Planning is underway for the School of Engineering and Applied Science’s 150th anniversary celebration, which will begin in February.
Over the past few years, Columbia has focused on bolstering the visibility of its engineering programs, and for administrators, this anniversary marks an opportunity to continue that effort.
SEAS Dean Mary Boyce formed a committee over the summer to hash out the details of the celebration events. The committee consists primarily of faculty members and representatives from the Alumni Association and the Young Alumni Association, as well as two students: Zen Liu, president of the Engineering Graduate Student Council, and Siddhant Bhatt, SEAS ’14 and president of the Engineering Student Council.
The launch week of the 150th celebration will coincide with Engineering Week 2014. Committee members are still unsure of the details, but a possible idea is to theme Engineering Week around the anniversary.
In another project designed to commemorate SEAS’s long legacy, Barnard history professor Robert McCaughey has written a book about the history of the engineering school.
McCaughey wrote “Stand, Columbia,” which covers the history of the entire University.
“Writing a history of the engineering school after having written a history of the larger University, I was interested in whether the trajectories of the whole institution and that of one of the schools conformed, and what I find is that they do,” McCaughey said. “My sense of comparison within the two is that the engineering school, if anything, was in deeper difficulties at the low point of the University’s history, and now is at what I think of as a prosperous moment in the University’s history with an even sharper upper incline.”
Last year, the theme of Engineering Week was “Celebrate Awesome!” and included events like a liquid nitrogen study break, Engineers with BBQ, and the signature game of CU Assassins. This year, the committee is hoping to hold similar events but on a larger scale, in addition to more events displaying the work of the engineering school.
“Keeping in mind both the past and the future, a lot of events will be showcasing what we have done in the past over the last 150 years, but also looking at how the school is going to move forward. That will be a recurring theme throughout the year. We are reflecting on what we have done, but also on positioning ourselves for the future,” Bhatt said.
The celebration will also focus on bringing together Columbia’s engineering community. While in previous years Engineering Week has centered mostly on students, this year there will be a greater focus on reaching across all parts of the school. Committee members hope to develop stronger relationships among undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, and alumni.
“It’s going to be nice because it is also going to involve alumni, it’s going to involve faculty members who are going to come out,” Bhatt said. “The engineering community is not just students. Students are important to me as part of the Engineering Student Council, but very much part of our community are the alumni members who we learn from, who mentor us, who give us opportunities, and the faculty who we work with in research labs, who we learn from on a daily basis. That is something that is going to be very different this year.”
Fundraising and branding of the engineering school has also played a big part in the anniversary celebration. The SEAS community is looking for ways to raise funds for future projects and initiatives.
In 2010, then-SEAS Dean Feniosky Peña-Mora announced the 150 by 150 plan, which seeks to raise $150 million by the end of the 150th anniversary celebration. The plan was inspired by the Columbia Campaign, which raised $100 million for the engineering school by July 2010.
Boyce, who became dean this summer, did not respond to requests for comment for this story.
While the engineering school has had its fair share of ups and downs, McCaughey said he believes that SEAS is starting to gain recognition for the work its faculty and students are doing.
“The turnaround for the engineering school was in the 1970s, when the University and the engineering school were at least arguably in their most difficult decades. One of the consequences of the turnaround is, I think, that the engineering school’s place in the University is much more central than it was at an earlier time,” McCaughey said. “There is a recognition, I think, in the broader University community, that Columbia has an engineering school and that it is important to have one.”
As the committee continues to plan the anniversary celebration, its members hope to prove McCaughey right.
“There has been and continues to be a great deal of trailblazing and innovation within the engineering school that deserves to be recognized and showcased,” Liu said in an email.