100 Years of Engineering at Geneva College - Geneva College
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100 Years of Engineering at Geneva College

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Program Spotlight The College

From two-year surveying course of study to ABET-accredited, nationally ranked program, Geneva engineering is one of Geneva’s vocational education success stories. In this 100th year of the program, Geneva engineering remains one of a dozen or so undergraduate engineering programs among schools in the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU).

“God led us here,” says Geneva College Engineering department chair, Anthony Comer, PhD. Dr. Comer joined the faculty in 2011 after more than 20 years of industry experience as a chemical engineer with BP. Expressing the profundity of this 100-year milestone, he says, “We have a rich history, and we have a plan that positions us to continue that heritage. I give credit to those who laid the foundation. They did the right things to put us where we are. The fact that this falls on my watch is a great honor, and also a weight of responsibility.”

The story of Geneva Engineering is one of academic rigor, collaborative and experiential learning, engagement with industry, and application of Christian principles to a technological, scientific field of study.

HISTORY OF THE ENGINEERING DEPARTMENT

1920-1940

Geneva College started its engineering program in the academic year 1920 – 1921. The course of study consisted primarily of drafting and surveying classes, taught by Henry C. Thompson (BS in CE, Bucknell University), that led students to jobs as surveyors or transfers to an engineering school. Mechanics classes were taught in the mathematics department until 1953.

A Board of Trustee report to the 1921 RP Synod read, “Geneva is located in the heart of a great manufacturing center and therefore has a special opportunity to meet the particular demands of such a community.”

Mr. Thompson was succeeded by Arthur C. Edgecombe, who was appointed the Professor of Engineering in 1921. Third-year courses in engineering were added to the Geneva catalog in 1926.

1940-1960

The 1940s brought about a detailed 3+2 program, meaning that a student could spend three years at Geneva and then transfer to Carnegie Institute of Technology or the University of Pittsburgh. The 3+2 program with Carnegie Tech lasted until 1960 and the one with Pitt until 1969. Another 3+2 arrangement with New York University was in effect from 1962 to 1971. In 1945, Kathryn Cartwright (BS, Geneva College) served as the only full-time female engineering faculty member. After 19 years at Geneva as an Engineering professor and athletic director, A. C. Edgecombe resigned in 1943 to become administrator of the Beaver County Housing Authority.

In 1947, under the leadership of Dr. William E. Cleland as chair of the department, Geneva offered the first full four-year degree in engineering – the Bachelor of Science in Industrial Engineering (BSIE). That same year, the first graduate completed the full program, and Walter Landgraf headed up the Placement Service, designed for the purpose of placing engineering graduates in jobs. Many returning World War II veterans entered the program, resulting in 32 BSIE graduates and seven BS graduates in 1949. Until the mid- 1960s, the BSIE program continued to produce most of the engineering graduates at Geneva.

In the 1950s, Geneva officially offered a general engineering program (BS). Assistant Professor of Mathematics, Forrest E. Justis (AB, Fairmont State College, MS, West Virginia University), became acting head of the Department in 1954. From that time until 1958, the total number of credit hours offered in general engineering jumped from 39 to 65, making it possible for a student to take the BS program as a full-fledged four-year general engineering program. Engineering degrees constituted 23% of all the bachelor’s degrees Geneva conferred in 1959, a record that would not be surpassed until 1987.

1960-1980

In 1965, The original Science Hall, built from 1897 to 1913, was renovated and surrounded by a new structure that quadrupled its original size. The stability and quality of the engineering programs were enhanced when G. Randolph Syverson (BS, MS, Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute) was hired in 1963 as Assistant Professor of Engineering and Richard H. Gordon (BEE, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; MS, Columbia University) in 1967 as Instructor in Industrial Engineering. A new course, Computer Programming (Engineering 110), was introduced in 1967 to teach Fortran using the IBM 1130.

In the 1970s, new engineering degrees were added: 1971, BS civil engineering; 1972 BSCE, 1974 BS electrical engineering; 1978 BSME and BSEE. Richard Gordon (PhD at the University of Pittsburgh) replaced Mr. Justis as Chairman of the Department in 1975.

The late 1970s and early 1980s saw spectacular growth in enrollment and degrees granted, in line with a national increase in engineering enrollment, particularly in electronics and computer-related areas. The engineering programs reached a recordhigh number of degrees granted, 75, in 1987, constituting 27% of the bachelor’s degrees Geneva awarded that year.

1980-2000

Engineering enrollment reached a peak of over 300 students in the early 1980s. During this time, John “Jack” Pinkerton spearheaded the development of the Center for Technology Development at Geneva, allowing faculty members and students to work with governmental and industrial partners on research and developmental projects. In 1981, The Chemistry Department began to offer a Chemical Engineering major. This then led to the BS degree with its first graduates earning the degree in 1984. Dr. Gordon, chairman for the engineering department, left in 1983 and Dr. Reyle became the temporary chair for seven years.

