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Engineer deans established student-centric culture at NMSU

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Feb. 16-21 was National Engineers Week, with the theme “Engineers: Pioneers of Progress.”

Throughout its century-plus history, the New Mexico State University College of Engineering has had its share of pioneers.

In my preparation for an interview on the historical impact of Ralph Goddard on the college, I discovered that he and other leaders developed a progressive student-centric culture that is as old as the college itself.

During the humble beginnings of the college, during the second decade of the 20th century, the troubles on the U.S./Mexico border created a “feeling on campus … one of goodwill, hard work, and mutual support.” It was noted that faculty members frequently made small loans to students or invited them home for dinner.

Dean Goddard was known to have traveled the state giving lectures and demonstrations aimed at attracting new students for the young engineering college. He organized a radio club at his home in 1919, with students invited to listen to the receiving set he had constructed in his basement.

In the words of Hugh Milton, who served as dean of engineering, NMSU president, and went on to become the undersecretary of the U.S. Army in the 1950s, “the decade of the Goddard administration [1914-29] was characterized as one of consolidation and formalization of the engineering program. The objective was to strengthen the curricula, secure a fully competent faculty and provide the best equipment with the available monies.”

Milton, a speaker, writer and historian himself, also writes, “… to him [Goddard] must be given great credit for the future prestige of the Engineering College of New Mexico State University.”

Milton also took steps to advance the college for the benefit of students. It was he who prepared for and achieved accreditation for the civil, electrical and mechanical engineering programs—a step that enabled graduates to gain registration for state professional engineering boards.

The accreditation committee commended the broad scope of the engineering curriculum, that emphasize professionalism of engineering along with practical aspects.

In 1938, Milton was followed by another legendary dean, Daniel “Dad” Jett, who had been chosen the most popular faculty member for seven different years. Taking the leadership of the college almost simultaneously with the beginning of World War II, Jett corresponded with his students serving in all branches of the military. It is remarkable that a college dean could have, or would have, maintained detailed correspondence with hundreds of students serving in every corner of the world.

These three extraordinary leaders established the tenor of the College of Engineering from its very beginning. How interesting it is, that this unique student-centered DNA of this college has persisted for more than a century now. 

Lakshmi N. Reddi is the dean of NMSU’s College of Engineering.

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