Since 1846, the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering has developed innovative processes and designs that have shaped our state, our country, and our world. Swanson School faculty and students are on the forefront of developing solutions to create a better future and continue its founding commitment to industrial, electrical, and mining engineering, the fields the world relies on for its energy and raw materials. The Swanson School also focuses on our health, our planet, and the ingenuity that keeps us competitive with recognized programs in bioengineering, sustainability, and energy. Nanotechnology, manufacturing, and product innovation are also critical strategic initiatives.

The University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering has a long and distinguished history. The earliest engineering courses at Pitt were established in response to the growth of Western Pennsylvania during the early industrial revolution, with the first degrees of “Engineer” awarded in 1846, thereby establishing Pitt as the nation’s sixth earliest engineering program.

The involvement of Pittsburgh industry in the years surrounding the Civil War transformed a regional industrial base into one with strong international significance, and the University responded to the need. In 1868, specialized degrees in Civil and Mechanical Engineering were initiated, with Mining Engineering following in 1869, and Electrical Engineering in 1890. In 1909, the Department of Metallurgical Engineering was established, followed by the Department of Chemical Engineering and the world’s first Department of Petroleum Engineering in 1910. Also in that year, the School created one of the nation’s first undergraduate Cooperative Education Programs. Pitt Engineering’s tradition of innovative programming resulted in the establishment of one of the nation’s first Industrial Engineering Departments in 1921. The most recent department, Bioengineering, was established in 1998.

Among the many prominent individuals associated with the early history of the School were Samuel Pierpont Langley and Reginald A. Fessenden. Langley, who is credited with developing the engineering science of aerodynamics during his 24 years at Pitt, designed the first heavier-than-air craft capable of flight and greatly influenced the Wright Brothers. Fessenden, brought to Pittsburgh by George Westinghouse as the first electrical engineering department head, obtained more than 300 patents. Through his pioneering studies with voice transmission, he is now credited with being the “Father of Radio” and made the first broadcast of the human voice in 1906.

Throughout the 20th century the School of Engineering continued its growth, and moved to a new Engineering Hall in the 1950s. This was also accompanied by the institution of new programs such as international education to strengthen the academic experience of engineering students. As the student population continued to grow, the University developed plans for a larger facility and commissioned the construction of Benedum Hall of Engineering, in honor of a grant from the Benedum Foundation. Benedum Hall was completed in 1971. The 1990s saw the emergence of new centers of excellence which promoted cross-disciplinary infrastructure between departments, as well as the launch of the new bioengineering program and the Center for Biotechnology and Bioengineering at the Pittsburgh Technology Center, on the former site of the Jones & Laughlin Steel Mill Complex in nearby Hazelwood.


Engineering for the 21st-Century

In 2007, the School became the Swanson School of Engineering after a landmark event: John A. Swanson (PhD ’66), founder of ANSYS Inc., made the largest individual philanthropic commitment in the history of the University of Pittsburgh at that time. As a result of his remarkable generosity, the Board of Trustees presented a formal resolution on February 29, 2008 and announced the changing of the school’s name to the John A. Swanson School of Engineering. His gift, along with that of John C. “Jack” Mascaro (BSCE '66, MSCE '80), founder and chairman of Mascaro Construction Company, enabled a multi-year transformation of Benedum Hall into a building with more open labs and “smart” classroom space, enabling greater collaboration between faculty and students.

A new three-story annex that connects to Benedum Hall was completed in 2009 and is home to the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation as well as labs, classrooms and the new Bevier Library.  In 2012 the Swanson School received a $22 million grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation - one of the largest private foundation grants in Pitt’s history. The gift will accelerate the research and education efforts of the Center for Energy, create new faculty positions and graduate fellowships, and establish a fund for spurring innovative research on a newly designated Energy Floor in Benedum Hall.

Later in 2012 the Swanson School exceeded its $180 million campaign goal and announced that over $200 million had been reached. The goal was part of the University of Pittsburgh’s comprehensive $2 billion campaign, which was also reached in 2012. The funds will enable the full transformation of the Swanson School of Engineering, both physically and academically, and establish it as one of the leading engineering programs in the world.

On April 14, 2014, to mark the tenth anniversary of the University of Pittsburgh’s Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation (MCSI) and to build upon the ongoing philanthropy of two of Pitt’s most generous donors and engineering alumni, Pitt announced a new $37.5 million funding initiative comprising various endowments and current funds to support sustainability-related academics and research. Through the leadership of a new Sustainability Task Force established by the Office of the Provost, the University will extend sustainability initiatives throughout Pitt’s academic programs and research initiatives. This expanded commitment to sustainability was inspired by Mr. Jack Mascaro and Dr. John A. Swanson, both of whom contributed toward the new sustainability initiative.

