History of the Materials Engineering Program

Materials engineering became an official degree program at Auburn University in 1965. Many acknowledge Dr. Wartan Jemian to be the founder of Auburn's materials engineering program. Jemian’s effort to establish a materials engineering program at the university began almost immediately after his joining the faculty in 1962. At the time, there were only two faculty members with significant professional experience in the materials field, Jemian and Hal W. Maynor of the Department of Mechanical Engineering.

Polymer Beginnings

During his first year of teaching, Jemian was asked by the head of the mechanical engineering department, Donald M. Vestal, to chair a committee formed to study the feasibility of offering a polymer degree program at Auburn. Along with Jemian, the committee included the department heads from the chemistry, chemical engineering, textile engineering and physics departments. After evaluating what the components of such a degree program, the group quickly realized Auburn lacked the required infrastructure for such a program.

In 1963, Vestal convened another exploratory committee, this time to explore the feasibility of offering a degree program in materials, metallurgy, metallurgical engineering or similar discipline. Jemian served on this committee, along with Maynor, Ed Jones, O. C. Moore, Cleveland Adams and representatives from other departments with a possible interest in the program.

Finding a Foundation

The group discovered a number of compelling reasons for establishing a materials-related degree program. First, the college provided valid materials courses already being taught in the mechanical engineering department. Secondly, the college possessed the necessary laboratory facilities (including microscopes, sample preparation and examination facilities, X-ray diffractometers, electron microscope, a variety of hardness testers, furnaces and machine tools) and an excellent collection of reference materials, including subscriptions to several important journals. Thirdly, the college’s roster included two faculty members with a Ph.D. in the field and other faculty members academic preparations and achievements qualifying them to contribute to the program. Perhaps most importantly, though, there was proof of student interest in the program.

Jemian undertook the task of preparing a sample curriculum in metallurgical engineering. The curriculum needed to meet the needs for general courses, general science courses, physical education, general electives, basic courses in the field and advanced courses in the field. Upon its completion, the sample curriculum was studied and amended with suggestions from committee members. The committee eventually submitted a final report to Dean Dr. Fred Pumphrey. After an administrative review, the Board of Trustees approved the degree program and curriculum for implementation in the summer of 1964. The curriculum was designated as the Materials Engineering Curriculum and courses were listed in the Auburn Bulletin. 

Student Insight and Improved Curriculum

When many students felt the metallurgical focus would only qualify them for work in the steel industry, Jemian broadened the curriculum. Vestal led the effort to gain administrative approval for additional faculty to participate in the materials program. Budentstein of physics would teach the X-ray crystallography course, and Hsu of chemical engineering would teach kinetics of materials reactions. Kosalopof of chemistry would teach two related courses in polymer science, while Tim Slagh of the electrical engineering department would teach a course on electrical properties.

The revised curriculum was met with administrative, trustee and student approval. In 1965, Auburn University officially began offering an undergraduate degree program in Materials Engineering.

"We defined Materials Engineering as the profession of applying materials structure-property relations to meet specific needs, without being associated with or aimed at any specific industry," Jemian said. "Over time, it became clear that our graduates found opportunities in many diverse activities including business, teaching and research."

Program Growth and Accreditation

The broader curriculum helped the program attract more students, and it became an accepted educational program for naval officers, and later, officers of other branches of the armed forces. These events led to a significant increase in undergraduate enrollment.  Students and their parents saw the opportunities available to materials graduates in a variety of industries.

Jemian continually worked to help encourage ties between the materials program and industry. The Auburn Materials Society, approved by the university and the Student Government Association in 1965, established a means for students to visit industry and industry representatives to visit campus. Students accompanied Jemian on field trips around the region including Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, and Florida to inspect materials industries and their operations. These trips included large industry and smaller, family-owned shops wherever possible. Jemian promoted the program through state and national materials trade associations, an industrial advisory committee and a weekly television program titled "Men, Materials and Manufacturing."

The Materials Engineering faculty applied for an accreditation review in 1974, during the tenure of Dean Vince Haneman. An accreditation team, led by George Dieter (review team chair) and Fred Bolling (Chief Metallurgist for Ford Motor Company), reviewed the curriculum. After adopting several recommendations to strengthen the program, the materials engineering program was accredited in early 1975. The university also provided Jemian with part-time support to serve as curriculum chair, a position he held until 1981, when Dr. Bryan Chin joined the materials faculty and was appointed to the curriculum chair position.


Dr. Wartan JemianAbout Dr. Wartan Jemian

Jemian joined the Auburn University faculty in 1962 as an associate professor of Mechanical Engineering. He holds degrees from the University of Maryland and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Before retiring in 1993, he conducted research focused on weld solidification, physical metallurgy and energy-absorbing polymers.

Since his retirement, Jemian has continued his involvement with the Auburn Rotary Club, serving as team leader for a Rotary sponsored cultural exchange to Hong Kong, Macau and China. He served as president during the organization's 75th anniversary year. Jemian also leads local community courses on ballroom and line dancing.

Last Updated: Dec 13, 2016