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The School Of Engineering

Report Of The Dean Of Engineering

To the President of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute:

The year 1930-31 has been one of distinct progress in many phases of work of the School of Engineering.


There has been no change in the general plan of organization.

The functional plan of administration divides the activities and services of the school into three divisions: (1) the Division of Resident Instruction; (2) the Engineering Experiment Station; (3) the Engineering Extension Division.

Within the School of Engineering are thirteen departments, each in its separate field of knowledge and each serving the state in the three ways indicated by the functional administrative organization.

The student registration for the year was 843 as compared with 716 for the preceding session. Of the total increase in student enrollment at V. P. I. 83 per cent is represented by gain in engineering registration.

Resident Instruction

There have been no significant changes in curricula. In civil engineering four definite options to the extent of twelve credits have been outlined, giving guided programs for specialization in the four general fields, namely: (1) water power; (2) structural engineering; (3) sanitary engineering; (4) transportation. Graduate programs majoring in these same fields have also been outlined for the guidance of advanced students.

The curricula appear to be well designed to meet the professional requirements of the present day. With the constantly increasing numbers of transfers from other institutions and with our own junior college activities in Richmond and Norfolk, we might consider the advantage of a restriction of the professional work given in the first two years and of giving more of the general subjects in this period. In the freshman year the work in mathematics and in engineering drawing is needed in order to test the students’ aptitudes for any form of engineering. Likewise in the sophomore year there should be opportunity for the student to test his interest in some branch of engineering work but beyond these two tests all professional work could well be restricted to the last two years. The removal of descriptive geometry from the first to the second year has brought about a pronounced reduction in the percentage of freshman failures and conditions in graphics.

The consolidation of mechanic arts with industrial engineering has produced a better coordination of shop courses with the more theoretical courses in industrial engineering. The shop work has been given a more scientific aim, to develop an understanding of production practice and planning rather than to create manual dexterity. The shop courses are also being coordinated with those in metallurgy and metallography.

In accordance with the recommendations of the Society for the Promotion of Engineering Education investigation, that more attention be given to the economics of engineering management, a course in engineering economics has been offered for the past two years. This is now a required subject in architectural engineering, industrial engineering, and mechanical engineering and is elected by many others, sixty seniors having been enrolled this year.

The number of graduate students increased from sixteen in 1929-30 to twenty-six in 1930-31. In addition to the four specialized programs set up in the principal fields of civil engineering, the graduate development of most significance is probably the advanced course in fuel engineering developed during the year and put into effect in June, 1931, with six students enrolled. This course is unique in that it combines practical operating and laboratory experience in our modern power plant with classroom work in fuels, heat-loss analysis, furnace design and similar subjects. The Virginia Coal Operators’ Association has expressed interest by supporting a fellowship to be given to the outstanding applicant for this course, preference to be given to applicants from the coal regions of Virginia. Other new graduate courses of especial significance to Virginia are the courses in colloidal clays, gypsum products, refractories, cellulose chemistry, and sanitary water analysis.

The completion of the new mechanical laboratory building and the provision of more space for the materials testing laboratory in McBryde Hall have placed these two laboratories in much better physical surroundings. Improvement in the instruction is noted and better research facilities are also made available in these fields. Considerable much-needed new equipment for both instruction and research has been purchased by the appropriation for this purpose. Grateful acknowledgment is made of extensive and valuable gifts of equipment for these laboratories and for the shops from the following corporations: Pennsylvania Railroad Company, Appalachian Electric Power Company, Glamorgan Pipe and Foundry Company, Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company, Western Electric Company.

The current economic depression has made the problem of employment for the 1931 graduates a serious one. In June, 1930, 98 per cent of the graduating class had been placed, and in some lines there were several more openings than men available. This year only 50 per cent of the graduating class was placed in June but since then the figure has been raised to about 60 per cent. A study of the employment situation for all of the engineering colleges of the country, made in June, showed the average placement to be only 38 per cent, with some of the largest and best known colleges reporting only 20 to 30 per cent.

Research And Special Studies

The formally organized research work in the School of Engineering is reported in detail in a separate report of the director of the Engineering Experiment Station. The projects listed are all of more or less direct interest to the industries or communities of the state. Progress on many of the projects is necessarily slow because of the many demands upon the time of our staff members. The best results are obtained where arrangement has been made for definite allotments of time, either of faculty members or of research assistants. During the year four projects have been completed, eighteen have been continued, and eleven new investigations instituted. In addition, Professor Norton has completed the study on “Permeability of Concrete” for the Wisconsin Engineering Experiment Station, a project begun while he was a member of that faculty.

Project 61, “Investigation of Reinforced Brick Slabs,” was undertaken at the request of the Common Brick Manufacturers’ Association of America and is being carried on as a cooperative investigation with that association and the Roanoke-Webster Brick Company.

In the studies on hydrated lime and on limestones we are receiving the cooperation of the National Lime Association.

