History of the Engineering Department

James S. Gidley

December 16, 1992

Edited and Updated, March 15, 2006

1.   Beginnings:  1920-1946

Instruction in engineering began at Geneva College in the 1920-21 academic year, taught by Henry C. Thompson (BS in CE, Bucknell University), Assistant Professor in Engineering.  The courses offered at that time were primarily in drafting and surveying; mechanics was taught in the mathematics department, where it stayed until 1953.  The 1921 catalog stated:

In September, 1920, several new courses in Engineering were introduced into the curriculum so that it is now possible for a student to complete two full years of engineering work and enter the Junior year of certain Engineering Schools with full standing.  The work is designed mainly for civil engineers, but it is also preliminary to electrical, mechanical and chemical engineering.

                                The courses (which should be taken during the first two years) are as follows:


                                Freshman Year,                    Trigonometry



                                                                           French or Spanish

                                                                           Mechanical Drawing

                                                                           Analytical Geometry

                                                                            Physical Education


                                Sophomore Year,                 French or Spanish

                                                                          Differential Calculus








A student who completes this work satisfactorily will have no difficulty in obtaining advanced standing in the engineering departments with which co-operative plans have been worked out.  The two years work will itself fit a good student for an excellent position in drafting or surveying.

Mr. Thompson apparently stayed at Geneva for only one academic year.  He was succeeded by Arthur C. Edgecombe (BSc in CE, University of New Brunswick), who was appointed Professor of Engineering.  By 1924, he had received the degree of MSc in CE from the University of New Brunswick.  He stayed in his position until 1943, and during that time he was Geneva's only engineering professor, with the exception of 1934-35, when Mr. Merle Forst, a Geneva engineering alumnus, served as Instructor in Engineering.

Under Mr. Edgecombe′s leadership, third-year courses in engineering were added in the 1926 catalog.  The catalog emphasis was still on transferring to a “technical school” to complete the engineering degree, but those who wished to take a bachelor′s degree at Geneva were told that they could “follow certain lines of engineering work, such as land and railroad surveying and structural detailing.”[1]  It should be noted that the Engineers′ Council for Professional Development (ECPD), now the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), first began accrediting engineering programs in 1936 meaning that the Geneva program developed in an era without the standardization in curriculum that would follow later.  The Geneva program was not accredited until 1995. Until 1947, Geneva offered only the BS degree to engineering students.

Through the 1920′s and 1930′s, the catalogs maintained the two-pronged approach.  In the 1940 catalog, however, a very detailed “3-2” program was unveiled.  A student could spend 3 years at Geneva and then transfer to Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) or the University of Pittsburgh.  For those wishing to transfer to Carnegie Tech, separate 3-year Geneva curricula were shown for chemical, civil, electrical, management, mechanical, and metallurgical engineering.  For those intending to go to Pitt, Geneva curricula were shown for civil, petroleum, mining, chemical, electrical, mechanical, industrial, or metallurgical engineering, or petroleum geology.  After three years at Geneva, students would complete two more years at Carnegie Tech or Pitt and would earn the BS from Geneva and the engineering degree from the other school.  This arrangement is quite similar to “3-2” programs that other liberal arts colleges have worked out with nearby engineering schools.  Geneva still retained the 4-year BS program, which, it was claimed, would qualify the graduate for surveying or “minor positions in structural engineering.”[2]  The 3-2 program with Carnegie Tech lasted until 1960, the one with Pitt until 1969.  Another 3-2 arrangement with New York University was in effect from 1962 to 1971.

In 1945-46, Kathryn Cartwright (BS, Geneva College) served as an Instructor in Engineering, Geneva's only full-time female engineering faculty member.  In the 1944 to 1946 catalogs, Mr. Edgecombe was listed as “on leave,” but he did not return to full-time faculty status.  With his departure and the end of World War II, a new era began for the Department. 

2.   The Industrial Engineering Era:  1947-1954

1947 found Dr. William E. Cleland (PhD, Princeton University) of the Mathematics Department serving as acting head of the Engineering Department.  For the first time, Geneva offered a full 4-year degree in engineering — the Bachelor of Science in Industrial Engineering (BSIE).  In the same year, the first graduate completed the program.  Also in that year, Walter E. Landgraf (AB, Geneva College, AM, University of Pennsylvania) was hired as Assistant Professor of Industrial Engineering, a position he held until his promotion to Professor in 1952 and his departure from Geneva in 1953.  In 1948, Robert J. Hamilton (BS, Geneva College; BS in Metallurgical Engineering, University of Pittsburgh) returned to Geneva as an Instructor in Engineering, a post he had held in the 1943-44 and 1944-45 academic years.  Mr. Hamilton stayed at Geneva until 1971.

