Celebrating 150 Years

Excellence in Education, Research, and Innovation: 1864—2014

Apr 25 2014 | By Melanie A. Farmer

Columbia Engineering has reached a major milestone. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the School’s founding and an opportune time to reflect on its past achievements, honor pioneering faculty and outstanding students and alumni, but also to celebrate the exciting future ahead.

To kick off the School’s 150th anniversary, Low Memorial Library was illuminated with this special light display the week of February 16.

For Whitney Green BS’10, reflecting on the School’s 150-year history gives her a chance to consider her own personal ties to the School and overall experience. “I get to really think about the incredible community I am a part of,” says Whitney, president of Columbia Engineering Young Alumni (CEYA), who attended the School’s official anniversary launch in February and was a guest speaker at the kickoff dinner. “I think about what makes Columbia Engineering so special and how its educational philosophy puts all of us in a unique position to do incredible things in this world. For example, what makes us in awe of the technical accomplishments today are not just their advanced sophistication but more so their ability to impact and influence people, societies, and human lives.”

150th anniversary street banners line parts of Broadway and Amsterdam.

A PhD student works in the Lenfest Center for Sustainable Energy, co-directed by Ah-Hyung (Alissa) Park.

A PhD student works in Carleton Laboratory.

Columbia’s School of Mines, as it was originally called, opened its doors on November 15, 1864, to 20 students and a faculty of three. The School of Mines educated students in mining, mineralogy, and engineering. Before long some of its earliest alumni and faculty began to make significant contributions to the School’s 150-year history. Alumni and faculty like William Barclays Parson, Class of 1882, who engineered New York City’s first subway; Michael I. Pupin, a longtime faculty member, who invented rapid X-ray imaging and made major improvements to long-distance telephony; and Edwin Howard Armstrong, Class of 1913, who pioneered FM radio. Now, Columbia Engineering, with 175 faculty members, is educating more than 4,300 undergraduate and graduate students in disciplines ranging from data science to tissue engineering and nanoscience to urban sustainability. Indeed, the School has come a long way.

“It was no ordinary accomplishment for the founding fathers of the Engineering School to have foreseen the importance of engineering to the future of America, and for the School to stay true to its mission and expand on it for such a long time,” says devoted alumnus Hitoshi Tanaka BS’63, MS’65, EngScD’76, president of the Columbia Engineering Alumni Association. “I am so proud to be part of this rich tradition and will do whatever I can to perpetuate the same.”

The School has an exciting year planned for its anniversary, with more than 30 events for faculty, students, and alumni, including a special Senior Design Day Expo on May 8 to showcase the creative and innovative work of Engineering students; Reunion Weekend, from May 29 through June 1 (Save the date!); a symposium in the fall that will focus on past innovative research by faculty and students through today’s major research findings; a Founders Day Gala to be held at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine; and many more.

“I plan to celebrate all year,” says Whitney, who hopes her fellow alums will join in on the fun. “This year, the CEYA board has made the 150th our theme for the 2014 Blue & White Gala, our signature event to celebrate our alma mater! However, I plan to attend as many events as I can from February’s launch week to November’s gala. I’m looking forward to being a part of this monumental occasion.”

Lauren Wong Sheng BS’76 also plans to attend anniversary events, to honor a school, she says, that, among other groundbreaking achievements, opened its doors to women as early as the 19th century. Columbia Engineering granted the first PhD degree in mathematics to a woman, Winifred Edgerton, Class of 1886. “Now, the School has one of the nation’s highest percentages of women in its first-year class,” Lauren notes. One of the main reasons Lauren, who chairs the School’s Board of Visitors, remains connected to the School is to do her part in supporting future engineers.

“Engineering alumni before me paid forward the opportunity for me and others to attend Columbia to get a life-changing education,” she says. “I’ve remained involved to do the same in enabling those students after me to benefit from similar opportunities.”

Echoing this sentiment, Whitney says, “It is important for me not to waste this opportunity to do great things in this world. Even more, it is important to me to make sure I do the same for Columbians that follow me. I volunteer my time to the School to show how much I appreciate what it has given me. And, I am content engaging with this ever-vibrant and awe-inspiring community.”

I hope many alumni will take this opportunity to renew and reinvigorate their connection to the Engineering School.

Hitoshi Tanaka
BS’63, MS’65, EngScD’76