On March 3, 2016, Pitt and the Swanson School that an expansion of engineering, energy research and entrepreneurship at the Energy Innovation Center (EIC) in Pittsburgh’s Hill District. The 18,600-square-foot laboratory and incubator – which will occupy more than one-fourth of the EIC’s Central Lab area, making it the largest tenant – represents Pitt’s initiatives to provide more flexible, large-scale space for energy research and to encourage partnerships with industry. The EIC, developed by Pittsburgh Gateways Corporation in the former Connelly Trade School, is designed to engage corporate and community leaders, align workforce development and education, develop and demonstrate technology, and incubate businesses to support emerging clean and sustainable energy markets. The facility provides Pitt with more space than currently available in Oakland or at the Swanson School’s Benedum Hall of Engineering. The laboratories will include:

  • The Next Generation Energy Conversion and Storage Technologies Laboratory, headed by Prashant Kumta, Professor of Bioengineering, Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science, and Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, focuses on energy conversion and storage including high energy and power density rechargeable battery systems, photoelectrochemical systems for harnessing solar energy for water splitting, and high power density charge storage systems.
  • The Electric Power Technologies Laboratory, led by Dr. Reed, will focus on advanced electric power grid and energy generation, transmission, and distribution-system technologies; power electronics and control technologies; renewable energy systems and integration; smart grid technologies and applications; and energy-storage development.
  • The High-Temperature Corrosion Testing Laboratory, led by Brian Gleeson, Professor and Chair of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science, focuses on the assessment and development of materials needed for harsh service environments. The EIC allows Dr. Gleeson to relocate his lab from Iowa State University to Pittsburgh.
  • Lastly, the Pitt Incubator Laboratories, developed by Vice Provost for Research Mark S. Redfern and the University’s Innovation Institute, will provide affordable space for start-ups launched by faculty and students at Pitt.

New International Partnership, New Campus

In 2013 the Swanson School led a University effort to create a joint institute with Sichuan University, one of China’s premier engineering schools. Pitt is one of only five U.S. universities to have entered into a large-scale partnership agreement with a university in China; the others are Carnegie Mellon University, Duke University, New York University, and the University of Michigan. 

Sichuan University will initially invest nearly $40 million to support the construction and equipping of a new 300,000-square-foot building to house the Sichuan University – Pittsburgh Institute on its campus. With emphases on advanced sustainable manufacturing and educational innovation, the institute will initially offer three undergraduate degree programs: industrial engineering, mechanical engineering, and materials science and engineering. Students in the institute will be recruited from the United States, China, and possibly other countries, with the first class in fall 2015 expected to comprise 100 students. Within seven years, enrollment is projected to grow to 1,600. 

Students will spend the first two years of the program immersed in the Pitt curriculum in China with the option of transferring to Pitt’s main campus during their third year in the program. Students who transfer to Pitt directly after their sophomore year will earn a bachelor’s degree from both Sichuan University and Pitt, and all students will receive an institute certificate upon completion of their studies. Qualified students will also be able to continue their graduate studies at Pitt.

Officials from the University of Pittsburgh and Sichuan University in China participated in a groundbreaking ceremony on July 2, 2014 at the Sichuan University campus in Chengdu to launch construction of the first building. The first entering class matriculated during a special ceremony with Pitt Chancellor Patrick Gallagher and others on September 25, 2015.

Deans of Engineering

Daniel Carhart  1882 - 1908 
Frederick L. Bishop  1910 – 1927
Elmer A. Holbrook  1927 – 1950 
G. Raymond Fitterer  1951 – 1963 
Harold E. Hoelscher  1965 – 1973 
Max L. Williams  1973 – 1985 
Charles A. Sorber 1986 – 1993 
H.K. Chang  1994 – 1996 
Gerald D. Holder* 1996 – 2018
James R. Martin II 2018 – 2022
Sanjeev G. Shroff (Interim) 2022 –

*To mark Dean Holder’s 20th anniversary as Dean of the Swanson School, Provost Patricia Beeson appointed him as a Distinguished Service Professor, a title that recognizes distinctive contributions and outstanding service (e.g., professional, regional, national, international) to the University community in support of its multifaceted teaching/research/service mission, as well as performance excellence and national stature in his discipline.