There are any number of special studies, not formally listed as projects of the Engineering Experiment Station. Many requests for technical advice and assistance involve certain amounts of laboratory investigation. Some of these running into hundreds by actual count are mentioned in the next section of this report.

Public Service

The Engineering Extension Division is the formal means of placing our educational and research facilities at the service of the people of the state.

Bureau of Extension Instruction. -- In the extension of our educational facilities beyond the confines of the campus, the outstanding accomplishment has been the success of the “V. P. I. in Richmond” enterprise. Through a cooperative arrangement with the Virginia Mechanics’ Institute, a full first-year program of studies in engineering is offered to young men of that city who are thus enabled to live at home at considerable economic saving. Thirty-four young men took advantage of this opportunity. Next year both first and second year work will be given. A similar arrangement with the Norfolk Division of the College of William and Mary has been completed and a full first year program of work and a partial schedule of second year studies will be offered this fall. Early indications point to a registration of 75 to 100 students in each of these two “junior engineering colleges.”

The question has frequently been raised as to the ultimate effect of this extension work on the registration at Blacksburg. The following comparison answers that question as effectively as it can be at the present time:


Engineering freshmen from Henrico County at V. P. I. ………………25


Engineering freshmen from Henrico County at V. P. I. ………………27

Engineering freshmen from Henrico County at V. P. I. in Richmond ……… 26

Evidently this extension activity is entirely an extension of the field of educational opportunity. Even though many of these young men may not be able to finance the last two years at V. P. I., they will have secured a training in the sciences fundamental to engineering which should increase their potential earning powers.

As opportunity is found and finances permit, we should extend this activity to other industrial sections of the state.

Bureau of Community Service. -- The outstanding activity of this bureau for the year has been the preparation of the manuscript for the state industrial survey undertaken for the Virginia State Chamber of Commerce. Practically every department head and many other staff members of the engineering departments and associated scientific departments have had a share in this work. The county industrial surveys for Southwestern Virginia, Inc., were completed and the survey of Portsmouth was revised and brought up to date.

Industrial Service Bureau. -- This bureau is organized to assist the industries of the state and to place the facilities of the college at their service. In January the bureau began the publication of a monthly bulletin, Technical Topics, giving items of interest from our laboratories and other technical information of service in the industrial development of the state. This is sent to a mailing list of about 3,000 industrialists, engineers, and editors. The inquiries and comments indicate that it is effective. The staff made a study of the cost accounting system of one industry of the state upon request of the owners and at present a study is being made of the methods of our furniture industries.

Miscellaneous Technical Service. -- A great volume of service is rendered through informal requests, visits to the college and by correspondence. The following is but a partial enumeration of such service for the year rendered by our staff members:

Location selected for first successful gas well in the state. Examinations made of dam site for a city water supply. More than 100 samples of ceramic raw materials tested.
One hundred eight tests of finished clay products made and reported upon.
Great numbers of minerals examined and assayed by departments of geology, metallurgy, and mining engineering. (Ores of manganese, iron, aluminum, gold, silver, copper, tin.)
Studies made of oil-bearing shales in the state.
Forty water analyses for industries, towns, and individuals. Seventeen analyses of ceramic materials (clays, feldspars, kaolins).
Manganese sulphate made from Virginia manganese ores.
Methods developed for treating tannery and paper mill wastes to avoid stream pollution.
Work continued on study of iron ores of Virginia. Study made of aluminum-bearing deposits.
Experiments on reduction of Virginia iron ores by sponge-iron process.
Study of micro-structure and properties of a special acid-resisting cast iron.
Service to town of Pulaski on control of water supply.
Studies on certain phases of rayon manufacture.
Expert witnesses in law suits involving technical matters. Determination of correct water-softening process for four cities.

Service to State and Federal Departments. -- The most significant items in this category are:

Made steaming tests on several coals in our power plant, for state purchasing agent, to serve as basis for awarding contracts for state institutions.
Tested meters and checked electrical installation at state lime grinding plant.
Supplied laboratory facilities and did laboratory analytical work for Stream Pollution Commission, besides doing research on treatment of polluting wastes.
Cooperated with State Board of Health by analyzing 78 water samples; made study of filtration sands; and supervised control of water supplies for Pulaski and Blacksburg.
Cooperated with National Research Council in preparation of book on Chemical Progress in the South.
Continued assistance to state geological survey in studying mineral resources particularly in preparation of report on iron ores.

Participation In Work Of Professional And Scientific Societies

During the year there has been an increase in the members of the staff belonging to the following national engineering and scientific societies: Society for the Promotion of Engineering Education, American Institute of Architects, American Society of Industrial Engineers, American Society for Steel Treating, Clay Products Institute of America, and the American Institute of Mining Engineering.

Professor Whittemore served on two committees of the American Ceramic Society; Professor Norton acted on a committee of the American Society for Testing Materials; and Dean Norris served as chairman of the Industrial Engineering Committee of S. P. E. E. The School of Engineering has been represented at a number of the meetings of, both national and state societies and members have appeared on the programs in a number of instances.

