For nearly 200 years, the University of Virginia has proudly offered engineering research and education that has paralleled the increasing need for engineering leadership in the United States and world. Today, the mission of the University of Virginia School of Engineering and Applied Science is to make the world a better place by creating and disseminating knowledge and by preparing engineering leaders to solve global challenges.
The infusion of applied science into the learned professions was anticipated in the University’s founding. As early as 1825, the Rector and Visitors formally indicated that instruction in military and civil architecture would be a part of the education program of the University. Such courses were offered starting in 1827. UVA established the School of Civil Engineering in 1836 - the first engineering school in the south and the fourth university-level engineering school in the nation after West Point (founded in 1803 and developed into a school in 1817); the American Literary, Scientific and Military Academy (founded in 1821 and renamed Lewis College and then Norwich University); and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (opened in 1824 and reorganized as a recognizable school of engineering in 1929).
Notable members of the early engineering staff were Charles Bonnycastle, trained in military engineering in England, and William Barton Rogers, later co-founder of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Engineering instruction was not sought widely by young men from predominantly agricultural areas of the country, however; for a time, engineering education at UVA went dormant.
With a resurgence of need for engineers in post-Civil War America, UVA renewed its program in 1865 under the direction of Professor Charles Scott Venable, and by 1869 the University awarded its first degrees in engineering. Instruction was offered in civil and mining engineering until the 1881-1882 session, when engineering became a professional department. William Mynn Thornton became the first dean of engineering in 1905. Under his leadership, three new degree programs were added: mechanical engineering in 1891, electrical engineering in 1897, and chemical engineering in 1908.
Between World War I and World War II, the engineering curricula were revised and strengthened to provide a broader program of study, including the humanities. During both wars, the school offered engineering instruction to members of the armed forces; and ROTC programs for the Navy, Army, and Air Force were introduced during and after World War II.
Reorganization following World War II led again to an extensive revision of all curricula and to the graduate studies now offered. In 1955, two new branches of engineering study were recognized by degrees: aeronautical and nuclear engineering. In the same year, the first doctoral programs were instituted in chemical engineering and engineering physics.
In 1962, the name of the School was changed to the School of Engineering and Applied Science in anticipation of the establishment of the Department of Materials Science (1963), the Department of Applied Mathematics and Computer Science (1964), and the Department of Biomedical Engineering (1967). The Department of Systems Engineering was established in 1975, and in 1984, Applied Mathematics and Computer Science became separate departments. Further reorganization has led to the present school academic structure with its departments of Biomedical Engineering; Chemical Engineering; Engineering Systems and Environment, home of civil, systems and environmental engineering; Computer Science; Electrical and Computer Engineering; Materials Science and Engineering; Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering; and Engineering and Society. The undergraduate program in engineering science is administered by the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. Graduate and undergraduate programs in Computer Engineering are administered jointly by the departments of Computer Science and Electrical and Computer Engineering.
The School Today
UVA Engineering’s vision is to be a leader among engineering schools in seizing opportunities to benefit humanity through bold research and world-class education. Faculty, staff and students pursue the school’s mission and vision while abiding by these core values:
- Societal Impact - Passion for making a positive impact on the world
- Educating Engineering Leaders - Dedication to imbuing students with technical and professional knowledge that is applied with integrity and wisdom, so they are fully prepared to be the leaders of the future
- Innovation - Determination to innovate, create knowledge and lead in teaching and research while abiding by the highest standards of ethics
- Excellence Through Diversity - Commitment to diversity, which we define as excellence expressing itself through every person’s perspectives and lived experiences
- Collegiality - Marked by collaboration, teamwork and support for each other’s success
These core values ensure that UVA Engineering is a dynamic ecosystem in which faculty, students and staff are leaders in the creating and dissemination of knowledge and technologies to move society forward.
UVA Engineering’s research and education strengths are focused in the following areas:
- Engineering for Medicine - UVA Engineering researchers wholeheartedly believe that cures to devastating diseases and new treatments for illness and injury are within humanity’s grasp. In a host of disciplines, including biomedical data sciences, biomedical and molecular imaging, tissue engineering and biomaterials, and biomechanics, UVA Engineering has programs that are among the best in the world.
- Engineering for the Cyber Future - Machine learning, cybersecurity, avalanche photodiodes and ultra-low-power chips are just some of the technologies essential to such next-generation projects as the Internet of Things, and they are just some of the areas in which UVA Engineering holds world-class expertise. The school has created initiatives such as an interdisciplinary cyber-physical systems Link Lab to spur innovation and accelerate the translation of breakthroughs in theory into real-world application.
- Engineering Technologies for a Sustainable and Connected World - Engineering a better future will require the best work of researchers collaborating along the spectrum from the tiniest building blocks of materials through the complex workings of entire societal systems. With a strategic and collaborative approach, UVA Engineering researchers work at the micro- and nano-scale in fields like heat transfer, catalysis and 2-D materials to identify fundamental properties of matter. At the systems level, researchers harness these insights to create more durable, sustainable platforms in areas like energy, water use and transportation. And at the societal level, researchers examine those applications in the context of specific cultures and economic conditions that affect their adoption.