College of Applied Science and Technology bears deep roots

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Photo courtesy of RIT Archive Collections

A group of students enrolled in the Rochester Athenaeum and Mechanics Institute, circa 1930, works in a lab studying electricity.

The College of Applied Science and Technology recently celebrated its 40th anniversary. The current name dates back to 1981, when the college was formed from five departments: computer science, engineering technology, packaging science, instructional technology, and career and human resources. 

In 1960, when colleges were first named at RIT, a precursor, the College of Applied Science, included chemistry, medical technology, and electrical and mechanical technology. These courses can be traced back to the very first class ever offered at the Mechanics Institute in 1885—a mechanical drawing class that assembled an overwhelming 400 students the first night, causing a last-minute search for extra chairs. Within 10 years, the Rochester Athenaeum and Mechanics Institute offered a mathematics class followed by the first class in electricity.

In 1899, a new course in mechanic arts taught elements and principles of the trades, including algebra, physics, mechanical drawing and machine design. Here, we are able to see the birth of future engineering courses. 

In 1984, the former School of Food, Hotel and Tourism Management moved from the College of Business to CAST. One of the most surprising of the historical precedents is this school’s roots in a Department of Domestic Science, established in 1893. Capt. Henry Lomb, who mainly guided the early years of what was then called the Rochester Athenaeum and Mechanics Institute, proposed a program where women could learn to cook wholesome meals. A board of directors comprised of women worked to establish the program, with Mrs. Betsy Andrews, wife of RAMI board member Ezra Andrews, acting as director for many years. The program expanded to include courses in lunchroom cookery and dietetics. Eventually the name changed to the School of Home Economics, reflecting that the program also educated hundreds of home economics teachers for high schools. In the 1930s, the school expanded into institutional cooking and added food administration in 1942. 

The Department of Computer Science and Technology grew out of RIT’s first computer center established in the early 1960s. A seminar titled “Basic Computing Principles” was offered in 1970 followed shortly by a new program in computer systems. The department eventually had three programs: computer science, computer technology and a computer engineering program. Master’s programs were also added. In 2001, the computer programs moved to the new B. Thomas Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences. 

The changing nature of technology education made CAST an incubator of programs and a crossroads for RIT schools, departments and courses.

To see a video of the anniversary celebration, go to the RIT University News YouTube channel at and search for “CAST 40th Anniversary Celebration.”