In 1986, Dr. Edward Stevens, then-president of George Fox University, began researching what it would take for the university to produce engineers. Driven by industry's increasing need for engineers, Stevens hired Robert Harder in 1987 to direct the university's new 3-2 program in engineering. The 3-2 transfer program was developed in cooperation with the University of Portland, which hoped to recruit more students to its engineering program. Harder has a PhD in materials science and engineering from Oregon Graduate Institute of Science and Technology.
In 1993, the university completed construction of the Edwards-Holman Science Center. This provided significantly more suitable space for all of the university's science-related programs. The construction also brought the Department of Biology and Chemistry together with the Department of Math, Computer Science and Engineering, creating an important connection between the programs.
This new space and the growth of the 3-2 program made it possible to add a new faculty member. John Natzke joined the George Fox faculty in 1995, arriving from University of Michigan where he had completed his PhD in electrical engineering and was a postdoctoral fellow. Natzke took over the teaching of electrical engineering courses and a portion of the physics courses. This allowed Harder and Natzke to develop four new courses to add to the program, providing more electrical and mechanical engineering options for students.
The program continued to grow in size and strength. Other institutions began to comment on how well-prepared George Fox students were when they transferred elsewhere to complete their final two years of undergraduate engineering education. This was because George Fox's program had begun to attract dedicated students, had a strong design focus, and was taught by degreed engineers.
The new science center and more balanced teaching loads allowed Harder and Natzke to begin to dream about developing a four-year bachelor of science in engineering program. There were several motivating factors:
- In 1997, the Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology (ABET), the national accreditation body of engineering, announced new guidelines for accrediting schools of engineering. These guidelines included increased emphasis on the liberal arts and design, making engineering one of the first scientific disciplines to react to industry's call for well-rounded graduates - trained in the liberal arts, as well as the sciences. Some top engineering schools resisted the new guidelines. However, the new standards largely mirrored the liberal arts philosophy of George Fox and its engineering faculty. While many engineering schools have been hesitant to add more liberal arts courses into their curricula at the expense of applied mathematics and engineering electives, at George Fox the liberal arts are central to its mission. Thus, Harder and Natzke believed the timing was right to begin preparing a proposal for a new bachelor of science degree program at George Fox.
- In 1998, Dr. David Brandt, a physicist by academic training, became the university's president. Having experience in private industry and in engineering programs at two other liberal arts institutions, Brandt was impressed by the faculty and curriculum in the George Fox program.
In 1999, the board of trustees, the President's Cabinet, and the entire faculty approved the proposal for a new bachelor of science in engineering program. At that same time, the university was about to launch the public phase of a $22 million capital campaign that included $750,000 for the renovation of Wood-Mar Hall. The community agreed to use this space for the new engineering program because it would provide suitable laboratory space and would maintain the program's physical connection to the rest of the science-related programs (Wood-Mar Hall is connected to the Edwards-Holman Science Center via a three-story atrium).
In 2000, the new bachelor of science in engineering program enrolled its first freshman class. To accommodate the growing engineering major, the expansion of facilities and equipment began in 2002 into the adjacent Wood-Mar Hall. The renovation of the first two floors of the three-story, 90-year-old landmark was completed in 2003, housing the engineering faculty office suite and new engineering labs. The 4,500 square feet of new lab space were outfitted with the latest equipment and software, with support of a $500,000 gift from the W.M. Keck Foundation.
In the fall of 2002, Mike Magill, who has a PhD from Oklahoma State University, joined the department as professor of mechanical engineering. Magill came from Purdue University, where he was department head of mechanical engineering technology and faculty member for seven years.
Bob Hamilton was hired to teach physics in fall of 2003. Previously, Hamilton served on the faculties of Ouachita Baptist University and Angelo State University. He earned a PhD in physics from UCLA and has done postdoctoral research as a JSPS Fellow at Kyushu University in Fukuoka, Japan, and at the University of Arizona.
Gary Spivey was hired to teach electrical engineering in fall of 2003. Spivey, who earned a PhD from the University of Maryland, previously served as an electronic engineer with the National Security Agency for 11 years, chiefly as a special-purpose-computer and application specific integrated circuit (ASIC) designer.
Also in fall 2003, Neal Ninteman from the math department started assisting with teaching the freshmen engineering courses, along with physics. Ninteman earned a master's degree in civil engineering from Stanford University and worked first in industry (construction engineering and management) before spending 11 years with Campus Crusade for Christ, primarily on university campuses in Russia.
The university graduated its first engineering class in May of 2004. That same year, the department began the process of applying for national accreditation from the Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology (ABET).
Then, in August of 2005, the department received a tremendous boost with news that ABET had approved its first bid for accreditation after a year-long review process. George Fox became one of only five universities in Oregon with ABET accreditation. George Fox also became one of only 13 institutions in the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities to offer a four-year engineering program with ABET accreditation; it is one of only two on the west coast. The CCCU has 105 members in North America and 71 affiliate institutions in 24 countries. The program reached its initial projected enrollment of 90 students the following year.
Mike Foster was hired in fall 2007 to teach mechanical engineering, and computer engineering was added as the third concentration within the engineering major. Foster earned MS and PhD degrees from Drexel University and specializes in teaching fluid mechanics, applications of thermodynamics, control theory, and computational methods.
Most recently, a civil engineering concentration was started in fall 2009 as the fourth concentration for engineering students to choose from. Then in spring 2010, the engineering department added Servant Engineering to its curriculum. This program brings engineering students and professionals together as a team to research, design, and deliver engineering solutions to address humanitarian needs. The sophomores join upperdivision students on interdisciplinary teams, creating solutions to significant technical challenges.