Purdue Polytechnic Institute Origins

An Evolution of Technology Education at Purdue

OriginsMany administrative decisions and societal events have brought the Purdue Polytechnic Institute to its present form. Although the college was not formally organized until 1964 as the School of Technology, the concept of technology education at Purdue has existed since the late 1870s. Under the leadership of Purdue’s third president, Emerson E. White (1876–1883), the University further emphasized program offerings on mechanical arts and sciences in accordance with the statutes of the Morrill Act set forth by the U.S. Congress in 1862.

Purdue Polytechnic’s early roots grew from Purdue disciplines focused on applied learning and engineering principles. And the school’s initial composition stems from three major beginnings at Purdue: the Department of Practical Mechanics, the Technical Institute, and the Department of Industrial Education.

Practical Mechanics/Department of Technical and Applied Arts

The Department of Practical Mechanics was established in 1879, and W.F.M. Goss was hired as its department head. By 1882, practical mechanics evolved into a full curriculum in mechanical engineering. By 1890, Purdue engineering grew to include three schools: mechanical, civil, and electrical engineering. Goss then became the first dean of the Purdue Schools of Engineering, and faculty member Michael Golden succeeded Goss as head of practical mechanics.

Practical mechanics peaked in 1910 when a new facility, named after Golden, was built to house the department. It remained strong throughout the 1920s and 1930s and was absorbed into a new general engineering department in 1938. The program was administered within the School of Industrial Engineering and Management; housed within the School of Industrial Engineering following a separation of management and industrial engineering; and then given its own status as the Department of Technical and Applied Arts.

Technical Institute/Department of Applied Technology

During World War II, Purdue coordinated the federal government’s Engineering Science Management program (ESMWT) under the direction of Professor C.W. Beese. Building on programs on the West Lafayette campus, Beese established centers in all major cities in northern Indiana. In 1943, the Division of Technical Extension became a formalized administrative unit of the University. During that same year, the Board of Trustees created the Technical Institute and arranged for the awarding of the associate technical aide diploma for completion of a two-year curriculum.

After funding ceased for ESMWT following World War II, the “technical extension” collapsed, except for four locations: Indianapolis, Hammond, Fort Wayne, and Michigan City. This established the University’s regional campus system. In 1958, Technical Extension was renamed University Extension Council; later that same year, a Department of Applied Technology was created within the division. Departments included aviation technology, nursing, general and applied studies, electrical engineering technology, architectural and civil engineering technology, and industrial and mechanical engineering technology.

OriginsBy 1961, the Department of Applied Technology included eight two-year technology programs. And instead of the previously awarded diploma in applied technology, students earned associate degrees. The technology programs thrived on the regional campuses. In 1963, the institute took on the administration of a two-year nursing program in the midst of a shortage of registered nurses in Indiana. The regional campuses were the venue to bring the program to other areas of the state. The Department of Nursing developed into an independent School of Nursing in 1979.

The Grinter Report

In 1955, the Report on Evaluation of Engineering Education concluded that scientifically oriented engineering curricula are essential to prepare engineers who will face new and difficult engineering situations with imagination and competence. Named after lead author Linton Grinter, a University of Florida engineering professor and chair of the American Society for Engineering Education, the Grinter report advocated that engineering programs provide each undergraduate student a choice of either a scientific or a more pragmatic orientation of their program in engineering. Most engineering programs, however, were unable to agree with the bifurcation of their programs as advocated by the report. Purdue University would later prove to be a notable exception.

The School of Technology

On July 1, 1963, a proposal was presented for a new undergraduate school that would centralize the University’s applied learning programs into one administrative/academic unit: the School of Technology. The school would be comprised of the Division of Applied Technology departments, the Department of Industrial Education, and the Department of Technical and Applied Arts from the School of Industrial Engineering. On February 15, 1964, the Board of Trustees affirmed the proposal to create the School of Technology, Purdue’s ninth school, on July 1, 1964. The school was renamed College of Technology in January 2005.

Statewide Locations

The College of Technology's reach expanded from West Lafayette into nine additional Indiana communities: Anderson, Columbus, Indianapolis, Kokomo, Lafayette, New Albany, Richmond, South Bend, and Vincennes. Each location represents a unique partnership between Purdue University, local communities, and area businesses. The statewide locations are direct extensions of the college's West Lafayette programs.

Purdue Polytechnic Institute

Recognizing that dramatic change is needed in higher education — and, in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines, particularly — to better serve the needs of business and industry, the College of Technology was officially renamed the Purdue Polytechnic Institute in May 2015. The new name signifies a major transformation which is impacting curricula, learning and teaching methods, learning spaces, how students are assessed, use-inspired research, and industry and community engagement. We designed a learning experience which produces graduates who not only have deep technical knowledge, applied skills, and relevant experiences in their chosen discipline but also problem solving, critical thinking, innovation, and communication skills sought by industries and communities.

Deans of the College

  • Charles H. Lawshe, 1964–1966
  • George W. McNelly, 1966–1987
  • Don K. Gentry, 1987–2001
  • Fred Emshousen, 2001–2002 (interim)
  • Dennis R. Depew, 2002–2011
  • Gary Bertoline, 2011–2021
  • Carrie Berger, 2021–2022 (interim)
  • Daniel Castro-Lacouture, 2022–present