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A Brief History...Events of the Last 22 Years

tom hill

Dr. Tom Hill

September 2017 | by Dr. Thomas Hill


When I arrived at St. Ambrose in January 1995, the department was known as the Ambrose Institute of Industrial Engineering. The first conditional ABET accreditation had just been awarded following a few attempts to be accredited with curriculums using different engineering content. This success was based on the curriculum and the graduates from May 1993. A follow-up visit was scheduled in two years.

The teaching of the program was done by Dr. Michael Opar, Prof. Richard Jerz, Dr. George Kanzaki, and Dr. Tom Hill along with an occasional adjuncts. Physics, Statics and Dynamics, and Thermodynamics were taught by Dr. Yang. Electronics was taught by Dr. Burns. Courses in Strength and Materials was handled by Prof. Morris Calsen who also set up the observatory. At that time Operations Research was taught in the math department by Dr. Robert Banish.  

Much remained to be done to be ready for the follow-up ABET visit. Hardly anyone knew what industrial engineering was, including the professional society of industrial engineers. We especially wanted people at SAU to have a good feel for our department and how it fit in with the other programs. We (the four professors) created a definition for "Industrial Engineering" and established a statement of mission for the department. There were still deviations from the previously approved curriculum by most of the non-traditional students. A complete assessment of every graduate from May 1993 through May 1996 was done and presented to ABET. The two-year 'check up' visit in 1996 was completely successful.  

At that time the composition of the student body was very different than now. In January 1996, I made a report to the Dean, the Provost, and the President of the University about the department. The report included this composition of students: 27 students registered in IE courses; 15 of these were nontraditional, 7 were traditional, and five were of undetermined classification. Average class size was 3.5 students with range being between one and 10. The list of students included many well-respected members of various present-day engineering work forces.  

In 1998 we (the four professors) wrote a paper and presented at the ASEE conference in 1998 about our adventures as a small IE department striving to understand and meet the ABET 2000 criteria. During the years 1997 - 2005 much energy was expended on getting visibility of the program in the Quad Cities community. The program lost two professors, Dr. Jerz to Business and Dr. Kanzaki to retirement.  

In the middle of the first decade of the 21st century IE enrollment was up to around 30 - 40 full-time students. Dr. Opar and I examined the question "What should we do next?" We looked at the question many ways, but the question still came down to: where and how would we get the people power?

Dr. Opar as Chair was expending a lot of energy to increase enrollment. Also Dr. Robert Mitchell joined Physics to teach Astronomy, take care of the Observatory, and teach basic physics. In 2008 we were able to hire a third IE professor, Dr. Jodi Prosise. Dr. Opar and Dr. Prosise took on the effort to attract students and to get the program better known. One question that came up often in their discussions with prospective students was "Do you have mechanical engineering?" The reality of demand for mechanical engineering was carefully examined and found to be real. The Industrial Engineering program was expanded to include Mechanical Engineering in 2011. During this time, 2008 - 2010, Industrial Engineering department was moved from the College of Business to the College of Arts and Sciences and combined with Physics. Also, Dr. Susa Stonedahl joined us replacing Dr. Burns. She teaches basic physics, both algebra and calculus based, and does many special study course projects with the engineering students.

Today there are 135 students split roughly equally between the two disciplines IE and ME, mostly traditional students. Quite a change from when I arrived in January of 1995. Dr. Prosise is the Chair, the program has maintained its perspective of providing a first rate undergraduate engineering education. Emphasis was and is on teaching done by real professors who get fulfillment from seeing students learning to be engineers.

I came here having taught at Purdue six years and working in the aerospace industry for over 20 years. I feel that "industrial engineering" is still a much more abstract concept than the other engineering disciplines in spite of our efforts to define it.  

My fondest memories of my time spent here at St. Ambrose are all the great students I was given the opportunity to influence about the major aspects of engineering as seen from the perspective of an industrial engineer. It's been quite a ride.  

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