Civil Engineering

Civil Engineering Class

Image from the Picture file (SCA-1026), Courtesy of Special Collections, Schaffer Library, Union College.

Class of 1938, Summer School Surveying


The early curriculum consisted of courses in sciences and liberal arts taught by regular faculty. Engineering topics were scheduled at different times than general education courses. By 1856, the program began to be taught as a year-round program separate from the Scientific Course. In 1855, a certificate was replaced by a formal diploma stating that the holder was a “Graduate in Civil Engineering.” Diploma recipients could then choose to continue their studies for another term under the direction of a faculty member.

In 1867, Cady Staley (1840-1928) was hired for a teaching position. Under his direction, the department became the School of Engineering in 1874 and the program expanded from two to four years in 1875. Graduates began to receive the degree of Civil Engineer in 1872. In 1890 the degree officially became Bachelor of Engineering.

General Engineering Building

Image from the Picture file (SCA-1026), Courtesy of Special Collections, Schaffer Library, Union College.

General Engineering Building


Under Olin H. Landreth (1852-1931), the department harbored the electrical engineering program until it later split off as its own department under Charles Steinmetz (1865-1923). The Civil Engineering Department launched its first master’s degree program in 1905. In 1910, it moved from North Colonnade to the new General Engineering Building (presently part of Reamer Campus Center). Charles Thomas Male, Jr. (1914-2007) joined the department in 1942, becoming the first civil engineering professor at Union with a doctorate. Dr. Thomas Jewell came to Union in 1978 where he helped to develop a modern hydraulics laboratory from scratch as well as becoming the department’s expert on computers. In 1985, Dr. Mohammad Mafi joined the faculty and oversaw the development of the new structures model laboratory, the heart of the civil engineering computer facilities.[1]

Glean Team Exhibits 3 and 4

Image from

Excerpt from the GLEAN Team Report


In 2001, Dean of Engineering Dr. Robert T. Balmer created a proposal entitled Converging Technologies for a Changing World which addressed 21st Century engineering education at Union College. This was followed up with a report which recommended the phasing out of civil engineering. The main reason was the need to reallocate resources to computer science and other engineering disciplines more popular to prospective students. This went into effect in 2005, ending over 160 years of civil engineering education at the College. The decision remains controversial to this day.[2]


[1] Somers, Wayne, Encyclopedia of Union College History (Schenectady: Union College Press, 2003), 159-162.
[2] Gaines, Michael. "Report to Union College on the Future of Engineering at Union College Prepared by the GLEAN Team." 2001.
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