History of Applied Engineering Sciences

It was the late 1960's and an interesting period in US history.  In July, 1969, the US space program, combined with the efforts of thousands of engineers, scientists, and technologists, had successfully completed the Apollo 11 space mission, placing the first humans to land on the moon. This was truly a magnificent and storied achievement for the scientific community.

When President Kennedy announced in 1961 the goal to place a person on the moon by the end of the decade, national engineering enrollments began a rebound from a drop in the 1950’s increasing significantly throughout most of the 1960’s. Due to the space program, the employment demand for engineers was strong, and as a result students were flocking to engineering programs.

However, as the space program was reaching its zenith, societal issues were becoming predominant in the media. The Vietnam War was raging, students were worried about the draft, and riots and protests were rampant in several cities, and on college campuses. This societal unrest had a significant impact on college enrollments, as students’ major interests shifted away from the science and engineering fields to programs in the social sciences and liberal arts. As indicated in the figure above, engineering enrollments began to plummet in 1967 lasting well into the mid-1970’s. Engineering administrators across the country were very concerned about the situation, and much effort was directed toward recruiting more students into engineering programs of study.

At Michigan State University, a group of concerned faculty, administrators, and employers began to meet on a regular basis to discuss this situation. Dean L.W. VonTersch formed a committee to study the issue and recommend a course of action. The focus on the discussion was to develop an alternative program of study that could be attractive to students with talents in science and mathematics, who were currently in other majors on campus, or in the process of exploring admission to MSU. Their efforts evolved a proposal for a new engineering program that would allow students more flexibility in the curriculum.


The initial program requirements included only Calculus 1 and 2, non-calculus physics, and newly created courses in thermodynamics and fluid mechanics with less technical prerequisites than those in the required courses for other engineering majors. To capitalize on the interests in societal issues, a course “Technology, Society and Public Policy” was also developed and required. The unique feature of the program was the opportunity for students to select an application area from outside the College. Initial application areas included social science, business, communication arts, and industrial design. A “Systems Methodology” course was developed as the capstone for the program. The intent of this project oriented course was to provide students the opportunity to integrate their technical coursework with their application area into an appropriate project and presentation. It was hoped that a major that would allow the combination of technical studies with a complementary field of study would be attractive to prospective students.

The proposed program was tentatively named the Bachelor of Arts in Engineering. The proposed program was endorsed by the faculty and forwarded to the University Curriculum Committee for final approval. The discussion at the UCC was problematic. Many members were opposed to awarding a Bachelors of Arts degree to a program that had a significant amount of coursework in the sciences, engineering and mathematics. They felt the foundation of the curriculum merited a Bachelor of Science in Engineering degree. The proposal was returned to the College of Engineering for further discussion. After much deliberation, a compromise was reached. The program name and degree would be the “Bachelor of Science in Engineering Arts”. The Engineering Arts name was used until the change in 2004 to Applied Engineering Sciences. The Engineering Arts major went into effect in 1973 and the first graduates were in 1974.


Since its inception, the program has been successful in attracting students with diverse interests and varied backgrounds. Employers have especially responded positively to the graduates who bring a unique blend of courses and experiences to the workplace. These students have been heavily recruited by a wide range of organizations with starting salaries commensurate to those of other engineering programs.

Over the years, the major has gone through many changes. In an attempt to align the program more closely to the other Engineering majors, the curriculum was changed in 1987 to require the same calculus, physics, and thermodynamics as in other programs. The original four application areas were gradually expanded to as many as 14 choices during the 1980’s and 90’s. These included study areas such as Manufacturing, Packaging, Business, Materials and Logistics Management, Communication, Journalism, Telecommunication, Health and Humanities, Industrial Design, Environmental Science, Lyman Briggs Science and Technology Studies, Industrial Organizational Management, Industrial Work Management, Urban and Rural Planning, and even an option for a student to propose one of personal interest. The term for the part of the curriculum named “Application Area”, was changed to “Cognate” in 1992. Due to lack of enrollment in most of these cognates, the choices were reduced to four in 2000; Business – Supply Chain Management, Telecommunication, Product Design, and Packaging.

From its inception, the program was administered by the Department of Metallurgy, Mechanics, and Materials Science, later changed to the Department of Materials Science and Mechanics. In 2001, a College reorganization resulted in moving the Engineering Arts program to the Office of Undergraduate Studies. In 2004, the name of the program was changed to Applied Engineering Sciences.

The Applied En
gineering Sciences Alumni Advisory Board was created in 2002 and has been actively involved in moving the program in a positive direction. They were instrumental in changing the name of the program to Applied Engineering Sciences, instigating many curriculum changes, establishing a stronger presence with current students and alumni, and creating a very successful endowment fund used to fund student scholarships. The curriculum changes were intended to align the program with requirements for ABET review under the Applied Sciences criteria in the near future. Due to strong student interest, the cognate areas were reduced to two; Business - Supply Chain Management, and Telecommunication.  (History to this point compiled and reported by Prof. M. Subramanian.) 

In 2009 the curriculum of AES was redesigned to emphasize a core of engineering and business courses, a core of systems thinking and modeling courses unique to AES, and a set of optional "finishing areas" (concentrations) that students would use for explicit career preparation. The idea was and is to build a set of core programs that would change slowly over time while also building a set of industry and student responsive finishing areas that could be reconfigured quickly. Current concentrations initially were supply chain management, computer science, technical sales, and communication. Subsequently, in 2011, two more concentrations were added: business law and packaging.  (This paragraph compiled by Prof. Jon Sticklen.)


Throughout the years, the student organization, the Society of Engineering Arts, now the Society of Applied Engineering Sciences, has been a useful and productive part of the program. Their programming activities and recruiting efforts have been a consistent addition to the major.