By then, the steel industry faltered. Many people lost their jobs, the population of the Beaver County was declining, and the annual number of high school graduates was steadily falling, thus reducing incoming students to Geneva. This drop in applicants led the college to evaluate the Engineering program in 1989-90, resulting in the revitalization of the engineering programs by hiring new personnel and for the first time seeking accreditation by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET).

Charged with leading the Engineering program to accreditation was newly appointed department chair, James S. Gidley, PhD. The Harvard-educated Gidley began his tenure at the helm in 1990, addressing several challenges. The engineering curriculum needed to be reorganized. The BSCE, BSEE, BSME, and BS (general engineering) programs were consolidated into a single BSE program with concentrations available in civil, electrical and mechanical engineering. Once the mainstay program, the BSIE program was attracting only a few students per year and was terminated in 1993. In May 1994, the first BSE students (under the new curriculum revisions) graduated.

Dr. Gidley says, “My main task was to get us ABET accredited and keep the department stable in that accreditation. That’s a significant milestone - to be accredited by the one accrediting body in the U.S.”

The Engineering Accreditation Commission of ABET came to campus in October 1994, resulting in the BSE program accreditation in 1995. The benefit was extended to the graduating class of 1994.

Dr. Gidley says, “We decided to go in the direction of accreditation as a general program (instead of accrediting individual concentrations) and to emphasize its strength, which is to give students more breadth. It also has significant breadth outside of engineering. The Geneva edge is the core curriculum and making students aware of the worldview implications of what they do.”

2000-2020

Richard F. Harwood (BSME, MSME, North Dakota State University) took over as chair from 2001 to 2003, a period with a great deal of renovation on the Science and Engineering Building and the construction of the Rapp Technical Design Center. This expanded the Engineering lab space by more than 50% and officially gave the college a building primarily dedicated to the Engineering program. In 2003, Dr. Gidley returned as chair, remaining in the post until 2019.

The BSE was stable until 2005 when a concentration in computer engineering was added. On May 6, 2009, the college’s beloved electrical engineering professor, Dr. Jack Pinkerton, passed away. The college renamed the center for technology development that he directed, the Pinkerton Center for Technology Development. The Center was directed by Dr. David Che (BS, Harbin Institute of Technology [China]; MS, The Ohio State University; PhD University of Michigan), Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering. From 2009 to 2010 Engineering enrollment reached 210, the highest it had been since the 1980s.

In 2010, an Environmental Engineering concentration was approved as part of an Environmental Science and Technology Program. Partially due to the increase in enrollment in 2009 and 2010, the college added two new faculty positions, making it feasible to move the chemical engineering program into the Engineering Department as a concentration in the accredited BSE program beginning in 2011.

Along with Biology and faculty from other departments, Engineering developed a new Environmental Science and Technology Program for fall 2011. For the second year in a row, Geneva’s engineering program was included in the top 100 Best Undergraduate Engineering Programs rankings in 2013. During this time as well, engineering enrollment peaked at 243, the highest it had been for 25 years. By 2016, over 300 Geneva students were majoring in engineering.

In June 2013, the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) chartered Geneva’s section. The following year, biomedical engineering was added to the curriculum as a concentration. Its cross-discipline nature made it a perfect fit for Geneva’s broad-based BSE program.

Senior capstone projects became an annual event with participation in water treatment solutions and in national competitions, such as Solar Splash, Baja SAE all-terrain vehicle and Steel Bridge Design. The Engineering Ambassadors program prepared students for outreach to alumni, prospective students, industry partners and the community with communication and leadership training. In 2019, Geneva College Eastern Campus, located in New Jersey, announced that it will offer a two-year Associate degree in Engineering program.

Dr. Gidley, department chair for nearly one-third of the program’s history, stepped down as chair in 2019 and entered a phased retirement this year. He continues at half load in 2021-2022. Dr. Anthony Comer accepted the call to lead the department. Under Comer’s leadership, Geneva Engineering again achieved top 100 rankings in the 2021 U.S. News & World Report.

This post was originally published in the Winter 2020 Geneva Magazine. Research supported by the Geneva College archives, Kae Kirkwood ’83, Archival Librarian and Dr. James Gidley.

Opinions expressed in the Geneva Blog are those of its contributors and do not necessarily represent the opinions or official position of the College. The Geneva Blog is a place for faculty and contributing writers to express points of view, academic insights, and contribute to national conversations to spark thought, conversation, and the pursuit of truth, in line with our philosophy as a Christian, liberal arts institution.

Mar 3, 2021