Publications By The Staff

The only textbook from the pen of one of our staff during the year is A First Course in Quantitative Analysis by Professor F. H. Fish, published by P. Blakiston and Sons Company. The text in Heat Power of which Dean Norris is a co-author, published in May, 1930, has met with a splendid reception and is being used by a number of prominent engineering schools not only in the United States, but in foreign countries.

Technical articles by staff members have appeared in the Journal of Industrial Chemistry, Journal of American Concrete Institute, Journal of Agricultural Research, Forest Worker, Journal of Chemical Education, Journal of American Chemical Society, American Mathematical Monthly, Manufacturers Record, Industrial and Engineering Chemistry, and Journal of Geology.

Future Plans

One of the most important projects for future development is the extension of educational opportunity to the youth of the state by an expansion of the cooperative junior college facilities, already made available in Richmond and Norfolk. In connection with this, a study will be made of the possibility of simplifying or reducing the differentiation between our engineering curricula in the first two years without destroying the purpose of such differentiation; i. e., the test of student aptitude and the development of student interest.

With the state industrial survey completed, our staff should be able to complete some of the reports on research projects which have been postponed in favor of the survey. A number of the research projects are of great importance to our industries and should be prosecuted vigorously. Our faculty members have, in general, the research spirit and the desire to serve the state. The most serious problem has always been to find funds for the ordinary supplies and expenses incident to the carrying on of such work. The growing seriousness of this shortage in comparison with the requests for service and the ever-growing desire to render service cannot be emphasized too strongly.

With our accumulated experience in the making of industrial surveys as a decided asset, there should be a number of cities and counties desirous of taking advantage of this opportunity, which is offered at a very nominal cost.

Needs And Recommendations

In our program for the training of young engineers we should pay some attention to the development of those personal attributes, other than scientific knowledge, which go to make up the successful engineer. In the formative period of adolescent youth it should be possible to study each personality, point out undesirable habits and characteristics, and suggest corrective methods. We endeavor to develop the technical mind, we guide physical development, but we leave to chance many of those attributes and attitudes which make up that complex term styled “personality.” I am firmly convinced that much could be done by systematic study and guidance if we could have a personnel officer attached to the dean’s office -- perhaps as an assistant dean.

In the way of housing facilities for our departments, the previous suggestion of a Mineral Industries Building to house the closely related departments of mining engineering, geology, metallurgy, and ceramics, is renewed. These departments are now scattered, whereas their work should be closely correlated. The first three named are especially crowded in unsatisfactory quarters.

In chemical engineering there is need for a laboratory independent of the general chemical laboratories. The rayon and cellulose work is also in need of more space. It is assumed that these needs will be provided when the Physics Building and the addition to Davidson Hall are erected.

Technical colleges, such as ours, should always be in the vanguard in the application of new scientific methods to industrial processes. Unfortunately, the newer types of equipment are always the most expensive, so that colleges frequently find themselves lagging behind the procession instead of being among the leaders. Among the more important developments of recent years for which we should have equipment for instruction and research are: An X-ray laboratory for metallurgical study and for researches into molecular and crystalline structures; vacuum tube equipment for the study of this rapidly growing phase of the electrical industry; an expenditure of $25,000 to at least partially meet the need for equipment in industrial processes; at least $1,000 a year to be expended on books and periodicals for the engineering library.

As a measure of possible economy and convenience to the institution, it is suggested that a study be made of the production of methane at the sewage disposal plant and the possibility of increasing the gas production by the addition of cellulose-bearing waste products. Such a study might also indicate a possible source of revenue to some of the municipal sewage disposal plants.

As to the staff, the most pressing addition needed is an instructor or assistant professor in machine design to relieve Professor Ellis, who has a heavy burden with his undergraduate teaching, his supervision of the power plant, and his graduate program in connection with the fuel engineering work. The suggested assistant in undergraduate teaching would be the most economical. The staff of the graphics department is also heavily loaded and must have relief if our freshman and sophomore registration grows or even keeps up to the present figures.

Our experience in research indicates that the only satisfactory way to get results is to have a definite allotment of time for such work and, where possible, to have a staff member assigned to devote his major time to such work. We would like to have a full-time engineer, preferably in the field of mechanical engineering, on the station staff.

The completion of the wiring of the electrical laboratory in permanent form is a pressing need. The present temporary wiring is not only unsightly but is hardly fitting for that particular department. The principal need to accomplish this is a fund of a few hundred dollars for labor to do the necessary work.

In conclusion, I would like to express my appreciation of the whole-hearted, loyal cooperation of the members of the staff in a constant endeavor to make V. P. I. an increasingly important factor in the upbuilding and progress of the state. Whatever has been accomplished is their contribution, of which the writer is but the interpreter. And on behalf of them I wish to express our appreciation of the support, guidance and sympathetic understanding which we have received from you in all of our endeavors.

Respectfully submitted.

EARLE B, NORRIS, Dean of Engineering.