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UD's Technical Institute: A history that leads to the present

UD's Technical Institute: A history that leads to the present

Robert L. Mott and G. Wm Lawless March 10, 2021

Two longtime professors reflect on the founding of the Technical Institute at the University of Dayton and how the program began as a Marianist response to the needs of the community. Its roots can be found today in undergraduate and graduate programs within the School of Engineering. Former Technical Institute faculty would love to hear from their students.

From the late 1930s into the 1960s, the city of Dayton was a hotbed of major industrial activity. Corporations such as the National Cash Register Co., General Motors (five plants!), Monsanto Chemical, McCall’s Publishing and Duriron all called Dayton home. The workforce at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base added to the significant weekly payroll. This concentration of industry, much of it technical in nature, created an increasing demand on the University of Dayton’s night school, particularly during the post-World War II years. It was not only a matter of tailoring specific course offerings — a problem in and of itself — but there was also the further concern that students, being full-time employees, could not be expected to continue at night to complete a four-year degree program.  

Students sit at desks and watch a professor at the blackboardIn 1949 the University acquired the services of Robert I. “Bob” Mitchell to study and suggest ways and means that UD could better serve the educational needs of local industry. Mitchell was a WWII veteran, he attended UD in 1946 and he held degrees from the University of Cincinnati (1942) and Ball State University (1951). He would leave UD in 1951 but return in 1958 as chair of industrial engineering. When hired in 1949, he was assigned as the assistant to the director of evening classes.

A student and a professor look over work at a deskMitchell initially launched an extensive survey of local educators and technical personnel in industry and at Wright-Patterson. His findings in “Report on the Determination of Technical Curricula and the Industrial Engineering program at the University of Dayton during September 1949 to June 1951” showed a great reliance on UD evening classes but a weakness of those classes toward fulfilling positions in engineering management, on-line production, leadership positions and supervision. Mitchell was an industrial engineer, and many of his findings reflected his background. Industry appeared satisfied to an extent with engineering graduates but felt they were often over-qualified for the positions needed. 

The term “terminal education” was adopted to describe the curricula that would be less than four years but still degree oriented. There was a great demand for technical “white collar” jobs, but the demand was even greater for tech-qualified graduates who “would not be afraid to get their hands dirty,” as Mitchell described the terminal ed program. He felt that “tech ed” curricula should foster less emphasis on theory and research but at the same time “whenever possible carry credit applicable to a four-year program if the student desired to go on.” This became a sticking point as existing four-year programs already had their requirements.

In the summer of 1950, Mitchell presented his findings and recommendations to the University’s Academic Council. Permission was immediately granted to begin a two-year night school program. It would be called the Technical Institute, and day school programs were also quickly approved. 

Bob Metz sits at a desk
Bob Metz

While Mitchell was very instrumental in establishing UD’s Technical Institute, in 1951 he decided to accept a position as director of personnel at Duriron. The University hired Donald Metz to become the first director of the University of Dayton’s Technical Institute. Metz had been the assistant director of the technical institute at Purdue University. Mitchell had primarily addressed the need for an industrial technology program, and Metz quickly added curricula for mechanical and electrical technologies.    

Professor Metz introduced this new academic program to the University community with an article in the 1950 issue of The University of Dayton Alumnus, in which he described it as “vocational in objective and technical in content.” Metz’s view was well in keeping with an older and classic definition of TI curricula as education and training for the “area between the skilled crafts and the highly scientific professions.” The Technical Institute began and for many years would remain an academic entity unto itself; the director answered to the provost. 

To further address the immediate educational needs, the University also launched a one-year program titled Basic Technology. This offering was designed for non-degree inclined students who wanted to acquire a quick technical background. Well-intentioned, the program lasted only two years. 

In the fall of 1950, the initial curricula of UD’s Technical Institute were offered (day and night offerings). Programs of study included industrial technology, mechanical technology and electrical technology. The latter programs provided options depending on student interest and the technical needs at the time. Electrical technology, for example, offered concentrations in industrial electricity and radio and television, while mechanical technology offered a choice between product design and tool design. An Associate in Engineering degree was awarded upon graduation. Nineteen graduates received their degrees in the first class, 1955-56.