The BSIE program included five courses in industrial engineering in addition to the other engineering courses:  American Industry, Industrial Engineering (2 semesters), Industrial Relations, and Industrial Management.  In later years (through 1972), courses in wage and salary administration, motion and time study, creative problem solving, job evaluation, plant layout and materials handling, and operation and production control were added, while some were dropped.  The BSIE program took off, with many returning veterans completing it.  In 1949, there were 32 BSIE graduates and 7 BS graduates in engineering.  The BSIE program continued to produce the majority of engineering graduates at Geneva until the mid-1960′s.

While the program expanded, personnel changed rapidly until the early 1960′s, with the exception of Mr. Hamilton.  Numerous part-time instructors were employed as well.  1952 was the first year in the history of the Engineering Department in which any faculty members were promoted:  Walter Landgraf to Professor (apparently skipping over the rank of Associate Professor) and Robert Hamilton to Assistant Professor.

3.   Expansion and Diversification: 1954-1978

In 1954, Forrest E. Justis (AB, Fairmont State College, MS, West Virginia University), Assistant Professor of Mathematics, became acting head of the Department.  The next year he assumed the headship on a permanent basis.  He later became head of the Mathematics Department also.  Between 1954 and 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 4-year general engineering program.  However, for some years only 30 credit hours of engineering seem to have been required.  In the same years the IE offerings went from 24 to 30 credit hours.  Through most of the years of Mr. Justis′s headship, Geneva continued to offer only the BS and BSIE degrees.  Geneva granted 54 degrees to engineering graduates in 1958 (20 BS, 34 BSIE), a record that was not surpassed until 1984, and in 1959, engineering degrees constituted 23% of all the bachelor′s degrees Geneva conferred, a record that would not be surpassed until 1987.  The numbers of graduates showed a general decline until a post-war low of 12 graduates in 1975 (8 BS, 1 BSIE, 3 BSCE), constituting only 4% of the bachelor′s degrees awarded by the College that year.

The stability and quality of the programs were enhanced with the hiring of G. Randolph Syverson (BS, MS, Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute) 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.  Each man stayed at Geneva for 17 years.  Mr. Syverson, who had many years of practical experience in engineering and business, was a feared disciplinarian as well as a solid teacher.  Mr. Gordon came to Geneva with several years of experience in industry as well as several years of service on the mission field.  In 1963, Geneva also hired its first Engineering teacher with a PhD, Lawrence E. Trishman (BS, MS, PhD, The Ohio State University).  Dr. Trishman was Assistant Professor of Engineering until 1968, when he left Geneva.

Near the end of Mr. Justis′s headship, the Department entered another period of growth and diversification.  In 1971, civil engineering was listed as a specific major under the BS program, and courses began to be listed specifically as Civil Engineering.  In 1972, the BSCE degree (Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering) was first offered — two graduates received it that year.  A major in electrical engineering was offered under the BS degree beginning in 1974, with faculty members from the Physics Department, principally John B. Schaefer (BS, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; MS Carnegie Institute of Technology) and John E. Pinkerton (BS, Geneva College; MS, University of Wisconsin; PhD, University of South Carolina).  The courses were initially offered in the Physics Department, but were now cross-listed as Electrical Engineering; they included Advanced Electrical Engineering Laboratory, Electromagnetic Fields and Waves, Optics - Communication Systems, Electronics I & II, Elements of Electrical Engineering, and Modern Physics.

In 1974, Richard Gordon completed his PhD at the University of Pittsburgh, and the following year he replaced Mr. Justis as Chairman of the Department.  Mr. Justis remained in the Mathematics Department, where he continued until his retirement in 1983.  The process of growth and diversification continued under Dr. Gordon′s chairmanship.  In 1976 a mechanical engineering program was begun with the hiring of Dr. Stanley P. Reyle (ME, MS, Stevens Institute of Technology; PhD, Polytechnic Institute of New York) as Associate Professor of Engineering, the listing of specific mechanical engineering courses, and the offering of the BSME (Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering) degree.  In 1978, the electrical engineering program began to offer the BSEE degree (Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering).

4.   The Rise and Fall of Geneva Tech:  1978-1990

The late 1970′s and early 1980′s saw spectacular growth in enrollment and degrees granted. Enrollment seemed to be driven by the national increase in engineering enrollment, particularly in electronics and computer-related areas.  From a low of 12 degrees granted in 1975, the programs reached a high in 1987, during the chairmanship of Dr. Reyle, of 75 degrees granted (11 BSIE, 15 BSCE, 11 BSME, 30 BSEE, 3 BS in general engineering, and 5 BS in chemical engineering), constituting 27% of the bachelor′s degrees that Geneva awarded that year, also a record high.

In 1981, the Chemistry Department began offering a Chemical Engineering major leading to the BS degree, with its first graduates earning the degree in 1984.  The main faculty members involved were Dr. Roy Adams (BA, Sterling College; MA, PhD, University of Kansas) and Dr. David W. Badger (BS, Geneva College; MS, PhD, University of Michigan).  Dr. Adams and Dr. Badger went through a special program at Carnegie Mellon University to make the transition from chemistry to chemical engineering.  The program required students to take most of the chemistry courses offered at Geneva, a core of courses offered by the Engineering Department, and a four-course sequence in chemical engineering.  It continues to be administered by the Chemistry Department.

