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The History of Mechanical Engineering at UNM

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 Ph D 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 1940's, after which they increased rapidly for a few years due to veterans returning from WWII. Enrollments fell following this, but they never returned to pre-war levels. Enrollments in the MS programs grew rapidly in the late 1950's and early 1960's 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 1960's.

In the mid-1970's 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 1970's 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-1980's. A master's 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.

Jack W. Ehlen, PE, of the Class of 1954 was looking through a box of UNM momentos in September of 1998, and discovered the Engineer's Flag that used to hang on the ME Department's flagpole on Engineers Day. This was always scheduled for St. Patrick's Day, thus explaining the Shamrock emblem. Upon discovering the `relic', Jack immediately returned it to the care of the ME Department. The flagpole was greased carefully to prevent the flags' capture by Arts and Science students, but a year before, some A&S students had managed to work their way up the pole to the flag and place their names on it. A barrier was then placed around the pole to make it even more difficult to reach. The final solution to the problem was by several ME students who ran a steam line from the ME Building out to the flagpole, thereby raising its temperature to a level high enough to dissuade all subsequent A&S students. The Engineer's Flag last flew on March 17, 1954 when it was hanging by a single grommet and rescued by Jack and some classmates. This flag is on display in the ME Atrium, 44 years after its last hanging. Thanks Jack!

As an additional note, the second images are enlargements of the names of Arts and Sciences students that managed to steal the flag and place their names on the flag. When the flag was retrieved, an attempt was made to remove these names, but they can be seen through the overpainting.

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. This building was first used in the 1980-81 academic year. It includes classrooms, the department office, offices for faculty and graduate students, undergraduate study and organizational spaces, and several instructional and research laboratories. By virtue of having a relatively large lecture hall adjacent to a spacious atrium on the main floor, the building has become a gathering place for many meetings and receptions.

Department Chairs

Current and former chairs of the Mechanical Engineering Department and their terms of service are as follows.

The Department Chairs

Marshall E. Farris 1931-42
Albert D. Ford 1942-53
Charles T. Grace 1953-63
Richard C. Dove 1963-68
Maurice W. Wildin 1968-73
Frederick D. Ju 1973-76
William E. Baker 1976-81
Alan O. Lebeck 1981-84
Mohsen Shahinpoor 1984-87
Charles G. Richards 1987-89
Frederick D. Ju 1989-92
Joe Mullins 1992-93
David E. Thompson 1993-1999
Marc S. Ingber 1999-present


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