engineering department open houses, and a grand gala event.

The MABE department showcased its productivity, research and labs by student-led department tours that were given after the dedication of the John D. Tickle Engineering Building. These tours were held for alumni and friends of the department and highlighted the growth of the department in 175 years. Dr. Matthew M. Mench, MABE department head, said, “It was a great opportunity to tie the strength of our heritage to our plans for the future. I got to meet many alumni, which was a great honor and the highlight of the weekend for me. In particular I was able to meet the grandson of Nathan W. Dougherty, the main MABE building’s namesake.”

Dr. Mench is already pondering about what the next 175 years will shape out to be for the department. “I think we will continue to grow as the premier state research University, and continue to increase in international prominence as well as move up in the rankings. What the actual delivery of education will look like is hard to guess,” Dr. Mench said. He expects there will be a greater use of virtual learning, but unless a new way to interface with the human brain is developed, Dr. Mench doesn’t believe the experience of a classroom environment with a live professor and a group of students can be replaced. “While we continue to evolve our use of online tools, so much of the college experience is about the relationships and experience of being on a campus like ours that cannot be replaced online,” Dr. Mench said.

To be able to celebrate another 175 years of engineering, Dr. Mench notes that the department, college, and university need to continue to make wise decisions and to deliver on all promises to improve the quality of the education and students at every level. He said, “We need to be investing in the initiatives, facilities, and people that will propel us into the future in a better position than we are today. It is no secret that lots of other Universities want to be in the Top-25 like we do. To get there, we not only have to be bigger, but we have to be smarter and quicker about how we do things than the others out there.”

History of MABE

The MABE department has it own, unique history in the 175 years of engineering:

  • The MABE department had its roots planted in the founding of Blount College in 1794.
  • In 1840, the college name was changed to East Tennessee University, and in 1847 a course in mechanical philosophy and mechanics appeared in the course offerings.
  • It wasn’t until 1877 that the first comprehensive mechanical engineering curriculum was offered, and in 1879, the institution’s name was changed to one that is still around today: the University of Tennessee.
  • The late 1800s and early 1900s were productive years for the mechanical engineering program. The American Society for Mechanical Engineers was founded, mechanical engineering received its first department head, Theodore F. Burgdorf, and the first degree in mechanical engineering was awarded.
  • The department was housed in Estabrook Hall until 1963 when it moved into the Dougherty Engineering Building, where it resides today.
Estabrook Hall

Estabrook Hall

  • In 1958, the department established an off-campus graduate program in mechanical engineering at the USAF Arnold Engineering Development Center in Tullahoma, Tennessee, which evolved into the current day University of Tennessee Space Institute (UTSI).
  • The department continued as a mechanical engineering department until 1960 when an aerospace option to the mechanical engineering degree was offered.
  • In 1964, the department’s name was changed to Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, and Ph.D. programs in both mechanical and aerospace engineering were established. In 1968, the first B.S. degree was awarded in aerospace engineering.
  • In 1996, the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering merged with the Department of Engineering Science and Mechanics. A popular option in the engineering science was biomedical engineering and because of this, in 2004, the B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. biomedical engineering degree programs were established.
  • The first B.S. degree was awarded in biomedical engineering in 2008, and the department’s name was changed to the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Biomedical Engineering.
  • Today, the MABE faculty, students, and degree programs at the Knoxville and UTSI campuses function as a single academic unit.

Historical Information Gathered By:

Professor Emeritus Mancil Milligan, Dr. William R. Hamel