In 1867 – just two years after the end of the Civil War – the Illinois Industrial University was founded (renamed University of Illinois in 1885). Civil Engineering was one of original branches of study at the University and for the next 150+ years CEE at Illinois has been a global leader in civil engineering education. Some notable faculty and events are noted below.


University of Illinois (and CEE department) is founded

The Old University Building (circa 1870), known as the Elephant, where students lived and took classes. Photo: University of Illinois Archives
The Old University Building (circa 1870), known as the Elephant, where students lived and took classes. Photo: University of Illinois Archives

The department of Civil Engineering is established as one of four branches of the Polytechnic Department of the University of Illinois, founded in 1867.


First Department Head named

Photo: University of Illinois Archives
Photo: University of Illinois Archives

John Burkitt Webb is appointed Professor of Civil Engineering and first official head of the department.


First graduating class

Photo: University of Illinois Archives
Photo: University of Illinois Archives

The first University of Illinois commencement was held on June 6, 1872, with 20 graduates earning degrees. In the course catalog for that year, two of those graduates were listed as having Civil Engineering as their course of study: George H. Lyman and Willis A. Reis


Ira O. Baker named Department Head

Photo: University of Illinois Archives

Ira Osborn Baker becomes department head in 1878, a position he will hold until 1915. Baker received his BS and CE degrees from U of I in 1874 and 1878. He was given temporary charge of the Department in 1878 and appointed Assistant Professor in Charge of Civil Engineering in 1879. He was promoted to Professor in Charge of the Department in 1880.


Department of Municipal and Sanitary Engineering established

Arthur N. Talbot, circa 1920, Image 0005378, University archives
Arthur N. Talbot, circa 1920, Image 0005378, University archives

A Department of Municipal and Sanitary Engineering is established with Arthur N. Talbot, the inventor of the septic tank, as its head. This precursor to environmental engineering will exist on its own until 1926, when its responsibilities will be returned to the CE department. 


First African American Graduate of Illinois

Insert caption here
William Walter Smith. Courtesy of the University of Illinois Archives.

CEE alumnus William Walter Smith became the first African-American graduate of the University of Illinois in 1900. Smith earned an A.B. and B.S. in Literature and Arts, along with a professional degree in Civil Engineering.


First professor of highway engineering named

Carroll C. Wiley joins the University as the first professor of highway engineering.  In 1914, Wiley established the first Highway Engineering Conference in the U.S. It exists today as the Traffic and Highway Engineering Conference, with more than 1,000 attendees annually. 


Newell appointed Department Head

Frederick H. Newell becomes Department Head, serving in that role for five years. He was a native of Pennsylvania with an academic degree in mining engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


Halas founds Chicago Bears football team

George HalasCEE alumnus George Halas (BS 18), who played football, basketball and baseball while a student at Illinois, established the Chicago Bears football team in 1922 and was a co-founder of the NFL. He designated the team colors as blue and orange in honor of his alma mater.

Learn More


Edward E. Bauer joins faculty

Edward E. Bauer, faculty member from 1923-1965, developed some of the earliest national specifications and testing procedures for soils, asphalt, and concrete, and authored one of the first textbooks on concrete. He also directed the bituminous, concrete, and soil labs.


Huntington becomes Department Head

Whitney C. Huntington becomes the fifth head of the department, a position he will hold for 30 years.


Ellis designs Golden Gate Bridge

Charles A. Ellis, a professor in the department from 1914-1921, designs the Golden Gate Bridge.


Wilbur Wilson conducts bridge testing

Professor Wilbur M. Wilson conducts fatigue testing of steel plates and joints for the Oakland Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge.


First woman earns B.S. in Civil Engineering from Illinois

Mary Thelma Miller was the first woman to study civil engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Hailing from Decatur, Ill., Miller earned her bachelor's degree a full fifteen years before the next woman undergraduate.


Nathan Newmark joins faculty

Nathan M. Newmark is appointed to the faculty after completing his Ph.D. under the guidance of Hardy Cross.


First woman earns M.S. in Civil Engineering from Illinois

Nancy Brazell Brooks was the first woman to earn a master’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Illinois, in 1953. Brooks worked on several structural research projects headed by Nathan Newmark, and was a pioneer in bringing computers into use in the department, receiving a research assistantship programming the Illiac I. 


Newmark becomes department head

Nathan M. NewmarkNathan M. Newmark appointed head of the department.


Ven Te Chow publishes "Open Channel Hydraulics"

A renowned educator, researcher, and water resources engineer, Ven Te Chow joined the CEE faculty in 1951. Among his many accomplishments, Chow was the author and editor-in-chief of two well-known books: Open-Channel Hydraulics, and the Handbook of Applied Hydrology.


