Departments of mechanical and electrical & computer engineering celebrate 125-year anniversaries

student in classroomThe year is 1891, and America is marching resolutely along the path laid by the Industrial Revolution. In a small wood-framed building in a quiet corner of a growing campus, the University of Delaware is leaping into step with that march, helping to create the machines that will let 20th century citizens talk, travel and live in ways once unimagined.

Today, 125 years after the Department of Mechanical and Electrical Engineering was born in that humble shack on Old College, the now-separate departments in the College of Engineering are still keeping pace with technological revolutions—and still dreaming up life-altering ideas.

Instead of steam engines and telegraphs, mechanical engineering students are pushing the boundaries of cybersecurity and robotics, biomechanics and clean energy, nanotechnology and composites—and looking back with pride at the advances made by their predecessors.

Over the decades, UD professors and students in Electrical & Computer Engineering have helped build the foundations of the Internet, pioneered composite technology and invented the touch-screen technology used in mobile devices.

The electrical engineering program propelled Mark Bendett, EG81M, 85PhD, into a career of invention and innovation in the field of photonics and other emerging technologies, leading to 53 patents, with 20 more in the pipeline. “I like working at the edges,” he says. “I always combine my core background with something new, so I can always be learning. That’s what makes life fun. And UD was where I learned that engineering could be fun.

“There were a lot of professors who came here from industry, and insisted we build things ourselves rather than stay buried in a textbook,” he adds.

It’s that kind of approach that has led to graduates with the confidence to start their own companies and conduct their own groundbreaking research—designing software for automating lab systems, engineering composites for Navy ships, uncovering the mysteries of traumatic brain injuries.

In coming years, that innovative energy seems sure to be sustained, especially now that students have access to the cutting-edge Harker Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Lab and its resident Nanofabrication Lab, as well as innovation-fostering centers like the just-opened iSuite, where Electrical & Computer engineers can immerse themselves in a team-based, problem-solving, project-driven dynamic.

“This has been a significant change in how we’re training engineers,” says Ken Barner, professor and chair of Electrical & Computer Engineering.

For mechanical engineers, the Design Studio is fulfilling those idea-to-prototype ambitions. “That’s been a real game-changer,” says David Helwig, EG73, a member of the President’s Leadership Council who has helped guide the engineering program—and support its students—for years. “It brings the space for students to do more meaningful work.”

And with that work comes meaningful change, as the University marches on to chart its next century of growth.