In the early 1980′s, engineering enrollment reached a peak of over 300 students.  The liberal arts side of the campus was alarmed that the College seemed to be losing its liberal arts emphasis.  Engineering students wore “Geneva Tech” tee shirts and duped unwary students into thinking, at least temporarily, that the “GT” athletic logo meant “Geneva Tech” rather than “Golden Tornadoes.”

In these years, John Pinkerton spearheaded the development of the Center for Technology Development, and administrative structure through which Geneva faculty members and students could work with governmental and industrial partners on research and development projects.  In 1990, the work of the Center was recognized by the Consolidated Natural Gas Company with a $100,000 Award of Excellence.

Dr. Gordon left Geneva in 1983.  Dr. Reyle was asked to serve temporarily as chairman, a task that stretched out to seven years.  During these years, the engineering programs remained substantially the same, and large graduating classes continued through the 1980′s, peaking in 1987 as noted above.  External factors again had a significant impact on the Department and the College.  Nationally, engineering enrollments began to drop in the mid-1980′s.  This seemed to have an amplified effect at Geneva, which may have been a second-choice engineering school for many students who came in the early 1980′s when there was no more room at Pitt or Carnegie Mellon, but who now were able to enter those more prestigious schools.

Locally, the steel industry was faltering, and employment opportunities for Geneva graduates in Beaver County were becoming much more scarce.  An event illustrative of the decade was the closing of the Babcock and Wilcox plant in Beaver Falls, costing the area several thousand jobs.  Largely as a result of plant closures and a poor economy, the population of Beaver County was declining, and in particular the annual number of high school graduates in the County was steadily dropping.

These factors led the College to evaluate the Engineering program in 1989-90 with a view to its future prospects.  As a result of this study, the College decided to revitalize the engineering programs by hiring new personnel and seeking ABET accreditation, which it had never sought before.

5.   Consolidation, Accreditation, and Facilities Expansion:  1990-present

In 1990, James S. Gidley (BSCEE, University of Rhode Island; SM, PhD, Harvard University) was appointed as Chairman of the Department, with the charge to lead the Engineering program to accreditation.  In order to meet accreditation requirements, the curriculum in engineering had 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.  The consolidation was necessary in order to achieve the minimum number of faculty members per program required by ABET.

Simultaneously with the consolidation, the Department undertook a complete curriculum revision that affected most of the courses offered.  A major goal was to insure that there was enough design instruction in the curriculum to satisfy ABET requirements.  Despite the major changes, the BSE curriculum was quite similar in coverage of subject matter to the programs that it replaced.  One outstanding feature of the curriculum was its balance.  It was roughly evenly divided into four areas: (1) core curriculum, (2) mathematics and science, (3) engineering core, and (4) engineering specialization.  The BSE program has retained the same basic structure until the present.

By the early 1990′s, the BSIE program, once the mainstay of the Engineering Department, was attracting only one or two students per year.  This trend was in line with a national decline of interest in industrial engineering at the time.  For this reason, the BSIE program was terminated in 1993, and Mr. Jordan, who was at the time the only faculty member in industrial engineering, was reassigned to the Business Department.

The first graduates of the BSE curriculum completed the program in May 1994, and the first visit of a team from the Engineering Accreditation Commission of ABET came in October.  As a result of the visiting team′s findings, the BSE program was accredited in 1995, the benefit of which was extended to the graduating class of 1994.

In 2000, the Engineering Department had its first ABET visit under the EC2000 criteria.  The new criteria allow considerably more flexibility and very few strict, numerical criteria, which are advantages for a small program like Geneva′s.  On the other hand, the new criteria also require the assessment of eleven specified outcomes, which describe knowledge and skills that students should have by graduation.  The outcomes assessment process requires the engineering faculty to develop new skills of measuring student performance and increasing attention to continuous program improvement.

Richard F. Harwood (BSME, MSME, North Dakota State University; PhD, Purdue University) was Chair of the Department from 2001 to 2003.  Major achievements during this time were the renovation of the Science and Engineering Building and the construction of the Rapp Technical Design Center, which together expanded Engineering lab space by more than 50%.  The Rapp Center, particularly the result of Dr. Harwood′s leadership, for the first time gave the College a building primarily dedicated to the Engineering program.  The faculty and students in the science and engineering programs endured a year and a half of hardship, as the S&E building remained continuously occupied during the renovation.  Every office and laboratory had to be moved at least twice.  At the end of the ordeal, faculty members were awarded tee shirts proclaiming, “I Survived the S&E Renovation.”

The BSE program continued in essentially the same form until 2005, when a concentration in computer engineering was added, in cooperation with the Computer Science program, which underwent a major revision at the same time.  The computer engineering concentration is made up of roughly half of the electrical engineering courses plus a number of computer science courses cross-listed as computer engineering.

[1]1927-28 Geneva Bulletin

[2]1940 Geneva Bulletin