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McMaster Engineering: A proud history

Dr. John W. Hodgins

In 1956, McMaster named its first Director of Engineering Studies – Dr. John W. Hodgins, a young chemical engineering professor from the engineering faculty of the Royal Military College at Kingston.

Hired with a mandate to develop a full engineering program for McMaster, a new building to house it and the academic staff to run it, Hodgins moved rapidly. He saw the program approved by the McMaster University Senate in February 1958, the building officially opened in October 1958, and the first class of 25 students graduated in 1961.

With five departments established in the first two years – chemical engineering, civil engineering, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, metallurgical engineering – and engineering physics added later in the 1960s, the goal of the Faculty of Engineering was to establish a preeminent engineering school with both undergraduate and higher degree programs developing together.

The emphasis on research and post-graduate degrees was immediately evident. The first engineering degrees from McMaster were M.Eng degrees, with the first ones awarded in 1959, and that number increasing to almost 50 per year in 1969. The first doctoral degrees were awarded in 1965.

The undergraduate programs grew in step, and by 1972, over 100 engineers received their B.Eng. degrees, with the annual total passing 200 by 1980.

In the 1960s, the Faculty of Engineering began joint faculty appointments, research associates and collaborative research activities with McMaster’s new Faculty of Health Sciences, and by the mid-70s, courses in bio-engineering were offered as electives in all engineering programs.

1971 marked the start of the Engineering and Management program and later that decade, the Engineering and Society program began. In the early 1980s, the Electrical Engineering started its unique Computer Engineering program, and Mechanical Engineering began its program in Manufacturing Engineering.

A photograph from 1969 of people involved in the iron ring ceremony.
An old photograph of a person using a microscope.

Over the years, the Faculty of Engineering has greatly expanded its facilities, to meet the growing needs of both the undergraduate students, and its graduate and research communities.

The Communications Research Laboratory building was added in 1984 to focus on electrical engineering. An annex was added to the John Hodgins Engineering building in 1991 and the building was expanded again in 2001 to accommodate the McMaster Manufacturing Research Institute. The Information Technology Building was opened to 2001 and an annex in 2003.

The five-storey, 125,000 square-foot Engineering Technology Building opened in September 2009 and is home to the School of Biomedical Engineering, Walter G. Booth School of Engineering Practice, the McMaster-Mohawk Bachelor of Technology Partnership, and the Engineering 1 first-year engineering program.

In October 2017, the new Gerald Hatch Centre for Engineering Experiential Learning opened, offering space to undergradaute student clubs and teams and others a chance to strengthen their skills outside the classroom. 

In May 2018, hundreds of faculty members, staff, alumni and friends celebrated McMaster University’s Faculty of Engineering’s 60th anniversary.

Deans of Engineering

  • Heather Sheardown, Dean (2022- )
  • Ishwar K. Puri, Dean (2013-2021)
  • Arthur C. Heidebrecht, Acting Dean (2012-2013)
  • David S. Wilkinson, Dean (2008-2012)
  • Peter Smith, Acting Dean (2007)
  • Mo Elbestawi (2001-2007)
  • Mamdouh Shoukri (1994-2001)
  • Gary R. Purdy (1989-1994)
  • Arthur C. Heidebrecht (1981-1989)
  • John H.T. Wade, Acting Dean (1975, 1981)
  • John W. Bandler (1979-1981)
  • Leslie W. Shemilt (1969-1979)
  • John W. Hodgins (1958-1969)

About the fireball

The fireball is the official symbol of McMaster Engineering.

It historically comes from the coat of arms of Hamilton College. McMaster’s Faculty of Engineering emerged from Hamilton College in 1958 and hence adopted a red fireball as its own emblem in 1960. 

It is used widely by both the faculty and students to represent everything from culture, to excellence in research and innovation. On yet another symbolic level, the fireball is used to represent the fact that energy that cuts across all areas of science and engineering. 

A Comprehensive Timeline

 February 1958Faculty officially installed by Senate
October 23, 1959John W. Hodgins appointed first Dean of Engineering
1958New engineering building opened. Designed for 550 undergraduate students and 125 graduate students.
1961First class of 25 students graduates with four-year B.Eng. degrees
1961Kipling Camp 13 established at McMaster to present iron rings to graduating undergraduate engineering students
1965First doctoral degrees awarded
1969Leslie W. Shemilt appointed Dean (1969 –1979)
1969Applied Dynamics Laboratory officially opened
1971Engineering & Management Program launched
Mid 70’sFirst bioengineering electives offered with Health Sciences
1975John H.T. Wade appointed Acting Dean (1975, 1981)
1976First female MES President, Susan Sproule
1978Engineering building named after John W. Hodgins, first Dean
1978Engineering alumni office established
1978Alexander Graham Bell Lecture series initiated
1979John Bandler appointed Dean (1979 – 1981)
1981Arthur C. Heidebrecht appointed Dean (1981 – 1989)
1984Communications Research Laboratory Building opened
1985Engineering Redsuits started by Mark Huttram
1988John W. Hodgins Memorial Lecture Series initiated
1989Gary R. Purdy appointed Dean (1989 – 1994)
1991JHE Annex addition completed
1992Engineering & Society Program launched
1994Mamdouh Shoukri appointed Dean (1994 – 2001)
1997MacLAB Endowment Fund established by MES President, Janet Loebach
1997Bachelor of Technology degree in manufacturing technology offered in collaboration with Mohawk College
2001Mo Elbestawi appointed Dean (2001 – 2007)
2001Information Technology Building opened
2001JHE extension added to house the newly created MMRI
2001McMaster Manufacturing Research Institute launched
2003Information Technology Building Annex opened
2006School of Engineering Practice established
2006School of Biomedical Engineering established
2006School of Computational Science and Engineering established
2006McMaster-Mohawk Bachelor of Technology Partnership formed
200610,000th undergraduate engineering student graduates
2007Construction begins on new engineering research and education building
2007Peter Smith appointed Acting Dean
2008David S. Wilkinson appointed Dean
2009Engineering Technology Building opens
2013Ishwar K. Puri appointed Dean
2013May 9, 2013 McMaster Automotive Resource Centre (MARC) Opens
2013McMaster Automotive Resource Centre opens
2016Opening of the new JHE lobby expansion
2016Dr. Stephen Elop assumes new advisory role at McMaster
2016W Booth School of Engineering Practice and Technology is introduced
2017Global Engineering Deans Council – McMaster Engineering Hosts in Niagara Falls
2017McMaster Engineering ranks among the world’s best  (29th in the world)
2017McMaster hosts its inaugural FIRST Robotics Competition
2017Thode Makerspace opens
2017Launch of new Integrated Biomedical Engineering & Health Sciences program
2017Opening of the new Gerald Hatch Centre for Engineering Experiential Learning
2018McMaster Engineering celebrates 60 years of Big Ideas
2019Launched the Pivot, a transformation of engineering education focused on experiential learning inside and outside the classroom
2022Heather Sheardown becomes the first woman Dean of the Faculty of Engineering
2022Forty per cent of incoming engineering students to McMaster University are women.