Professor Frank B. Herty started the department in the late '40s as an outgrowth of the Navy V-12 program. In his many years with the department, Frank built an extremely loyal following of graduates. He was renowned for his fervent interest in students and their subsequent careers; he often had study sessions in his home on Marion Street for students who were having trouble with their course work. The Department was ABET accredited in 1948 and has maintained its accreditation since. In the early 1960’s, Frank recruited Dr. Eugene C. Woodward to come as the head of the department. Gene was a 1951 graduate of the department and had gone on to earn a PhD at the University of Pittsburgh while working at the Westinghouse Research Laboratory. Professor Herty stayed on and continued to teach his beloved thermodynamics and was an inspiration to many of the new faculty hired under Dr. Woodward’s leadership. Professor Herty retired in 1965 and went on to provide training courses for the South Carolina Electric and Gas Co. He is memorialized by the Frank B. Herty Scholarships that provide about $30,000 in annual support for mechanical engineering students. His portrait, financed by former students, hangs in Swearingen.
In 1964, the College of Engineering offered bachelor’s degrees in Chemical, Civil, Electrical, and Mechanical Engineering. There was a nascent graduate program offering master’s degrees in each of these fields and one in Nuclear Engineering. The latter degree was housed in the Mechanical Engineering Department and was offered largely in response to the demand of engineers employed at a local test reactor (Carolinas Virginia Tube Reactor) and at the Savannah River Plant. In 1964, the PhD was only available in Electrical Engineering; in 1965, however, the bulletin announced that the PhD degree in Engineering Science was offered in fields of specialization involving all four departments of the College. In the fall of 1966, under the guidance of the dean, Rufus Fellers, a new curriculum was offered leading to a Bachelor of Science in Engineering with emphasis on functional areas not strictly associated with the existing four departments. The rationale for this change was a greater emphasis on engineering science and recognition of areas of specialization that drew upon several of the traditional engineering fields. Specialty areas in Energy Conversion and Materials ultimately replaced Mechanical Engineering.
Over the next few years, the existence of the single degree in engineering led to the virtual elimination of departments. The 1969-70 bulletin did not list department heads and listed the entire faculty as Professors of Engineering rather than of any specific discipline. Nonetheless, the departmental areas retained their identity and were guided by faculty committees in each area.
By 1970, there were still only eight faculty members associated with mechanical engineering, but seven of these held the PhD degree. In the fall of 1970 Roger Holmes replaced Rufus Fellers as dean. A slow metamorphosis back to the departmental structure may be said to have begun at this time. David Waugh became dean in 1978 and, although he had been instrumental in the elimination of departments, he now allowed the drift back to a departmental structure to continue.
The 1984-85 Bulletin again listed department chairmen but faculty members were still listed en masse as professors of engineering without specification of discipline. The same bulletin still had courses listed under the unitary designation of ENGR but everyone knew which courses belonged to which departments. Then as now, the appropriate departments shared Statics, Dynamics, Thermodynamics, Fluid Mechanics, and Solid Mechanics. The bulletin of the following year introduced the designation of courses by department while the faculty members continued to be grouped as a college.
The 1987-88 Bulletin may be said to have formally blessed the complete return to departmental structure as the faculty was then listed in each department. By this time, the Mechanical Engineering faculty had grown to seventeen. There has been little growth since that time.
In January of 1994 the Mechanical Engineering department along with the Civil Engineering Department moved to a completely renovated SCE&G Building on 300 Main Street. This move represented a significant expansion of classroom, laboratory and office space. The availability of new laboratory space presented the department with new research opportunities. During the 90s the department grew into a contemporary mechanical engineering department. The department established cooperative initiatives with local industry through a two-semester capstone design course. Students obtained the opportunity to work with local industry through their senior design projects. Keeping pace with the national trend the department saw more and more computer applications in its curriculum. Students are exposed to industry standard software like Auto-Cad, Pro-Engineer, Pro-Mechanica, Abaqus, FLUENT, FIDEP, etc. During the time the college got wired (through local area network) and we moved away from main-frame computers to work-station and PC based computing. Although the total number of faculty has not grown during this period the research productivity of the faculty has grown tremendously. The department enjoys research expertise in the fields of Mechanics and non-destructive evaluation of materials, image correlation and digital image processing, non-intrusive health monitoring of structures through the use of mechatronics research, manufacturing research (friction stir welding, laser welding, waterjet machining), development of sustainable systems, and computational and experimental thermo fluid research. The department is ready to face the challenge of the new millennium and is poised to emerge as a premiere mechanical engineering department in the nation.