Celebration of 150 years at SEAS

The School of Engineering and Applied Science is throwing a two-day birthday party featuring a distinguished engineer and robots duking it out on Wynn Commons.

The party, set for Sept. 25 and 26 (see “What’s On” for details), marks a century and a half of engineering at Penn. SEAS, founded in 1852 as the School of Mines, Arts and Manufactures, prides itself on both exposing its students to the nuts and bolts of technology in a hands-on fashion and giving students a view of the larger world in which technology operates.

A broader curriculum

Dean Eduardo Glandt is quick to point out how SEAS students get a broader view.

“Our curriculum requires more humanities and social science courses than any other,” he said.

Which is not to say that the students don’t get their hands dirty. “From the beginning of the 20th century, Penn has had a philosophy of hands-on education in engineering,” said Glandt.

The Towne Building, SEAS’ home since 1906, was considered a grand experiment when it opened, with its museum, foundries, labs and shops that offered students the chance to learn by doing.

The spaces that once housed industrial machinery have been adapted for high-tech uses, but the Towne Building continues to serve the school well, and newer facilities, such as Levine Hall, the new home for computer science set to open in January, keep pace with changes in technology.

The school has a parallel tradition of blazing new trails in applied science that goes well beyond ENIAC. The field of bioengineering was invented at Penn, which awarded the first bioengineering Ph.D. degree in 1962. “We were practicing it in the 1950s, before the term was even coined,” Glandt said.

And today, he said, the school continues to emphasize a broad approach to engineering education, both through interdisciplinary programs such as Management and Technology and Digital Media Design.

Glandt described the school’s goal as “educating engineers not to be the foot soldiers of the profession, but the generals.”

Originally published on September 19, 2002