Students stand in rows for a photo
Students of the Technical Institute, from the 1953 Daytonian


Academic accreditation is at the heart of University program offerings, and this new TI program was no exception. Two early faculty members, Professors Richard Hazen and James McGraw, worked closely with Director Metz, and all three Technical Institute programs received full accreditation from the Engineers Council for Professional Development (ECPD, now ABET) in 1954. 

Enrollment in the Technical Institute steadily grew (33 graduates in 1956-57, 84 in 1959-60, 106 in 1962-63. In 1958-59, a program in chemical technology was initiated, adding another gem to the Technical Institute curricula. 

Students stand on or near a tractor while posing for a class photo
Freshmen of the Technical Institute, from the 1963 Daytonian


In 1963-64, the word “engineering” was incorporated to describe the Technical Institute offerings: industrial engineering technology. Also in this year the associate degree was extended to a two-and-one-half-year program, this being a response to the increasing demands of modern technology. At the conclusion of this year, Metz took a leave of absence to travel to Nigeria to serve as a consultant for technical education in that country. Metz would not return to UD (accepting a position at another university), but his efforts at UD established a firm foundation for the Technical Institute. His career in Technical Institute education culminated with his reception of the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) James H. McGraw Award in 1977. 

Professor James L. McGraw was selected to succeed Metz as the director of the Technical Institute. McGraw served one year as acting director (1964-65), and one year later he became the full-time director.

Technology had changed drastically over the last decade, and most of those major industries in Dayton had moved, been merged or closed down. Night school no longer carried its former attraction. The associate degree became less important as advancing technology put even greater emphasis on science and research in traditional engineering programs. But many students, those with a hands-on approach, were looking for a hands-on baccalaureate program.  

In 1962 McGraw chaired a committee of the American Society for Engineering Education to study the emerging field of engineering technology and recommend standards for its curricula and operation.  A landmark document was produced, authored primarily by McGraw titled “Characteristics of Excellence in Engineering Technology Education.” The work of this committee and its summary document (still referred to as the “McGraw Report”) laid the foundation for the development of engineering technology as a four-year academic discipline. For his efforts McGraw was awarded the Arthur Williston Award from ASEE and, in 1993, he was named a Pioneer of Engineering Technology Education. At the same time, Professor Richard Hazen continued his involvement with engineering technology accreditation and eventually became the chair of the National Committee for Engineering Technology accreditation.  

In 1964-65, the Bachelor of Technology degree was introduced at UD. Initially it comprised the associate degree plus 45 additional credit hours. It was immediately successful, and the three original programs in TI extended now to four years received rapid accreditation (1968). The University of Dayton was in the national forefront of introducing engineering technology into academic curricula, following only the University of Houston and Brigham Young University. Over the past several years engineering technology education has become firmly implanted in the spectrum of engineering education. 

The Technical Institute was incorporated into the School of Engineering under the name “The Engineering Technology Division.”  While the Associate in Engineering degree was still offered, more and more students bypassed it to continue for the four-year program — so much so that 1984 marked the last year the associate degree was offered. The few students still in the program were accommodated, but this period marked the formal end of the Technical Institute at the University of Dayton. 

After 35 years of service the Technical Institute left its legacy — a firm foundation for the development and expansion of engineering technology that today has both undergraduate and graduate programs within the Department of Engineering Management, Systems and Technology in the School of Engineering.    

In its time the Technical Institute was a pure Marianist response to the educational needs of the moment. It gave a man a fish and it taught him how to fish. The lessons continue today.

From the authors:

We are deeply grateful for the supportive efforts of Kristina Schulz, certified archivist in the University of Dayton Libraries.  Her efforts made this work possible. 

A number of now-retired faculty members who taught in the Technical Institute are still around UD and would love to hear from former students. Please drop us a line.

Phil Doepker

Joe Farren 

Jim Fisher

Richard Hazen

Bill Lawless

Bob Mott

Carroll Schleppi 

Carol Shaw 

Jerry Strange         

Bob Wolff            

The legacy of Carol Shaw