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History of Mechanical Engineering

The Mechanical Engineering Department commenced its operation in 1931 with the appointment of Marshall E. Farris as Chairman of the department. Mr. Farris also served as the first Dean of Engineering at the University of New Mexico (UNM). The department awarded its first BS degrees in 1933, its first MS degree in 1948, and its first PhD degrees in 1965. The first woman to complete our PhD program was Gloria Bennett, in 1991. Through the 1996-1997 academic year, the department had awarded a total of 2166 BS degrees, 503 MS degrees, and 63 PhD degrees. In recent years, annual degree production has averaged about 50 BS, 15 MS, and 3 PhD degrees.

Enrollments in the BS degree program remained low until the mid-1940s, after which they increased rapidly for a few years due to veterans returning from WW II. Enrollments fell following this, but they never returned to pre-war levels. Enrollments in the MS programs grew rapidly in the late 1950s and early 1960s under the influence of heightened national interest in engineering and science. Enhancement of the academic credentials of the faculty in this period formed the basis for an emphasis on mathematics, basic science, and engineering science in our curricula at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Growth of our graduate programs in this period was aided substantially by initiation of the Technical Development Program, a joint effort between Sandia National Laboratory and the UNM College of Engineering (now the UNM School of Engineering). In this program, Sandia sent about 15 newly-hired BS graduates in Mechanical Engineering to UNM each year for two years of half-time study leading to the MSME degree. These students had been recruited from the top ten percent of their respective classes in engineering schools across the country. The course of study included strong emphasis on engineering science and cross-training in Electrical Engineering. The strong base provided by these and other well qualified masters-level students, as well as the quality of the faculty, enabled launching of our doctoral program in the early 1960s.

In the mid-1970s the department initiated its work in the areas of controls and robotics. The faculty and research activities in these areas have grown rapidly, and they are important contributors to all levels of our degree programs. Also starting in the 1970s the department began giving attention to the need for a manufacturing engineering program. An undergraduate option in Manufacturing and Robotics was initiated in the mid-1980s. A masters-level program in manufacturing engineering began to operate in 1989. In recent years, that program and the faculty supporting it have grown rapidly. The program will continue its expansion as it occupies a research facility located in UNM’s Research Park, early in 1998.

The facilities used by the Department are primarily housed in the Mechanical Engineering building which was completed in 1980 at a cost of $5.1 million.