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.

By 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.

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.

The Electrical Engineering Department

Almost immediately, the fields of electromagnetics and electronics and circuits chose to unite and become “the Electrical Engineering Division”. The faculty consisted of three full professors, three associate professors, four assistant professors, and three lecturers. Courses were offered in modern circuit theory, solid state theory, semi-conductor devices, magnetic devices, electromagnetic theory, antenna design, microwave devices, plasmas, and propagation, all leading to the B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. degrees.

In 1966, Dean Boelter retired and was succeeded by Chauncey Starr, who had been President of the Rocketdyne Division of North American Corporation. One of his early acts was to persuade the faculty of the College to change its name to “School of Engineering and Applied Science”. Dean Starr had been given the mandate to continue the modernization of curricula, and had been given the resources by the Regents to expand the faculty to accommodate the greatly increased demand for graduate education in all the disciplines, due to the continued growth of high technology corporations in the Los Angeles basin. Dean Starr’s next act, supported by the faculty, was to petition the campus administration for permission to convert the divisions into departments. Authority was granted in 1969.

The Electrical Engineering Division formally became a department with Professor Robert S. Elliott, a distinguished scholar and teacher with world-wide acclaim and recognition, as the first chair of the department, and was named the Electrical Sciences and Engineering Department. The School, although departmentalized, still remained centralized and retained many of the administrative and academic functions and oversight. Thus the departments were not autonomous, unlike academic departments elsewhere on the campus. It took almost a decade and a half for the Department to become autonomous.

The electrical engineering faculty recognized that the department had to be renamed to promote a ready and wide recognition of the activities of the department in the electrical engineering discipline. In 1981, the name was changed to Electrical Engineering Department. Several innovative steps were taken to publicize the strengths and contributions of the department and its faculty. The departmental Industrial Affiliate Program (ECE Affiliates) was initiated with a few leading industries as the first affiliates of the department. The ECE Affiliates was the first departmental affiliate program in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. The department set up an Industrial Advisory Board comprised of nationwide industrial leaders, to advise the department on its priorities, goals and mission. Another innovation that the department made was the inauguration of the Annual Research Review in 1982, a yearly event to which engineers and scientists from industries, research laboratories, government agencies and academic institutions were invited to hear the presentations of the faculty and their graduate students on their research accomplishments.

Starting in 1984, the electrical engineering students received their degree diplomas (graduation certificates) with specific electrical engineering degree designations such as B.S., M. S., and Ph. D., in Electrical Engineering (instead of B.S., M. S., and Ph. D., in Engineering). The fields of Communication, Controls and Operations Research were also transferred to the department, thus providing full coverage of all the fields of studies in electrical engineering.

By 1984, the decentralization of the School was completed and the Electrical Engineering Department became autonomous and quickly achieved campus and national visibility. In the National Conference Board ranking conducted under the auspices of the National Research Council, the department was ranked fifth below MIT, Stanford, UC Berkeley and University of Illinois. This high ranking was a fitting recognition of the excellence of its faculty, students and academic programs. It was all the more significant that the UCLA Electrical Engineering Department, comparatively a very young department, received such a high ranking ahead of older and more established electrical engineering departments that had been in existence for several decades.

In the last twenty years, the Electrical Engineering Department has grown in strength and has attracted outstanding faculty and students. The department continues to receive a substantial amount of extramural support from the national agencies and industrial sponsors. Its faculty have received numerous campus and world-wide awards and recognitions for excellence in teaching and research.

As of July 1, 2017, the Electrical Engineering Department has been renamed the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department.

After two years of planning, in July of 2017, the department was re-named to Electrical and Computer Engineering to better reflect the full scope of the discipline. As part of this change, a new undergraduate major was introduced. In addition to traditional coursework in computer hardware and software, this program allows students to focus on emerging technology such as the internet of things, robotic systems, and mobile/wearable/implantable computing devices.

Computer Engineering majors will take courses in both the Electrical and Computer Engineering and Computer Science departments, which will jointly administer the degree. As part of a capstone project to be completed over two consecutive academic quarters, students will work in teams to build a connected system of their own design, with all required elements including fabricated hardware, task-specific software, sensors, and controls.

Current and Past Department Chairs

Professor Gregory J. Pottie (2015-present)
Professor Frank Chang (2010-2015)
Professor Ali H. Sayed (2005-2010)
Professor Yahya Rahmat-Samii (2000-2005)
Professor William Kaiser (1996-2000)
Professor Kang Wang (1993-1996)
Professor Nicolaos G. Alexopoulos (1987-1992)
Professor Frederick G. Allen (1985-1987)
Professor Chand R. Viswanathan (1979-1985)
Professor Gabor C. Temes (1974-1979)
Professor Frederick G. Allen (1969-1974)
Professor Robert S. Elliott (1968-1969)