First woman earns Ph.D. in Civil Engineering from Illinois

Hanka ChryssafopoulosAfter earning her M.S. in 1954, Hanka W. Chryssafopoulos became the first woman to earn a Ph.D. in Civil Engineering, in 1964.


Newmark helps found National Academy of Engineering

In 1964, Professor Nathan M. Newmark, along with College of Engineering Dean William L. Everitt, were members of a "Committee of Twenty-Five" national leaders in the engineering profession who helped establish the National Academy of Engineering (NAE). 


Lunar landing successful thanks to alumnus John Houbolt

It was thanks to the grim determination and advocacy of CEE alumnus John Houbolt (BS 40, MS 42) that the 1969 lunar landing happened.

Learn More


Sanitary Engineering becomes Environmental Engineering

The graduate degrees in Sanitary Engineering change to Environmental Engineering in Civil Engineering.


First concrete canoe race held

The first concrete canoe team accepts the first-place trophy.Concrete canoe got its start at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign when Professor Clyde E. Kesler challenged his concrete design students to build a canoe out of concrete as a class project. The first race took place against students from Purdue University on May 16, 1971, at Kickapoo State Park. 

May 16, 1971

Liebman becomes first woman faculty member at CEE

Judith LiebmanJudith Liebman became the first woman on the CEE faculty in 1972, at a time when there was only one other woman faculty member in the College of Engineering. Liebman's original appointment was split between CEE and Mechanical and Industrial Engineering (which is now Industrial and Enterprise Systems Engineering, or ISE).


Siess becomes department head

Chester P. Siess becomes department head. Siess joined the CEE faculty in 1949, where he participated in the programs of the Structural Engineering Laboratory, specializing in concrete research.


Environmental graduate degree established

The graduate degree in Environmental Science in Civil Engineering is created.


Alumnus designs tallest building in the world

Fazlur Khan (MS 53, PhD 55) did pioneering work in structural design, establishing tubular systems as the "go-to" method for creating skyscrapers. Khan designed the bundled tube system that was used in construction of Willis Tower in Chicago, which opened in 1973 and held the title of tallest building in the world until 1998.


Building named for Newmark

The Civil Engineering Building is named after Nathan M. Newmark, who died in January of this year.


Hall named department head

William J. Hall appointed department head. Hall joined the CEE faculty in 1954, where his research centered on earthquake engineering and military structures. Hall was elected to membership in the National Academy of Engineering in 1968.


ATREL established

The Advanced Transportation Research and Engineering Laboratory is established in Rantoul, Ill., on the former Chanute Air Force Base. The 60,000-square-foot space is comprehensive transportation research, educational and testing laboratory, within the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.


Department changes name to include "Environmental"

The name of the department is changed from the Department of Civil Engineering to the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.


Illinois Center for Transportation established

The Illinois Department of Transportation and University of Illinois establish the Illinois Center for Transportation.


Burj Khalifa construction completed

Wael Hneini on UnsplashAlumnus William F. Baker (MS 1980) designed the structural system that enabled construction of the world’s tallest building — the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. Baker's design continued the innovative structural engineering tradition of alumnus Fazlur Khan (MS 1953, PhD 1955), who was known for developing the tube structural systems that allowed for the building of modern skyscrapers. 


First high-speed rail course taught

The nation’s first university-level course in high-speed rail is taught in the department by professors Christopher P.L. Barkan and T.C. Kao. The same year, the Rail Transportation and Engineering Center (RailTEC) was established, under the direction of Barkan.


CEE Online launched

CEE launches its online graduate program.


Geoffrey M.T. Yeh Center opens

The M.T. Geoffrey Yeh Student Center is a 20,500-square-foot addition to Newmark Civil Engineering Laboratory. Completed in July 2011, the Yeh Center is home to classrooms, meeting rooms and informal gathering space for CEE students.  


Barros becomes department head

CEE Department Head <a href="/directory/profile/barros">Ana Barros</a>Ana P. Barros becomes department head, the first woman to hold the position. Barros' research interests are in hydrology, hydrometeorology and environmental physics, and she has received several prestigious awards for her pioneering technical contributions. Barros was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2019.


CEE Building, Smart Bridge opens

The CEE Building, which opened for business in Fall 2021, houses state-of-the-art classrooms and laboratories, and generous office space for faculty and graduate students. The Kavita and Lalit Bahl Smart Bridge connects the building with the Newmark Civil Engineering Laboratory/Yeh Center.


Bachelor's degree in Environmental Engineering established

Although CEE at Illinois began offering graduate degrees in Environmental Engineering in 1973, for undergraduates it remained a specialization within civil engineering rather than a core degree program. That changed in 2022 when the B.S. in Environmental Engineering was approved. Enrollment in that program opened for students in Fall 2023.


Making History

Learn about some of the (occasionally unexpected) ways that CEE alumni have made their mark during the first 150 years of the department's history.

Alumni Achievements