A little EngSci history

For over 80 years, Engineering Science has been a flagship program in the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering, and one of the world’s most selective and advanced.

The program has changed in many ways over the decades, but two defining features have remained the same: a strong focus on math, physics and science form the core of the program’s approach, and students choose an area of specialization (a major, or “option”, as it is also known) after two years of fundamentals courses.

The EngPhys class of 3T8 — all six of its graduating members and some of the professors who taught them.

 

As the name Engineering Science implies, the program combines advanced instruction in engineering and science, something that does not seem revolutionary today. But this was a radical shift from the philosophy that guided the faculty in its early days. In the early 1900s, many engineers did not attend university, instead learning their profession through apprenticeships. John Galbraith, the first Dean of the faculty, believed strongly that engineering education should focus on training practising engineers and not be corrupted with instruction in the pure sciences. In 1904, he separated the university’s engineering program from the rest of the science courses.

The Department of Physics especially lamented the decision and, toward the end of World War I, Physics Professors J.C. McLennan and E.F. Burton (seen at back left in the above photo) proposed a new joint program of math, physics and engineering. It was their first of several unsuccessful bids to establish what would ultimately become Engineering Physics (later named Engineering Science).

It took several more attempts over the next decade and a half until Burton convinced the engineering faculty of the need for the program. The result was the creation of a new department in 1934 called Engineering Physics (EngPhys), in which students would enroll but which would have no faculty members of its own. EngPhys instead relied on professors from existing engineering and physics departments for its instruction, as is still the case today.

The program’s structure has remained unchanged since its inception: students take two foundation years and then choose one of several majors (previously known as “options”). This structure has made the program nimble and quickly able to respond to emerging areas of research and technology, often creating the first undergraduate program in a new field.

 

Over the decades, the EngSci program majors (a.k.a. “options”) have evolved as new fields of research and technology emerged.

 

Until 1958, the upper year options included subjects related primarily to physics, but that year saw the creation of the Chemical Engineering option. As a result, the program’s name was changed to Engineering Science (EngSci) in 1962.

Graduates of the program have included Dormer Ellis (4T8, 1st female professor in electrical engineering at what was then Ryerson Institute of Technology), Bill Blundell (4T9, former CEO of GE Canada), Janis Chodas (7T8, Director for Engineering and Science, NASA’s JPL), Todd Reichert (0T5, UTIAS PhD 1T1) and Cameron Robertson (0T8, UTIAS MASc 0T9) (world record holders for fastest human-powered vehicle), and many more.

Are you a current student or graduate of EngPhys or EngSci? Join the EngSci group in U of T Engineering CONNECT to tap into our global network.

Sources:

  1. The Skule Story, Richard White, 2000
  2. A Short History of Engineering Science at University of Toronto, Don Ball, 1970
  3. Academic Calendars, Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering, University of Toronto