Our foundation | NYU Tandon School of Engineering

Our foundation

It’s a new era at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering — one in which the school is being led by our first woman dean, attracting the most diverse group of students we’ve ever had, and positioning ourselves as a force in a host of highly cross-disciplinary fields like AI, robotics, and biomedical engineering.

Herman Mark at desk; photo credit: Poly Archives

We’ll never lose sight, though, of our long and storied history, which stretches back to 1854 — the founding date for both the New York University School of Civil Engineering and Architecture and the Brooklyn Collegiate and Polytechnic Institute (widely known as Brooklyn Poly).

In 2014 an official merger between Poly and NYU was completed — an event that brought the discipline of engineering back to the university for the first time in 40 years — and the following year, thanks to a transformative gift by Chandrika and Ranjan Tandon, we became the NYU Tandon School of Engineering.

No matter what name we’ve gone by and what institutional changes have occurred, one thing has always remained the same: our promise to push the envelope of science and technology to solve the pressing problems facing the world.

A legacy in wireless communications

NYU WIRELESS is well known for influencing policy and driving innovative research for 5G and beyond, but those not familiar with the history of the school might not realize that it has long been at the forefront of wireless (which refers to any communication that uses electromagnetic or acoustic waves as a medium, rather than a wire connection) and that decades before NYU WIRELESS was founded, another pioneering research center was bringing renown to the School of Engineering. Our highly regarded Microwave Research Institute had its genesis during the early days of World War II, when Professor Ernst Weber organized a research group to develop, among other things, the precision microwave attenuator, sorely needed for the accurate calibration of radar systems used by the military. Launched in 1946, it ultimately grew into the country’s foremost center of electronic research, and even long after the war, its researchers were breaking new ground in electromagnetic theory and other related fields. NYU WIRELESS created one of the first free and open test-beds for the mmWave radio spectrum, a key to 5G telecommunications.

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NYU WIRELESS created one of the first free and open test-beds for the mmWave radio spectrum, a key to 5G telecommunications.

The epicenter of polymer science

Professor Herman Mark’s influential research made possible such useful fibers as Kevlar and polyester. Soon after joining our faculty in 1942, Mark founded the Polymer Research Institute (PRI), which drew students and postdoctoral fellows from around the globe. (In addition to creating the Institute, Mark also founded the first American polymer journal, the Journal of Polymer Science, in 1946.)

When private companies or other universities launched their own polymer centers or programs in later years, chances were good that a scientist who had been affiliated with the PRI — which was designated as a National Historic Chemical Landmark in 2003 by the American Chemical Society — was involved.

Mark’s legacy remains strong at Tandon, with the recent creation of the Biomedical Engineering Department and work across our campus by faculty and students, who are modifying proteins to fight cancer, developing innovative new biomaterials, finding ways to manufacture synthetics without fossil fuels, making possible efficient new sources of sustainable energy, and much more.

A dream to live by

Our institution has long been home to the American Dream — and our alum James Truslow Adams created that phrase back in 1931:

that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and
fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement... a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”

We have long been committed to ensuring that aspiring engineers and technologists of all cultures, ethnicities, genders, and socioeconomic levels have a chance to bring their own dreams to fruition, whether that means providing a pathway to the middle class and beyond for less economically advantaged students, working with New York City’s K-12 school children to introduce them to the possibilities of higher education, or researching ways to bridge the digital divide.

Women at our school

4 women sitting outside on campus
Women at Poly circa 1959; Photo credit: Poly Archives, NYU Libraries
  • In 1907 the first woman, Anna Erdmann, received a bachelor’s degree from Poly.
  • In 1984 Eleanor Baum (’64) became the first female dean of an engineering school in the United States, at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, and she later was elected as the first woman president of the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE).
  • In 2009, when she was appointed CEO of Xerox, Ursula Burns (’80) became the first African-American woman ever to head a Fortune 500 company.
  • Women constitute 46% of the NYU Tandon Class of 2023, roughly double the average for U.S. engineering schools.

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