The story of the development of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at NDSU parallels the history of the technological revolution that has rocked civilization during the twentieth century. It is the history of North Dakota State University and the College of Engineering and Architecture, led by Deans and Chairs with great vision and courage. It is a continuing story of dedicated faculty and staff members developing and improving programs to keep up with the “real” world while working under financial restraints, limited facilities and a location far from the industry it supplies with well-trained graduates. It is a story of students who became grounded in the basic fundamentals of engineering principles and proved the value of personal attention by going out and becoming successful throughout the world.
The Morrill Act of 1862 provided for the creation of a Land Grant school in each state to teach branches of learning as were related to agriculture and mechanic arts, and to provide higher education for the children of the poor and middle class in the country. The early years of NDSU stressed courses in mechanics, farm mechanics, forging and finally in 1897, physics. Robert Martinus Dolve served as Dean from 1928 until 1954. Dean Dolve must be credited with the growth in the engineering program and deserves great praise for his vision and active leadership.
In 1916 the Department of Engineering and Physics offered a B.S. in Architecture, Architectural Engineering, Civil Engineering and Mechanical Engineering. One course ‘37’ was offered in electrical machines. In 1927 the M.E. Department took the first step towards the creation of Electrical Engineering (E.E.) Department. Students took a common first two years and then by selecting the proper Junior and Senior years they could specialize in M.E. or E.E.
The department initiated the greatest changes and began the modernization process when Harry Speers Dixon was hired as Department Head in 1946. World War II had started a revolution in the creation of new electronic devices for communication, radar and automation. Thousands of returning servicemen had experience in radio communications, radio, remote controlled armament, automatic pilots and navigational equipment. They were eager to go to college and learn more about these new areas of human progress. Changes were to introduce two options: power and communication electronics. A solid mathematical background was maintained for the curriculum. Dr. Dixon also initiated the practice of having the departmental staff engaged in outside funded research.
In the early fifties a report made by the accreditation agency, ECPD (Engineers Council for Professional Development) strongly recommended that the college initiate a graduate program in order to attract highly qualified staff members and to assist in departmental research activities. Under Prof. Faiman’s guidance a masters program was initiated and Prof. Laurence Melanson was the first recipient in 1956. The college also offered the professional E.E. degree to B.S. graduate students who wrote a thesis type report on his activities while working in industry. Prof. Ernest G. Anderson, wrote his paper on his work at Collins Radio Company and received the only Professional EE degree ever awarded by the department in 1953.
Graduate work in the department soon grew to be an important part of its overall activities. It attracted not only the department’s own B.S. graduates but students from all over the world. The fact that graduates returned to the department for advanced training was and continues to be a source of satisfaction for the staff knowing that their students felt they were being offered a quality product as an undergraduate.
Research has always been an important part of the department. The research projects began under Dr. Dixon with a small building off of Old Highway 81, just west of the Fargo Airport, filled with radio equipment around 1948. From these early beginnings the department today has a comprehensive research program involving most of the faculty and many graduate students. The stress on research in the college increased dramatically in 1975 under Dr. Stanislao's tenure. Dr. Stanislao not only pushed research, but managed to secure approval for a doctorate program in engineering.
University Computer Center
No history of the department would be complete without telling of the University Computer Center. In August 1961, with the support of NDSU President Fred Hultz and Dean Frank Mirgain an IBM 1620 Digital Computer was installed. Because of the shortage of departmental faculty the teaching of programming to students was gradually turned over to Mathematics faculty. In 1965 when the new electrical building was occupied by the department and the Computer Center, Ed Anderson was awarded a National Science Foundation grant to purchase a Pace TR3 Analog Computer and it was installed in what was to become the departments own computer room on the second floor. In 1968 Don Peterson secured a grant of $250,000.00 for the department to purchase an IBM 360 model 50 digital computer. The 1620 eventually was donated to the State Historical Society in Bismarck.
In the forties the department had a very active Amateur Radio Society (Ham Club) and a branch of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers. In 1950 Ed Anderson became faculty advisor for the student branch of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers (AIEE). In 1953 the Institute of Radio Engineers (IRE) was formed. Around 1964 the two organizations were combined to form the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).
Eta Kappa Nu, the honorary Electrical Engineering Society was started through the efforts of Prof. Vernon Albertson who was a 1950 graduate of the department and came back as an instructor in 1956.
Courses and Curriculums
As one might expect there have been constant changes in courses and curriculum over the many years. Under modern demands no one faculty member has the time nor the capacity to absorb all the different specialties in the field of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Active participation by the departmental faculty have helped to keep the curriculum and course material alive, current and meaningful. Many courses have changed or been dropped because of changes in the world in which we live.
When the new Electrical Engineering building was being designed emphasis was placed on small classrooms and laboratories for safety and instructional benefits. Sharing the first floor are faculty offices, the student computer cluster, along with laboratory space. The second floor was designed with three classrooms, electronics laboratories, an instrument room, circuit laboratories, senior design lab and graduate office space. The new building was finished and the department moved into it in the summer of 1965.
The Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering looks to the future with great enthusiasm and hope. With the current Faculty, an active and growing graduate program and with strong support of the University Administration, students, faculty and staff alike can look forward to continued growth and development.