UMSL, WashU celebrate 20 years of engineering education

The originators and current stewards of the University of Missouri–St. Louis and Washington University in St. Louis Joint Undergraduate Engineering Program gathered to mark its 20-year anniversary at a reception Oct. 17 at the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center.

Joseph O'Sullivan, Mark Wrighton, Blanche Touhill, William Danforth, Tom George
“No one has had a greater impact on education in our region than these four chancellors,” said Joseph O’Sullivan, dean of UMSL/WashU Joint Undergraduate Engineering Program as he introduced UMSL Chancellor Tom George, Washington University Chancellor Mark Wrighton, UMSL Chancellor Emeritus Blanche Touhill and Washington University Emeritus Chancellor William Danforth.

Recognizing a need to offer educational opportunities to place-bound and minority students looking for a career in the engineering field, the two universities partnered in 1993 to fill that void. They created the UMSL/WashU Joint Undergraduate Engineering Program, which offers bachelor of science degrees in civil, mechanical and electrical engineering. The partnership has allowed the two universities to work together and accomplish what neither could have done separately.

“We’ve fulfilled a need,” George said. “The program feeds the work-force, economy and social well-being of St. Louis. That makes UMSL, Washington University and our region stronger.”

Touhill and Danforth led the formation of the program, which saw its first class in the fall of 1993. Fast-forward 20 years and it has graduated nearly 650 students. Since 2008 the program has grown nearly 50 percent, and about 75 percent of the graduates stay in the St. Louis area.

“This program was well conceived,” Danforth said. “But it wouldn’t have lasted unless it was good for the people of the region, unless it was good for the people of our community and the people of the state of Missouri. And it has been.”

St. Louis is fast becoming a hub for science, technology and engineering, and one of the program’s missions is to prepare the talent to further fuel that progress – a goal the program is easily meeting.

“I’m proud that Washington University and the University of Missouri–St. Louis are partnered to prepare for a brighter future for St. Louis,” Wrighton said.

Two individuals were also honored during the anniversary event. William Dick, who is now retired from teaching at Washington University, was awarded the Dean’s Teaching Award.

“He was a central fixture in our program, especially in our teaching laboratories for the first 18 years,” O’Sullivan said as he presented the award.

Kevin Deppermann (BS electrical engineering 1998) received the Dean’s Alumni Award for his outstanding contributions to engineering. He is a chief engineer at Monsanto and a senior fellow leading the Crop Analytics Automation and Engineering Team. Deppermann said he was drawn to the program because of the two entities involved.

“It provided instant credibility,” he said.