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Maseeh College History

Early Origins (1946 - Early 1950s)

The passage of the GI Bill in 1946 presented the opportunity for thousands of young men in the Portland-area to enroll as first-time students. With few local options, the Vanport Extension Center opened its doors that summer to accommodate the ambitions of these eager scholars.

The initial wave of applications made clear that three disciplines piqued the most interest from prospective students: liberal arts, business administration and engineering. The Center obliged by offering lower division courses in each of these areas that yielded credits transferable to other state institutions for those in pursuit of four–year degrees.

One late-May afternoon in 1948, a 200-foot section of the dike containing the Columbia River gave way, unleashing a torrent of floodwater that took 15 lives, left 17,000 people homeless and reduced the Vanport Extension Center to rubble. Buoyed by community loyalty, local leadership embarked on a mission to find it a permanent home. “The College That Would Not Die,” as it was humorously described in the Christian Science Monitor, relocated several times, ultimately settling in its current downtown location by 1952.

With this final move, the engineering program found refuge in an abandoned Safeway, eventually upgrading to office and laboratory space in the basement of what is today known as Lincoln Hall.


Battle for Accreditation (1958 - 1974)

In 1958 legislative action rechristened the Portland State Extension Center as Portland State College. Under Dr. Harry J. White, an esteemed atmospheric scientist, the engineering program became its own entity, the Department of Applied Science, in 1960. This development allowed for the College to offer B.S. degrees in Applied Science with civil-structural, electrical-electronics and mechanical “emphasis.”

Omission of the word “engineering” was not an oversight. A State Board of Higher Education policy had divided professional programs among state-funded institutions to avoid competition for state resources. Oregon State University had an established engineering program, leaving Portland State College the outlier.

The campaign for name recognition and accreditation was led by then Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Joseph C. Blumel. After more than a decade of pressure from students and the professional engineering community, the Chancellor’s Office appointed Dr. Fred Terman, dean of Stanford University’s engineering school, to lead a team of expert consultants to assess the engineering education needs of the Portland-metropolitan area.  Three years after being upgraded to university status, the team’s 1973 report concluded that Portland State University’s engineering program was not only effective; it provided opportunity and critical services to place-bound students seeking a better life.

With this recommendation a proposal to formalize engineering education at PSU was approved by the Oregon State Board of Higher Education, only to be vetoed by the chair of the Oregon Educational Coordinating Council. After an exhaustive and determined demonstration of public support that involved testimony by Blumel, PSU students, and the Portland engineering industry, lingering opposition to PSU’s engineering accreditation relented.

After more than 15 years of exerting political pressure, the Department of Applied Science became the Department of Engineering and Applied Science in 1974, offering students the opportunity to specialize in Electrical-Electronics, Mechanical, or Structural Engineering.

Blumel became Portland State University’s fifth president that spring. He would later cite the establishment of an engineering program as one of his pivotal achievements during his career.


Laying the Groundwork (1980 - 1995)

Dr. H. Chik M. Erzurumlu joined Portland State College as a faculty member in 1962. As the institution evolved, he assumed the role of Division head in 1980 and later the founding Dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science. A structural engineer by trade, Erzurumlu engaged in strategies and initiatives to establish a solid foundation upon which to build up the school’s programs and reputation.

With the controversy over PSU’s role in engineering education resolved, Erzurumlu collected the resources and attracted the faculty talent to achieve accreditation for Structural Engineering (1976), Mechanical Engineering (1982), Civil Engineering (1982), Electrical Engineering (1983) and Computer Engineering (1983).  By 1983 these programs were offering Master’s degrees.  The Department of Computer Science joined the School of Engineering and Applied Science in 1984, and offerd a Master’s degree program starting in 1989. A novel M.S. program in Engineering and Technology Management that trains students to apply “big picture” analysis to help companies and other organizations navigate emerging trends in industry and innovation was approved in 1986.    

