Case Western Reserve University has played a pioneering role in the development of computer engineering, computer science, electrical engineering and systems engineering as academic, research, and professional disciplines.
The origins of the electrical engineering program go back to as early as 1884 when lectures in Sound and Electricity were given by the Department of Physics. Dr. Albert A, Michelson, of the seminal Michelson – Morley experiment in Physics, was then the head of the Department of Physics. The catalogue of 1887-88 lists a four-year curriculum in Electrical Engineering although no one was named as department head. In 1895 the Trustees authorized a separate building and largely planned by Dr. Langley, the first chair of the Electrical Engineering Department.
An M.S. in Electronics was authorized in 1950 with graduate work in the department growing to 80 students working toward an advanced degree in 1951. In 1954 provision was made for the M.S. in Electrical Engineering in four fields: Power, Communications, Illuminations and Control. Provision was also made for the M.S. in Electronics for undergraduates not in Electrical Engineering. In 1955 construction was finished on the five-story Wm. E. Wickenden Electrical Engineering Building --named in honor of the third president of the college-- that provided the offices and laboratories of the Electrical Engineering Department.
In the early to mid 1960s there was an accredited EE degree program at Case, but no Electrical Engineering Department. Instead, there were research groups headed by senior professors. In 1967, at about the same time as the Institute's merger with Western Reserve College, the various Electrical Engineering and Applied Physics research efforts coalesced to form the Department of Electrical Sciences and Applied Physics with Professor Bruce W. Johnson as Department Head. In 1968, that department moved from its Bingham Building quarters to spacious new quarters in the Glennan Building, built with NASA and alumni support. The department was renamed the Electrical Engineering and Applied Physics Department in 1974.
The origins of the computer engineering program go back to 1956 when an IBM 650 was installed in the old Chemistry building. The computing center then moved to the Quail building and the offering of the Numerical Methods classes under the sponsorship of engineering faculty; courses in Engineering, Mathematics, and Operations Research were added, all of which had students using the Center facilities. The Case Western Reserve University computer engineering program was the first accredited programs in the nation in 1971.
The computing activities then moved to the Crawford Building, with Professor E. L. Glaser as department chair. In the subsequent years the program had a large number of majors. Faculty and students were involved in language development, artificial intelligence, numerical methods, logical design, graphics, operating systems design and analysis, and data base design and research. The department then became the Department of Computer Engineering and Science.
In 1987 the B.S. degree in Computer Science was approved. Also in 1987 an off campus M.S. in Computer Science was offered to AT&T in Columbus. Faculty went to Columbus to teach the courses. This was a sizable program — over 60 students and in exchange, AT&T created a Unix Workstation Lab for the department. In 1991 the B.A. degree in Computer Science was approved and in 1996 the CES department created a Windows NT lab. Prior to this almost everything was done on Unix Workstations. In 1996 the CES department moved to its current quarters in the Olin Building
The Univac 1, 1107 and 1108 in the CES department are fondly remembered. Later the Univac 1108 was moved to the newly formed Chi Corporation to provide computing resources to the University and to offer these services to other organizations.
Although not directly associated with the CES department, in 1986 the CWRU Community Telecomputing Laboratory established the CLEVELAND FREENET Community Computer System, a free public computer network which allowed dial-in users Internet access. The Freenet was the first of its kind and helped inspire an international trend. CWRU continued as the sponsor of the Freenet until September 30, 1999.
The origins of the Department of Systems Engineering go back to the establishment by the late Don Eckman in 1953 of the pioneering interdisciplinary research program in Process Automation. Don, already a world leader for his contributions to industrial process control, had joined Mechanical Engineering two years earlier to start undergraduate and graduate programs in automatic control. This soon led to informal collaborations with Electrical Engineering and Chemical Engineering on courses, curricula, and research. With the merger of the existing engineering departments into a single Division of Engineering in the 1960s, control joined with the newly emerging areas of computers, information sciences, and systems, to constitute the largest faculty grouping in the Division. In time, the Departments of Systems Engineering, and Computer Engineering and Sciences evolved out of this interest group.
