In 1964 the engineering program at UCSB was reorganized with the formation of two new departments, electrical engineering and mechanical engineering. A year later, chemical engineering was added, and in 1966, those three departments provided the formative matter for the new UCSB College of Engineering. Consolidating those areas of study was key in making UCSB competitive with more established universities and propelling the college to its position as a global leader among public university schools of engineering.
Today, the college includes technology among its engineering and computer science disciplines, attracts the finest minds from academia and private industry, and produces breakthroughs that have influenced the world market, such as the LEDs and blue lasers that were developed in the collaborative, cross-disciplinary Solid State Lighting and Energy Electronics Center. These and other life-changing accomplishments have become points of tremendous pride across campus.
“Here, we really care about the ‘So what?’” said Dean Rod Alferness, referring to the college’s efforts to prevent promising innovations from languishing in the laboratory. “We try hard to get innovations out into the marketplace. It’s part of the reason we have support from industry.”
Alferness spent more than three decades in the private sector, including as a chief scientist at Bell Labs, before joining UCSB as dean of the College of Engineering in September 2011. “Driving innovation is who we are, and it’s my job to make sure that it continues,” Alferness said.
Nontraditional collaboration among the fields of study have long fueled the college’s output. “This is not an ivory tower institution,” said John Gerngross (M.A. EE ’82), a former Raytheon engineer and founder of Condor Engineering, which was purchased by General Electric in 2006. “This is a fully engaged institution that wants to work with industry to develop synergistic relationships.”
The college has nurtured the next generation of engineers, including Amir Abo-Shaeer, B.S. ’96, M.S. ’96, M.Ed. ’01, who leads the renowned engineering academy at nearby Dos Pueblos High School. “I was a TA during my graduate work, and that really helped me discover my love of teaching,” he said. “Professors helped me feel comfortable and confident.” Abo-Shaeer added that the college’s pattern of hiring from the private sector puts students in learning environments that emphasize hands-on research directly applicable to industry, and they learn to work with people, integrate technologies, and “actually engineer things. There’s real value in that.”
Underscoring the college’s importance to the university, UCSB Chancellor Henry Yang has been part of the program since assuming leadership in 1994, teaching undergraduate courses each year within the college. Yang — who holds a bachelor’s in civil engineering from National Taiwan University, an M.S. in structural engineering from West Virginia University, and a Ph.D. in structural engineering from Cornell University — received an honorary distinguished teaching award from UCSB’s academic senate.
“One of the most rewarding moments for me, as a professor, is when students come to me with a question and, through a series of prompts to guide them, are able to find solutions on their own,” Yang said. “Teaching and mentorship are my greatest joys, and I treasure the opportunity to interact with our College of Engineering students.”
“It is always satisfying to look back on the life and evolution of an institution, especially one that has matured as the College of Engineering has, with its brilliant faculty, excellent students, and nationally ranked departments,” said Alferness. “We’ve come far, we’ve had a great deal of success, and most important, we have set the stage for an exciting and prosperous future.”
To commemorate the college’s 50th anniversary, several events and programs are being held, including an alumni reception and time capsule ceremony at 4 p.m. on Friday, April 28, 2017, during the All Gaucho Reunion. For more information, visit engineering.ucsb.edu
Keith Hamm ’94 is a news reporter at The Santa Barbara Independent and a freelance writer.