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Rochester Institute of Technology

As noted in the RIT Archives at Wallace Library, Colonel Nathaniel Rochester and other Rochester community leaders founded the Athenaeum in 1829 as an association “for the purpose of cultivating and promoting literature, science, and the arts.” Later, in 1847, The Athenaeum merged with the Mechanics Literary Association, which had been founded in 1836 by William A. Reynolds (son of Abelard Reynolds), to form the Rochester Athenaeum and Mechanics Association. Distinguished speakers during this time period included Charles Dickens, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Frederick Douglass. The Athenaeum remains a viable program still today, focusing on educational and cultural experiences for RIT emeritus faculty and staff. As the Rochester Athenaeum and Mechanics Association matured, this led to the founding of the Mechanics Institute in as city leaders, Henry Lomb, Max Lowenthal, Ezra Andrews, Frank Ritter, William Peck and others sought a school to provide technical training for skilled workers for their growing industries.  The first class offered at the newly formed Mechanics Institute was mechanical drawing, held in the evening on November 23, 1885. The community response is overwhelming with more than 400 students enrolled. Thus, our department heralds its roots back to the very first class on the very first day of the Mechanics Institute.  The Athenaeum remains a viable program still today, focusing on educational and cultural experiences for RIT emeritus faculty and staff.

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In 1903 the Institute consisted of five departments: Industrial Arts, Mechanic Arts and Sciences, language, mathematics, science, Manual Training, Domestic Science and Art, and the Department of Fine Arts with a total enrollment of 3,000. The cooperative education program began in 1912 and continues to be a key component of many RIT degree programs today. In 1916 the first president, Carleton B. Gibson, was appointed, serving until 1916. In 1940 classes were offered all day and all night to train thousands for jobs in the defense industry and enrollment reached 4,565. In 1942 evening classes were opened to women to aid in the war effort as well. In 1944 the institute adopted the name Rochester Institute of Technology.

RIT became the first technical school to offer an associate degree in applied science in New York State in 1950 and in 1955 the first Bachelor of Science degrees were awarded. The first masters degrees were awarded in 1960 (all were master of fine arts). The 1960s also saw a reorganization of the institute into six colleges and the decision to move from downtown Rochester to a new campus in Henrietta, NY.

Kate Gleason College of Engineering

Mechanical drawing classes were offered at the Mechanics Institute in 1885 with classes in electrical engineering following in 1896. In 1912 the department of industrial arts was established to include mechanical, electrical and chemistry courses. By 1940 two departments were established – electrical and mechanical and five years later RIT offered associates degrees in electrical and mechanical technology. In 1953 RIT offered it first BS degrees in electrical and mechanical engineering.

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Dr. Edward T. Kirkpatrick was named the first dean of engineering in 1965 and in 1969 ABET accredited the electrical and mechanical engineering BS programs.  Dr. Dick Reeve established the industrial engineering department in 1970 and the College of Applied Science changed its name to the College of Engineering in 1971 with Dr. Richard Kenyon as dean in 1972.  By 1975 the college of engineering offered ABET accredited BS degrees in electrical, mechanical and industrial engineering, and MS degrees in electrical and mechanical. The year 1975 saw the establishment of computer engineering in conjunction with the School of Computer Science, residing solely within the college of engineering by 1980.  In 1987 ABET accredited the BS in computer engineering program and the newly established microelectronic program – the first of its kind in the world.

Dr. Paul Peterson was named dean in 1990 as the college began joint programs with other colleges at RIT-software engineering with the department of computer science, and design, development and manufacturing with the college of business. In 1998 the college was renamed the Kate Gleason College of Engineering and in 2000 Dr. Harvey Palmer became dean. During this first decade of the new century the college has enjoyed steady growth in enrollment and the establishment of a PhD program in Microsystems engineering – the first of its kind anywhere as well as the new BS degree programs in biomedical and chemical engineering. The engineering complex has expanded several times with the last expansion taking place in 2007. The last few years have seen a growth in the enrollment of women and minorities and the college is enjoying an increase in retention.

The Kate Gleason College of Engineering offers programs to prepare students for present-day industrial and community life, and to lay a foundation for graduate work in specialized fields.  This is accomplished by offering curricula which are strong in fundamentals and maintain a balance among the liberal arts, the physical sciences and professional courses.

The College offers five, five-year cooperative education programs leading to the bachelor of science degree with majors in computer, electrical, industrial, mechanical and microelectronic engineering.  Graduate programs leading to a Master of Science and/or a Master of Engineering degree are offered in all five departments.  A Master of Science degree in Applied and Mathematical Statistics is also offered through the Center for Quality and Applied Statistics and a Master of Science in Materials Science and Engineering is offered jointly with the College of Science.

The departments maintain extensive laboratory facilities to provide students with ample opportunity to work with state-of-the-art equipment in their respective fields.  The laboratories are equipped to provide meaningful practical experience, offer students the opportunity for independent projects and provide facilities for applied and fundamental research by students and faculty.

The Dean of the College is Dr. Harvey Palmer. He earned his Ph.D. at the University of Washington and was long associated with the University of Rochester before joining RIT in the summer of 2000.

Department of Mechanical Engineering

While the "mechanical department" was one of the original departments in the Mechanics Institute, we are a relatively young department when we consider the size of our program as it has evolved. For example, our Bachelor of Science degree program in Mechanical Engineering was first accredited in 1969, upon arrival at our new campus in Henrietta, now under the name of the Rochester Institute of Technology. More than half of our alumni base has graduated in the last 20 years. This suggests that we have a large population of alumni who are in early or mid-career stages of their career, and a relatively small population of alumni that have had opportunity to move into senior executive positions.

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Mechanical Engineering is a broad discipline, covering such diverse topics as aerospace systems, bioengineering applications, energy systems, systems & controls, transportation, and vehicle systems engineering.  The Mechanical Engineering Department at RIT offers a solid foundation in ME fundamentals as well as the opportunity for students to concentrate their studies in one of several specific areas of engineering.  In ME classes, students will be exposed to a balance of theory, hands-on experiment, and design.  Our laboratory facilities are primarily intended for student use, although most professors participate in ongoing research projects in these same labs.  Undergraduate students can become involved with these projects through classes, co-op experiences, or through participation in the dual degree program which allows students to earn both Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in a five-year period.  With a faculty that includes several recipients of teaching awards, RIT has demonstrated commitment to excellence in education.


  Rochester Institute of Technology
One Lomb Memorial Drive,
Rochester, NY 14623-5603
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