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Homecoming with the College of Engineering

Brian Campbell (left), executive director of the NC State Engineering Foundation, greeted alumni at the dinner.
Brian Campbell (left), executive director of the NC State Engineering Foundation, greeted alumni at the dinner.

College alumni celebrated 125 years of engineering at NC State on Nov. 2, enjoying department reunions, quizzing faculty on new research, and touring Centennial Campus during the College’s inaugural Homecoming event.

The event coincided with the larger university Homecoming festivities, which included the Hillsborough Street parade and a football game, while giving engineering alumni a chance to reconnect with their College. The NC State Engineering Foundation, which organized the College event, intends to make it an annual celebration that brings alumni back to campus each fall.

The event was an opportunity for the College to show off its students, faculty and growing presence on Centennial Campus. Since 2005, when the College opened the first of three new engineering buildings on Centennial, six of its departments have moved there. The state-of-the-art facilities have helped draw top faculty and students; the College’s spending on research is up 50 percent over the past five years.

“We swing hard. We swing for the fences,” Dr. Louis Martin-Vega, dean of the College, told alumni in his “State of the College” address. “This is where your college is. It’s at the highest levels in terms of how it competes.”

Martin-Vega noted that NC State is now the only university in the nation leading two National Science Foundation Engineering Research Centers, the most lucrative and prestigious awards engineering researchers can receive. And the College’s students are highly sought after by industry, Martin-Vega said, noting that NC State was ranked 15th among the nation’s engineering schools by recruiters in a study published in the Wall Street Journal.

Martin-Vega’s goal for the College: To become and be perceived as the leading public college of engineering in the country, and one of the finest in the world.

“Our commitment every single day,” he said, “is that the ‘E’ in Engineering mean ‘Excitement.’”Â

The day began with mini-events hosted by each of the engineering departments and the College’s Minority Engineering Programs. Each group planned a variety of activities, including open houses and lunch.

Later, in a session dubbed “Classrooms Without Quizzes,” several top faculty members told alumni about their latest research. The faculty — Drs. Greg Buckner, Chris Frey, Henry Lamb, Elizabeth Loboa, Michael Steer, Laurie Williams and Richard Wysk — hailed from a variety of engineering departments. They discussed groundbreaking work in areas ranging from roadside bomb detection and computer security to tissue engineering and biomedical devices to renewable energy production and emissions measurement systems — work that prompted a lively discussion with alumni.

While alumni talked with faculty, many of their children and grandchildren went to an Engineering Mini-Camp. There, would-be engineers designed LED flashlights with materials from a recycling bin and created air-powered “stomp rockets.”

And for children whose self-made rockets didn’t get too far off the ground, camp supervisor Dr. Laura Bottomley, director of The Engineering Place outreach program at NC State, turned their disappointment into a teachable moment.

“That’s what engineers do,” she said. “You almost never get it right the first time. You try it again and again and again.”

At the end of the afternoon, alumni mingled and enjoyed barbecue and a bluegrass band on the second floor of Engineering Building II. From there, alumni looked out over Lake Raleigh, the soon-to-open James B. Hunt Jr. Library, and the other new engineering buildings that have transformed the College over the past decade.Â

“The changes that have been made in a half-century are astounding, really,” said Raeford Eure, a 1959 civil engineering alumnus. “The way the school is growing —all of this is pretty amazing.”

“Tremendous changes,” he said, “and all for the better.”