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Landmarks of Tompkins County, New York

by John H. Selkreg, 1894; D. Mason & Co., Publisher


History of Cornell
Chapter XVIII.
THE DEPARTMENT OF CIVIL ENGINEERING.

The first professor chosen to this chair was William Charles CLEVELAND. Professor CLEVELAND was a graduate of the Lawrence Scientific School, a scholar accomplished in several departments of science, an excellent botanist and geologist, gifted in his own profession and an enthusiastic and inspiring teacher. He left his impress upon the students whom he taught during the first four years of the history of the university. The Era of that day pays a beautiful and pathetic tribute to his memory. It says: "How shall we adequately describe him, claiming as he did to a degree rare as it was beautiful, veneration as a professor, esteem and profound respect as a friend? Of his scholastic acquirements we need not speak. The extent of his studies was only equaled by his thoroughness. An erudite mathematician, an ardent geologist, thoroughly conversant with literature, language and science in almost every department and proficient in sculpture and music, he was indeed a rare example of thoroughness and widely diversified scholarship. He aimed to make his department at Cornell the best of its kind in the country, and he succeeded to a wonderful degree." President WHITE said of him:"He was a builder, and his ambition was nothing less than to build a great college of engineering which should be known for good throughout the United States, and be a tower of strength for the university. In all this he planned most sagaciously and labored most devotedly. Against all persuasion to lower the standard of scholarship in his department, he insisted on holding it high, maintaining that this was the only policy which would give it permanent success. The originality of his methods and the extent of his knowledge was a constant surprise to his associates. On the practical side of his department he was admirable. In the Construction of models for illustration he showed very great skill, nor was his skill entirely mechanical or mathematical; he showed a capacity for work in art, which, if carried out, would have certainly brought him high reputation. The sketching of a landscape that pleased him, the modeling of the bust of a brother professor whom he loved, these were pas times with him." Upon the death of Professor CLEVELAND, Professor E. A. FUERTES, a graduate of the Troy Polytechnic Institute in this country, but who had studied with distinction in several foreign schools, was called to be his successor. Professor FUERTES was a scholar of thorough literary as well as scientific training, He had been the engineer in charge of the Nicaragua survey, and had had wide experience as a consulting engineer in the erection of important municipal works in New York. The College of Civil Engineering began with the establishment of a department of engineering, which originally bore the name of engineering and architecture. Like every other branch of the university at that time, the engineering work was still in a primordial or chaotic condition. A vast amount of well directed effort had outlined the work in certain directions, which waited to assume useful shape, when Professor CLEVELAND was cut down, before he could fully organize his evident intentions with reference to the development of this school. The quarters of the department were in a single room about thirty feet long by fifteen feet wide, and all its equipment found ample space under the stairs, in a corner of the same room, leading to a garret. The organization of the present college is the outgrowth of what has been considered the duty of raising both the social and professional standing of the engineers of this country. Progress was at first slow, owing to lack of resources and the absence, at the time, in the university of the proper atmosphere, in which alone technical and professional studies can be prosecuted. The difficulty of engrafting upon our curriculum certain needed studies was greatly enhanced by the lack of that ready sympathy, which is not less influential than the lack of material resources. In the course of time, as the university broadened in every direction, it has been possible to carry out the evident purposes of the organizer of the school, viz., that catholicity of sympathy and appreciation of intellectual activity in every field must be an all pervading purpose in any institution of learning. The plain wooden building bearing the name of the Chemical Laboratory, which, soon after the opening of the second term, furnished scant accommodation for the departments of chemistry, physics, civil and mechanical engineering, botany and veterinary science, and even general store rooms for the university, was in process of time, vacated, as better accommodations were opened to them elsewhere, and the entire building was devoted to civil engineering. The growth of the department was maintained in the depressing years which followed the financial crisis of 1873. The trustees suddenly changed the cautious policy which they had pursued as regards appropriations. The need of a vigorous development and of wise and enthusiastic leadership was felt throughout the university. The trustees felt that to inspire new life into all departments, additional appropriations must be made, even if the capital of the university was temporarily impaired. At a single meeting, December 18, 1880, one hundred thousand dollars were appropriated to equip certain departments in the university. In the summer of 1880, the dean of the department purchased in Europe the nucleus of the present equipment, which has been steadily increased until it has no equal in this country, and, considering the mutual relations of the entire equipment in the university, it can be safely said that it has no equal in the world. The single teacher in 1873, upon whom devolved all the professional and other work of the college, has been supplanted to-day by fifteen men who dedicate their entire lives to the subdivided labor submitted to their charge, while the advance in other departments of the university, supplements, in extra-professional studies, the distinctive work of the College of Civil Engineering. Many graduates have become eminent as authors, investigators or engineers, not only in the material industrialism of the country, but also in the development of transcendental engineering and cognate sciences. The proportion of graduates of this department who have charge of important works in the field of engineering, exceeds possibly that of any other institution. The striking feature of the educational aims of the college has been to impress upon its graduates the habit of well-controlled self-reliance, to which in no small degree is due the orderly and industrious qualities which they manifest, and without which success would be impossible. The theory has been to regulate instruction by the needs of the country, which are entirely different and, in some cases, even incompatible with those of older societies. To this is duo the progress in professional preferment characteristic of our graduates. They are educated for the purposes for which they are needed. The effort to render useful our educational theories has given rise to novelties in method for which Cornell can claim priority of inception. Prominent among these is a feature now universally adopted, not only in the schools of this country, but in Canada, and is gaining favor in Europe, viz., that of teaching engineering in laboratories, a method which appeared for the first time some eighteen years since in the announcement of this work.

History of Cornell - Chapter XIX

Carl Hommel donated this material and transcribed into digital format.
Thank you Carl Hommel.

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