Industrial Engineering at the University of Iowa: A History

The Industrial Engineering Program at Iowa Has a Proud Heritage

The IE program at the University of Iowa began in 1924 with the creation of a new course called “Industrial Engineering.” By 1929 a new program option in IE was introduced within Mechanical Engineering. The new program was spearheaded by Professor Ralph M. Barnes, who went on to become a world-recognized author and leader in Industrial Engineering, and winner of the Gilbreth Medal in 1941. The first MS degree in an IE subject was awarded to J. Wayne Deegan in 1955, who would later head the IE program. The first IE Ph.D. was awarded to Marvin E. Mundel in 1939, and the second to Robert J. Parden in 1953. Professor Barnes left for UCLA in 1949, at the height of his career, and J. Wayne Deegan took over the program. Professor Deegan ultimately became the Chair of Mechanical Engineering from 1953 to 1962. At this time two other professors were in the IE program, Edward Mielnik and Samuel R. Harding, for both of whom the professorship in Mechanical and Industrial Engineering is named.

Starting as a program within the Mechanical Engineering Department, the Industrial Engineering program has been continuously accredited by ABET since 1950, making it the second oldest accredited IE program in the Midwest behind The Ohio State University. The Industrial Engineering Department had its own departmental number and designation by 1954. It was not until 1963 that Professor Deegan was officially appointed as the first Head of the Department.

In the Fall of 2001, Dean Butler decided to merge the Department of Industrial Engineering and the Department of Mechanical Engineering into a combined Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering. Reasons cited included saving money for a new IE chair that could be spent on new faculty members for the combined MIE department. At that time there were 200 IE undergraduates and 300 ME undergraduates. At its peak near this period, the IE program represented 15% of the college. By Fall 2006, enrollment had plummeted to just 61 students, only 5% of the total college enrollment. As the college grew, enrollment climbed back close to its original numbers, but the percentage of total college enrollment remained below 10%.

In July 2018 Dean Scranton announced that the Industrial Engineering programs would once again be split off into a separate administrative unit called the "Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering." The objective of the new program is to regain its former role as a important player in the college community and the home for students interested in industrial management, manufacturing, optimization, and human factors.