Engineering at Nebraska Fall09
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Dr. Ballard
by John L. Ballard, professor of Industrial and Management Systems Engineering and former associate dean for the College of Engineering


I have been with the UNL College of Engineering for more than 35 years. For 13.5 of those years I served as the fourth associate dean for academic programs. I was preceded by three outstanding engineering educators and administrators: James Blackman, Lyle Young and Morris Schneider. Preparing this presentation, I began to understand some of the reasons these three are held in such high esteem, and their influence on facilities, particularly Nebraska Hall.

The first Nebraska Hall, at 12th and T streets, was dedicated in 1888. It housed the Industrial Arts College, with courses in Civil Engineering and other majors. In 1961, that building was torn down. Surprisingly, during demolition, explosives stored in the cellar from 1945 were discovered and disarmed.

In 1932, a three-story warehouse, later the current Nebraska Hall, was constructed at 16th and W streets. This building, featuring columns that now limit its use as a classroom facility, served as an interconnection point for the Burlington and Rock Island railroads. In 1942, it was bought by the Elastic Stop Nut Company, a manufacturer of fasteners for war material. From 1946 to 1958, Nebraska Hall was owned by the Elgin National Watch Company.

The university purchased the building for $725,000 in 1958. The third, fourth and fifth floors were remodeled first. The lower floor was used by ROTC cadets for drills during inclement weather, allowing former Dean Jim Hendrix to perfect his marching skills without getting wet.

Plans for an engineering presence in Nebraska Hall were finalized in 1968, with the first floor forclassrooms and offices, and the second floor for the engineering library.

Engineering programs were moved from Stout, Ferguson and Richards Hall into the west half of the first floor of Nebraska Hall in 1969.

Later that year Dean Blackman noted the difference between engineers and scientists:

"The scientist seeks knowledge; his motivation is curiosity. The engineer desires to produce a predetermined result; his motivation is imagination. The engineer has much in common with the artist.

In 1971, Nebraska Engineering Center (later Walter Scott Engineering Center and now Scott Engineering Center) was completed south of Nebraska Hall. This laboratory building housed some faculty offices, primarily for mechanical engineering.

As Dean Young described it:

"The building cost about $2.5M and provides 105,000 square feet of teaching, research and service space. The Nebraska Engineering Center compares with the best and is an outstanding facility. One of the noteworthy characteristics of a laboratory facility is the constant change that takes place.

Phase 1 was finished but, alas, no funds were available for Phase 2, office space.

From 1974 to 1978, the college’s undergraduate enrollment grew by 37.5 percent. As usual a rapid unanticipated increase in enrollment was not matched by a corresponding increase in faculty. Yet Dean Young developed a plan that would transform the college during the leadership of Dean Stan Liberty into one with a substantial research focus.

In 1976, the Industrial Engineering program was located adjacent to Electrical Engineering in northwest Nebraska Hall. One Friday afternoon Dean George Hanna called to say:

"The Barkley Center had vacated the southeast section of Nebraska Hall. Open space for the next occupant.

Morris Schneider led the land rush of IE faculty and staff to their new space before Saturday morning. Facilities had been reallocated in 24 hours. We do not see that kind of responsiveness to space needs today.

Civil Engineering moved from Bancroft Hall to the third floor of Nebraska Hall in 1983. In 1986, the Link connecting the Walter Scott Engineering Center and Nebraska Hall was constructed with funds donated by Walter Scott, Jr.

It housed offices for electrical engineering and unfinished space on the lower floors.

Dean Schneider wrote in the Nebraska Blueprint in 1986:

"In general employers across the country tell us they like the product engineering colleges turn out. But, they also tell us our students are inadequately prepared in writing and speaking abilities, technical management skills and their ability to work with people. (I dare say these comments are still relevant 23 years later.)

In 1996-97 the Link was finished, with Mechanical Engineering occupying the first floor. Engineering Mechanics moved to Nebraska Hall’s third floor, next to Civil Engineering.

A form of phase 2 of the Nebraska Engineering Center was finally completed in 2002. Othmer Hall was constructed at 16th and Vine streets from the generosity of Donald and Mildred Topp Othmer. The building houses the Dean’s Office, Chemical Engineering and the Biological Processing Development Facility.

The Midwest America Transportation Research Center temporarily occupies space in the northeast corner of Nebraska Hall. This center and much of Civil Engineering will move next year to the Whittier Building, now being renovated.

What does the future hold for the College of Engineering and Nebraska Hall?

Based on history, I predict it will provide a quality educational experience for future engineers, and the facility designer will continue to curse its columns.

In closing, I turn again to Dean Blackman and his remarks in the May 1967 Blueprint:

"(E)ach of us owes a debt to the people of Nebraska for providing a major part of the education that has made us free – each to be his own master, able to do work at something he is competent in, instead of the first job he can find.

These debts cannot be paid in money, but can be paid rather in intelligent leadership and thoughtful remembrance of the school that gave each of us his start.

Let each of us, when his name is called, stand and say proudly – I’m a Nebraska man [grad]. "

Nebraska Hall
Nebraska Hall is the setting for Dr. Ballard's centennial-inspired reminiscences.