This rapid growth in curriculum also attracted transformative industry stewardship. One example is the roughly $2 million in cash and equipment donated to the school by Oregon electronics pioneer Tektronix, Inc. and the Tektronix Foundation, in the late 1980s. A generous and consistent supporter of engineering education in Oregon, Tek’s donations proved to be the seed capital required to take PSU's engineering programs to the next level. A Ph.D program in Electrical and Computer Engineering was approved in 1984, marking the first doctoral degree in an engineering discipline offered at PSU.

To expand access to these new educational opportunities, the School of Engineering partnered with the Portland Public School District to pilot a program well ahead of its time. Portland MESA (Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement), modeled after a similar program in California, aimed at preparing more women and students of color for technical fields. Portland MESA was founded in 1985 – long before such initiatives were the zeitgeist as is the case today.


Rise of Research (1995 - Late 2000s)

Upon Erzurumlu’s retirement in 1995, Dr. Robert Dryden was appointed dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Science and embarked on a mission to refine, reshape, and expand its role as the region’s engineering research hub. By the time he retired in 2008, the College had experienced unprecedented growth, including a 35 percent annual increase in externally funded research, 50 new faculty members recruited from some of the most prestigious institutions in the world, addition of 41 new laboratories, five new Ph.D. programs, an upsurge in student enrollment, and continuous expansion of research partnerships with regional industries and government agencies.

The year 2004 marked a paradigm shift in the College’s research culture and pedigree with the acquisition of ten esteemed research faculty from the Oregon Graduate Institute, a state chartered institution founded in part to help transform the regional economy from one dependent on timber and agriculture to the high-tech haven we see today, the Silicon Forest. This development solidified the College’s mutually beneficial relationship with local industry while further strengthening its curriculum in computer science, materials science and environmental engineering.

Also in 2004, the College received an $8 million private donation from alumnus Dr. Fariborz Maseeh. This was the largest private gift in the history of Portland State University. In recognition of this gift, the school was renamed the “Fariborz Maseeh College of Engineering and Computer Science.”

The 130,000 square-foot Engineering Building, part of the Northwest Center for Engineering, Science and Technology and home to Maseeh College was dedicated in 2006. The Dryden Drop Tower, a five-story lab facility in the Engineering Building atrium, was named in honor of the indelible contributions Dr. Dryden made to engineering and computer science education at Portland State University.


Looking Forward (2009 - Present)

Today the Maseeh College offers programs that lead to bachelor, master, and doctoral degrees, including courses for working professionals to further their education. Maseeh College graduates are in demand in part due to the real-world practice they gain through internships, capstones, and direct work experience.  With more than 2,700 students, the College is seeing tremendous annual enrollment growth – hitting double digits in recent years

Under the leadership of the current dean, Dr. Renjeng Su, Maseeh College reflects the creative intellectual element for which Portland is known.  This culture of innovation encourages student experimentation and collaboration while providing opportunities for individuals to develop new ideas from proposal to prototype using College resources.

The College’s research portfolio has only become more extensive as partnership opportunities cropped up with the growth of the region's tech, transportation and sustainability sectors. Faculty research endeavors have also expanded their reach to solving humanitarian crises across the globe, being active aboard the International Space Station, and even contributing to national and international policy debates on topics such as e-cigarette safety and climate change.

The College also continues to expand its influence in the Portland region through STEM educational outreach, and educator support that includes a partnership with the Portland Public School District to develop engineering curriculum for K-12 classrooms.

Engineering and Computer Science at Portland State University came into being to fulfill a critical need in the Portland region. Shaped by passionate faculty, advocates, and industry, Maseeh College remains remarkable in its efforts to lower learning barriers to all students, especially women and those from communities under-represented in STEM disciplines.

With its commitment to expanding educational access, an explosion of interest in technical fields, and a deep connection to industry, the College will continue on its trajectory toward excellence at an accelerated pace. Whatever form that future may take, all indications point to Maseeh College as an exceptional institution that provides first-class instruction, advances leading-edge research and a cultivates a talent pipeline to supply Portland’s growing technical workforce for many years to come.