Engineering college celebrates 100 years of helping build Akron and industry

By Jim Mackinnon
Beacon Journal business writer

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The rubber industry that built Akron in many ways also built the College of Engineering 100 years ago at the University of Akron.

Fledgling companies such as Goodyear, Firestone and others desperately needed engineers back then, said George Haritos, dean of the College of Engineering.

“They said, ‘We need engineers, we need co-ops and we need them now,’ ” Haritos said. As a result, the University of Akron’s engineering college debuted in 1914 with 28 students, two faculty members and two departments, civil and mechanical.

The college has since grown to 2,800 students and 100 faculty members. This month, 204 undergraduates and 50 graduate students graduated from the college, with the college estimating 86 percent of the new graduates already have accepted job offers in Ohio. There are about 12,000 alumni.

While a lot has changed over the last 100 years, the demand for engineering jobs remains strong, albeit spread out among a lot more industries than rubber and tires, said Haritos and others.

The College of Engineering celebrates its 100th anniversary with a Centennial Banquet that starts with a social hour at 5:30 p.m. today at the Student Union ballroom, followed by dinner. More than 440 people have already signed up for the event; the room holds 450.

Keynote speaker will be Deborah Wince Smith, president and chief executive officer of the Council on Competitiveness in Washington, D.C. The Coming Age of Innovation: Engineering the Future of a Turbulent and Transforming Global Economy is the topic of her talk.

“It’s a very relevant topic. It’s very appropriate,” Haritos said.

The college works to make sure its students have the latest skills, in large part by encouraging them to take semester-long, paid co-ops with companies in the area. Students can earn $14,000 to $16,000 per semester, which can largely offset tuition, housing and other costs. And the experiences often lead to a job after graduation as well.

“It’s a phenomenal feeder system,” said Deanna Dunn, who runs the college’s three-person cooperative education office. “It’s a win for both the student and the employer.”

More than 90 percent of the college’s students take part in the co-op and internship programs, she said. It is not unusual for more senior and experienced students to contribute to patents or have a company give them their own projects to work on, she said. The program means that students typically take five years to graduate, including at least 12 months of practical work experience.

“The first class of 1914 alternated weekly between classes and work. That’s how badly [local companies] needed them,” Haritos said.

Caitlyn Holliday, a 22-year-old chemical engineering major from Massillon, is finishing up a co-op at UTC Aerospace Systems — formerly B.F. Goodrich — in Green, where she has been working on pneumatic de-icers used on aircraft wings and other parts. She typically is at work at 6 a.m. and sometimes as early as 5 a.m., she said.

“It’s incredibly important,” Holliday said of her co-op experiences. “The classes teach you theoretical. This is how it is applied. ... I definitely enjoy the experiences.”

Holliday said she takes courses one semester, followed by a semester of co-op work. When Holliday graduates, she said she hopes for a job in the polymer industry.

The college’s 100th anniversary is a “remarkable milestone” in itself but what may be more important is how the college has supported and built the local community and economy over all those years, Haritos said.

“Over 100 years, industry has come to trust us,” Haritos said. “They know we will deliver.”

Jim Mackinnon can be reached at 330-996-3544 or

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