Celebrating Fifty Years

Howard R. Hughes College of Engineering
Howard R. Hughes College of Engineering
Howard R. Hughes College of Engineering located in the Thomas T. Beam Engineering Complex

Engineering at UNLV has come a long way since 1957, when Herb Wells, a local mining engineer, began part-time instruction. In 1961, he offered 80 students courses that could lead to enrollment in the bachelor's program at University of Nevada, Reno. Local growth led to the establishment of UNLV's School of Engineering in 1976, which was housed within the College of Sciences.

Rapid Expansion

The next two decades were a period of rapid expansion for the school. In 1984, the University of Nevada Board of Regents approved separate bachelor's and master's degrees in civil engineering, computer science, electrical engineering, and mechanical engineering. Two years later, William Wells became the first director of the School of Engineering, and by 1987, all eligible engineering programs had received accreditation through the National Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology.

In 1988, the School of Engineering separated from the College of Sciences to form the Howard R. Hughes College of Engineering, named for one of the most innovative aviators and engineers of the 20th century and a central figure in the growth of Las Vegas. Wells became the college's founding dean. The next year saw the completion of the Thomas T. Beam Engineering Complex, where for the first time the college's programs were consolidated into a single, multidisciplinary space.

Enhancing Research

In 1990, the $10 million National Supercomputing Center for Energy and the Environment took up residence in the engineering complex, enhancing the ability of engineering and computer science faculty to conduct numerical research. Civil engineering became the inaugural engineering doctoral program approved by the Board of Regents and marked the growth of research and advanced degree programs at the university.

The next year, doctoral programs were available in all four academic departments of the College of Engineering. In 2005, the college introduced the first new academic programs in more than 25 years: the department of aerospace studies and the School of Informatics, which focuses on the applied side of computer science with an emphasis on entertainment and security.

Research Centers

Howard R. Hughes College of Engineering faculty members are deeply involved in funded research programs as individual principal investigators or through collaborative research centers:

  • The Transportation Research Center, established in 1991, promotes and conducts multi-modal transportation research, educational activities to prepare students for careers in transportation, and outreach activities for public and private Nevada organizations.
  • The Center for Energy Research, begun in 1994, has been active in externally funded projects, particularly in renewable energy.
  • The Nevada Center for Advanced Computational Methods (NCACM) was founded in 1996 and is a multidisciplinary center consisting of members from mechanical, computer science, civil, and electrical engineering as well as faculty from the College of Science. The center has been funded by the Department of Energy, the Department of Defense, the Environmental Protection Agency, NASA, EPSCOR, the National Science Foundation, and private companies for development of advanced computational methods including high performance computing in collaboration with the National Supercomputing Center for Energy and Environment (NSCEE).
  • The Engineering Geophysics Laboratory, formed in 2002, promotes research and teaching of geophysics for engineering applications at the university.

Community Outreach

The College of Engineering connects with the community in various ways. It sponsored the 2007 Las Vegas Regional FIRST (For Inspiration & Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competition, which brought more than 1,300 high school students onto campus for the third year. In addition, several mechanical engineering professors and students mentored 12 Las Vegas high school teams to prepare for the competition. The college is involved in the FIRST LEGO League, aimed at junior high students.

Continued Growth

Under the direction of the current dean, Eric Sandgren, the college has continued to advance, enrolling more than 1,200 undergraduates and about 400 graduate students. With 17 research centers and three laboratories, research expenditures have grown from $3 million a year in 2001 to more than $14 million a year. The college has added master's degrees in biomedical engineering, aerospace engineering, and materials and nuclear engineering; a construction management program; and an Air Force ROTC unit.

Looking Ahead

Beginning in the fall of 2007, the college will offer a bachelor's in entertainment engineering and design, and an interdisciplinary degree in mechanical engineering and fine arts. To accommodate the growth in research and programs, the new Science and Engineering Building, adjacent to the Thomas T. Beam Engineering Complex, is scheduled for completion in 2008. Designed for interdisciplinary teaching and research, this 200,000-square-foot structure will house state-of-the-art laboratory facilities and computing equipment.

In the years ahead, the college will continue to pursue its mission: to provide students with a solid foundation of practical and empirical knowledge to enable them to solve wide-ranging problems, to stay abreast of rapidly changing technology, and to recognize their responsibilities to society.


1988 - William Wells
1999 - Ronald Sack
2001 - Darrell Pepper
2003 - Eric Sandgren