The Volgenau School of Engineering turned 30 this year

(Photo credit: Claire Cecil/Fourth Estate)

The beginning of this semester marked the thirtieth year that Mason’s school of engineering has been on campus.

According to the engineering school’s annual report, on March 19, 1985, the Board of Visitors approved the founding of the School of Information Technology and Engineering (IT&E), as the school was initially called. The school would also appoint Andrew P. Sage as its first dean that same year. That following fall semester, the engineering school welcomed its first students.

Senior Associate Dean for the Volgenau School of Engineering Stephen Nash commented that the engineering school’s size has increased quite a bit since its opening.

“As of this year, we’re at about 6,200 students. The university as a whole is about 34,000, so we’re coming close to 20 percent of the entire university. Just raw numbers of people, that’s a large impact,” Nash said.

Nash continued that the engineering school’s enrollment has gone up by about 11 percent this year while Mason’s as a whole has only gone up by 1 percent, which shows that the engineering school is driving enrollment growth for the university.

Over the last 30 years, the school has seen a number of changes, including a name and location change. In 2006, the School Council of Higher Education for Virginian officially changed the school name to the Volgenau School of Engineering, according to the school’s annual report. The report also said that in 2009, the school finally moved to its own building with the creation of the Long and Kimmy Nguyen Engineering Building.

Nash added that in addition to its name and location change, the engineering school has seen changes not only in the majors and programs it offers, but also in the very information being taught. He continued that this has a lot to do with the growth of the field of engineering as a whole.

“We’ve grown like Northern Virginia has grown. All of technology and engineering has grown. We’re exploring new topics like data analytics and we have been at the forefront in information security,” Nash said. “We’ve changed because technology has changed so quickly.”

Mason engineering graduate Viet Tran, who also happens to be one of the inventors of the sound wave fire extinguisher, said the engineering school has had a deep impact on his life.

“The engineering school has taught me discipline and methodology in tackling tough problems. I have applied what I’ve learned into many aspects in my life,” Tran said.

Tran continued that the engineering school’s faculty members come from a wide range of professional backgrounds, which makes for a dynamic learning experience. Tran also commented on how the school has grown exponentially in recent years and now shares a competitive landscape with the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech and other schools nationwide.

Volgenau has had an impressive year, according to its most recent annual report. The school established a department of mechanical engineering, and Dean Kenneth S. Ball signed a memorandum with the U.S. Army Reserve for Private Public Partnership Initiative (P3I) funding, making Mason the Reserve’s lead partner. The P3I is a program that will partner with the private sector to help fund the Army Reserve’s large-scale training exercises, according to a Federal News Radio article.

“[There are] just lots of stories of engagement, of creativity, of accomplishment,” Nash said, “and that if you think of us as just the school of engineering, with maybe all the preconceptions it has, I think you’re missing out on some of the excitement here. It’s worth spending some time with us and hearing some of the stories.”