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George L. Sullivan

George SullivanIn 1911, the decision was made to hire George L. Sullivan, professor of mechanical engineering at Montana State College, to head a new engineering program at Santa Clara College. Before coming to Santa Clara, Sullivan was asked to outline courses in civil, electrical, and mechanical engineering. These were accepted as the official engineering program and so began a century of engineering excellence at Santa Clara.

As the first dean of engineering, Sullivan led the program safely through the turbulent times of WWI, the Great Depression, WWII, and the Korean War, as well as helping the school adapt to wave after wave of engineering innovation.

 

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History

1943: Sullivan and students
Sullivan with students in 1943. Photo
from the Archives of SCU.

In 1941, at the forefront of U.S. involvement in World War II, Sullivan requested government funding and implemented a plan providing engineering, science, and management training for people in war industries not only at Santa Clara, but also at San Jose State College and various California manufacturing plants. During the war years, Army convoys were not an uncommon sight on campus as the University found new purpose in training soldier-students. The program helped keep Santa Clara's doors open at a time when more and more young men were enlisting in the armed forces rather than enrolling in college.

Gaining Perspective

"It's been a long time since I needed a note from my mom..."

World War II not only prompted reflection about engaging with the world at large, but also created an intense demand for engineers. In 1946, seasoned combat veterans joined fresh-faced high school grads as together they embarked on their college studies on a campus that was adjusting to a new constituency.

Professor Henry Nettesheim remembered an incident exemplifying the changing campus: "A priest insisted [a student-veteran who had flown more than 50 bombing missions] have a note from his mom to get back into [a class he'd skipped]. I remember the kid said, 'It's been a long time since I needed a note from my mom for anything and I'm not going to start now.'" Authority was loosened, the veteran was allowed into class, and discipline began to be eased across
the board.