The Process Automation project gained wide recognition as the first reported research to demonstrate real time computer control of a chemical process that used a mathematical model of the process to optimize economic performance. The project, now called the Control of Industrial Systems program, expanded over the years in number of industrial sponsors, scope of the research, and students and faculty supported. For over 35 years it comprised one of the major research and graduate study components of the Systems Engineering Department.
This research program, with its unique focus on control as a systems problem and its emphasis on interdisciplinary research led Eckman to the idea of a Systems Research Center (SRC). This was established in 1959 with the help of a generous Ford Foundation grant — the first such center anywhere. The SRC provided the spawning grounds for subsequent Case activities in mathematical systems theory, information sciences, and biomedical engineering. In particular it served as precursor to establishment of the Systems Engineering Department in 1969. Its Systems and Control Engineering degree program was the first in the country to be ABET accredited. Eckman died in an automobile accident in 1962 an immeasurable loss to Case and to the control field. In his memory, the Automatic Control Council set up the Eckman Award to recognize promising young professionals in the field. A list of recipients of this award reads like a Who's Who of current leaders in the field.
In the mid 1970s, the systems and control engineering program was housed within a separate department: the “Systems Engineering Department”. At that time a research and graduate studies program in water resource systems was introduced. This marked the beginning of a steadily increasing commitment to large scale systems methodology applied to societal systems and problems involving decision making and policy analysis.
The profound changes taking place in computer hardware and software during this time promised to have substantial impact on real-time computer applications. As a result, serious studies were undertaken to determine the most appropriate ways to exploit these advances. The advent of the microprocessors in the mid-1970s led to close cooperation between computer specialists and automatic control specialists and to an increasing focus on problems of distributed intelligence and decentralized control. To facilitate this cooperation at Case, the separate departments of Systems Engineering and Computer Engineering and Information Sciences merged in 1976 to from a single Department of Systems Engineering, Computer Engineering and Information Sciences.
One result of this merger was the establishment of a distributed computing and control laboratory in which microcomputer-based controllers and real-time minicomputers were arranged in a hierarchical configuration. Various process units, completely instrumented, were tied into the system to serve as vehicles for a variety of industrial control studies. The lab provided an invaluable resource for studying new philosophies of control systems.
In 1981 the computer and systems engineering programs were separated so that from 1981 until 1994, the systems program was once again called the “Systems Engineering Department” and the computer programs were housed in the “Computer Engineering and Computer Science Department”. From 1994 to 1998, the name of the department housing the systems activities was changed to the “Systems, Control and Industrial Engineering Department” reflecting the establishment of a new program in Industrial Engineering .
On February 9, 1998 the Case Western Reserve Board of Trustees approved the merger between the Systems, Control and Industrial Engineering department, the Computer Engineering and Science department and the Electrical Engineering and Applied Physics department to form a new department in the Case School of Engineering: the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. The process of formulating the department's initial educational mission and objectives occurred in 2000 after extensive involvement with the Dean of Engineering and departmental and school wide committees. In the process, input was sought from the Advisory Board of the Case School of Engineering and a special review committee for the Case School of Engineering. The resulting mission statement and educational objectives have been distributed among the faculty and discussed by the faculty.
A significant review and revision of the departmental mission, vision, and objectives was undertaken in 2003. The result of this was that the Chair restructured the department into divisions: the Electrical and Computer Engineering Division (ECE) and the Computer Science Division (CS). This clarified responsibilities for curricula and gave a sense of "ownership" and responsibility within the divisions by providing an identity for faculty and programs. Faculty members may be in both divisions.
In Spring 2011, the Department voted to rename the ECE division to "Electrical, Computer, and Systems Engineering (ECSE)."