In 1886 President Grover Cleveland dedicated the Statue of Liberty and New York City celebrated with its first ticker-tape parade. Closer to Nashville, a pharmacist in Atlanta invented Coca-Cola. Closer still, in Memphis an inventor patented a typewriter ribbon. In Nashville, by vote of the Board of Trust, Vanderbilt University created the School of Engineering. That act separated mechanical and civil engineering from a larger academic unit into an engineering department.
Two years later, a cornerstone was laid for Mechanical Engineering Hall, a handsome building still, and today affectionately dubbed Old Mechanical.
After a precipitous dip in enrollment to 18 students in 1898 (possibly due to a lingering economic depression and the start of the Spanish American War), the school entered the 20th century—transitioning from the practical training of mechanical and civil engineers to educating engineering professionals and enjoying a steep rise in enrollment after World War I and again after World War II.
More buildings were needed: Olin Hall in 1974. New Engineering, built in 1950, became Jacobs Hall in 1995. Also in 1995, the school acquired several floors in building 5 of the Stevenson Center complex. After a $28 million renovation/building project in 2002, Jacobs Hall and the new, cojoined Featheringill Hall made impressive additions to the engineering campus and provided an attractive central gathering place for faculty, students and alumni. The newest engineering building was acquired in 2010 and houses two institutes, 130 personnel, and offers about 40,000 square feet of lab, office and conference space on Nashville’s famed Music Row.
Absent a ticker-tape (obsolete since the 1960s) parade, the Vanderbilt University School of Engineering is planning a yearlong quasquicentennial celebration with special commemorative events on campus and stories in Vanderbilt Engineering magazine during the 2011-2012 academic year.
To mark the 125th anniversary, the school’s annual distinguished lecture—the John R. and Donna S. Hall Engineering Lecture—will bring four notable engineering leaders to campus, one each in October, November, February and March. A special Engineering Celebration Dinner is set for October 20 during the university’s Reunion weekend. National Engineers Week in February 2012 will offer opportunities for students and alumni to celebrate, too. Later in May, the quasquicentennial will wrap up with a party for engineering faculty and staff.
Vanderbilt University School of Engineering is moving to the next level after 125 years of growth and transformation. Its alumni, students, parents, faculty, staff and friends have much to celebrate and a strong foundation on which to build for the future.
Here’s to the next 125 years.
For a look back at the School of Engineering in photos, view our photo gallery.