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Two of the Department's past Chairmen, Professor Emeritus Chand Viswanathan and Professor Emeritus Robert S. Elliott, collaborated on the following article which briefly describes the phenomenal growth of the University, the School, and the Department.


In March of 1881 the California Legislature created the Los Angeles State Normal School, to be housed in downtown Los Angeles. Instruction began in August of 1882 with three teachers and sixty-one students. Expansion of facilities, faculty, and student body continued until 1919, at which time governance was transferred to the Regents of the University of California and the name was changed to Southern Branch of the University of California.

Educational offerings were enlarged to include the freshman and sophomore years in Letters and Science. The third and fourth years were in place by 1924, and the first Bachelor of Arts degrees were conferred in June of 1925. On February 1, 1927 the name of the institution was changed to the University of California at Los Angeles or, in common usage, UCLA.

fig-3By action of the Regents, work in the College of Agriculture was established at Los Angeles in November 1930, in the College of Business Administration in June 1935, and in the College of Applied Arts and in the School of Education in 1939. On August 8,1933, graduate study programs leading to the degrees of Master of Arts and Master of Science, and to the Certificate of Completion for general secondary and junior college teaching credentials, were authorized by the Regents. Accordingly, in September of 1933, one hundred and fifty candidates were admitted to work in the fields of botany, economics, education, English, geography, geology, history, mathematics, philosophy, physics, political science, psychology, and zoology.

The first Master's degrees were conferred in June of 1934. Beginning in September of 1936 candidates for the Ph.D. degree were accepted in the fields of English, history, mathematics, and political science. In short order the list was expanded to include all the fields in which the Master's degree was already authorized.

The College of Engineering

Under the terms of a special appropriation made by the State Legislature in the Spring of 1943, a College of Engineering was established at UCLA in November of 1944.  L.M.K. Boelter, the Associate Dean of Engineering at UC Berkeley, was invited to come to Los Angeles and be the founding Dean of the new College. His immediate tasks were to form a faculty and oversee the design and construction of an Engineering building. By 1947 a faculty of 18 professors and 37 lecturers had been assembled. In 1951 faculty and students were able to move out of temporary quarters into the newly completed Engineering I building located on the west side of campus.

For the first few years, UCLA students enrolling in Engineering took their first two years at Los Angeles and the last two in Berkeley. By 1953 all four years leading to a Bachelor's degree in Engineering could be taken at UCLA and the beginnings of a graduate program had been introduced. The faculty had doubled in size and the student population also increased significantly. By 1958 it was possible to enroll in a program of study at Los Angeles leading to the M.S. and Ph.D degrees in Engineering.fig-4

Dean Boelter was an innovator with highly original ideas about undergraduate engineering education. He felt that the conventional departmentalization of a College of Engineering leads to walls being created between departments that prevent interdisciplinary activities. Since he also felt that the future of engineering was interdisciplinary, he decided that the College of Engineering at UCLA would have a single department and that UCLA would offer undesignated B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. degrees. Further, the first three years leading to the B.S. would be completely unified, with the junior year consisting of seven core courses that covered dynamics, fluid mechanics, thermodynamics, strength of materials, electric circuits and machines, applied mathematics, and professional ethics. A two-year sequence of interdisciplinary laboratories would span the junior and senior years.

The postwar explosion of technologies in all the disciplines made this curriculum increasingly out of date and the faculty began urging more specialization plus modernization. Coupled with this, the sizes of the faculty and the student body were growing dramatically and two more buildings had to be constructed to house them (Engineering II in 1959 and Engineering III in 1961, jointly known as Boelter Hall). Administration through a single department was becoming unwieldy and inefficient.

In 1964 Dean Boelter softened his position and permitted divisions to be established in the fields of structures, applied mechanics, chemical/nuclear/thermal studies, materials, electronics and circuits, information systems, electromagnetics, aeronautics, environmental systems, and design/management/planning, but still under the aegis of a single department. The divisions were given increased autonomy in the design of curricula and course content and were given localized administrative responsibility. De facto, a departmental structure was beginning to take shape.

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