History of Applied Engineering Sciences

You are here

(Based on a history originally written by Dr. N. "Manny" Subramanian, with updates by Dr. Jon Sticklen, Dr. Thomas F. Wolff and Dr. Laura J. Genik)

Applied Engineering Sciences: A History

The Design of the Engineering Arts Degree

A black and white photo from the 1950s of an engineering classroom

The late 1900's was an interesting period in US history.  In July, 1969, the US space program, combined with the efforts of thousands of engineers, scientists, and technologists, had successfully completed the Apollo 11 space mission, placing the first humans to land on the moon. This was truly a magnificent and storied achievement for the scientific community. When President Kennedy announced in 1961 the goal to place a person on the moon by the end of the decade, national engineering enrollments began a rebound from a drop in the 1950’s increasing significantly throughout most of the 1960’s. Due to the space program, the employment demand for engineers was strong, and students were flocking to engineering programs. However, as the space program was reaching its zenith, societal issues were becoming predominant in the media. The Vietnam War was raging, students were worried about the draft, and riots and protests were rampant in cities, and on college campuses. This societal unrest had a significant impact on college enrollments, and students’ major interests shifted away from the science and engineering fields to programs in the social sciences and liberal arts. Engineering enrollments began to plummet in 1967 and this lasted well into the mid-1970’s. Engineering administrators across the country were very concerned about the situation, and much effort was directed toward recruiting more students into engineering programs.

At Michigan State University, a group of concerned faculty, administrators, and employers began to meet on a regular basis to discuss this situation. Dean L.W. VonTersch formed a committee to study the issue and recommend a course of action. The focus on the discussion was to develop an alternative program of study that could be attractive to students with talents in science and mathematics, who were currently in other majors on campus, or in the process of exploring admission to MSU. Their efforts evolved a proposal for a new engineering program that would allow students more flexibility in the curriculum.

The initial program requirements included only Calculus 1 and 2, non-calculus physics, and newly created courses in thermodynamics and fluid mechanics with less technical prerequisites than those in the required courses for other engineering majors. To capitalize on the interests in societal issues, a course “Technology, Society and Public Policy” was also developed and required. The unique feature of the program was the opportunity for students to select an application area from outside the College. Initial application areas included social science, business, communication arts, and industrial design. A “Systems Methodology” course was developed as the capstone for the program. The intent of this project oriented course was to provide students the opportunity to integrate their technical coursework with their application area into an appropriate project and presentation. It was hoped that a major that would allow the combination of technical studies with a complementary field of study would be attractive to prospective students. The proposed program was tentatively named the Bachelor of Arts in Engineering. The proposed program was endorsed by the faculty and forwarded to the University Curriculum Committee for final approval. The discussion at the UCC was problematic. Many members were opposed to awarding a Bachelors of Arts degree to a program that had a significant amount of coursework in the sciences, engineering and mathematics. They felt the foundation of the curriculum merited a Bachelor of Science in Engineering degree. The proposal was returned to the College of Engineering for further discussion. After much deliberation, a compromise was reached. The program name and degree would be the “Bachelor of Science in Engineering Arts”. The Engineering Arts name was used until the change in 2004 to Applied Engineering Sciences. The Engineering Arts major went into effect in 1973 and the first graduates were in 1974.

A New Era: The Change to Applied Engineering Sciences

Since its inception, the Applied Engineering Sciences program has been successful in attracting students with diverse interests and varied backgrounds. Employers have especially responded positively to the graduates who bring a unique blend of courses and experiences to the workplace. These students have been heavily recruited by a wide range of organizations with starting salaries commensurate to those of other engineering programs.

Over the years, the major has gone through many changes. In an attempt to align the program more closely to the other Engineering majors, the curriculum was changed in 1987 to require the same calculus, physics, and thermodynamics as in other programs. The original four application areas were gradually expanded to as many as 14 choices during the 1980’s and 90’s.These included study areas such as Manufacturing, Packaging, Business, Materials and Logistics Management, Communication, Journalism, Telecommunication, Health and Humanities, Industrial Design, Environmental Science, Lyman Briggs Science and Technology Studies, Industrial Organizational Management, Industrial Work Management, Urban and Rural Planning, and even an option for a student to propose one of personal interest. The term for the part of the curriculum named “Application Area”, was changed to “Cognate” in 1992, and later to "Concentration." Due to lack of enrollment in many of these cognates, the choices were reduced to four in 2000; Business – Supply Chain Management, Telecommunication (currently named Media and Information), Product Design, and Packaging.

From its inception, the program was administered by the Department of Metallurgy, Mechanics, and Materials Science (MMM), later changed to the Department of Materials Science and Mechanics (MSM). In 2001, a College reorganization resulted in moving the Engineering Arts program to the Office of Undergraduate Studies, and Dr. Les Leone was named Program Director. In 2004, the name of the program was changed to Applied Engineering Sciences. In 2008, following the retirement of Dr. Leone, Dr. Jon Sticklen was named as Program Director. Following Dr. Sticklen's retirement in 2014, Associate Dean Thomas F. Wolff served as interim director until Dr. Laura J. Genik was appointed in January 2015.

The Applied Engineering Sciences Alumni Advisory Board was created in 2002 and has been actively involved in moving the program in a positive direction. The Board were instrumental in changing the name of the program to Applied Engineering Sciences, instigating curricular changes, establishing a stronger presence with current students and alumni, and creating a very successful endowment fund used to fund student scholarships and other support funds. Due to strong student interest, the cognate areas were reduced to two; Business - Supply Chain Management, and Media and Information. In 2009, the AES curriculum was redesigned to emphasize a foundation of engineering and business courses, major-specific courses related to systems thinking and modeling, and a set of "select from" concentration areas that students would choose for specific career preparation. This model provides a set of program options that can change slowly over time while also building a set of industry and student responsive concentration areas that can be modified based on student and employer demand. As of 2009, these were supply chain management, computer science, technical sales, and media and information. In 2011, two more concentrations were added: business law and packaging.  In fall 2021, the concentrations were realigned to reflect the industry demand for strong data analytics; the Business Analytics with Data Science minor was added, replacing Media and Information. 

Throughout the years, the student organization, the Society of Engineering Arts, now the Society of Applied Engineering Sciences, has been an important component and complement to the program, with their programming activities and recruiting efforts

Logo for SAES | Society of Applied Engineering Sciences