Our History

The story of the J.B. Speed School of Engineering is deeply entwined with the history of Louisville and the Commonwealth of Kentucky. It’s the story of American industry, technology, and innovation.

The University of Louisville J.B. Speed Scientific School was founded in 1924 by Dr. William S. Speed and Mrs. Olive Speed Sackett when they established an endowment in honor of their father, the late James Breckenridge (J.B.) Speed with the assistance of a grant from the James Breckenridge Speed Foundation. Funds from the  endowment are still used, to this day, to supplement the Speed School’s activities. The four original Speed School departments (Chemical Engineering, Civil Engineering, and Electrical Engineering, and Mechanical Engineering) and their B.Sc. programs were reviewed and accredited as part of the Engineers’ Council for Professional Development (ECPD)1 inaugural accreditation class in 1936.

Who Was J.B. Speed?

James Breckenridge Speed (1844-1912) was an industrial pioneer in 19th century Louisville, and the scion of an illustrious Kentucky family. He was a major figure in the establishment of Louisville’s street railway system. He developed and operated large coal interests throughout Kentucky, and foresaw the significance of Portland Cement in the future growth of America.

These industries – transportation, energy, and infrastructure – were vital to Louisville’s growth and emergence as a major metropolitan area. They remain vital today, as J.B. Speed’s vision helped shape our city, region, and state. Speed School students carry forth the tradition of forward-thinking, made possible by the Speed family.

Early Accreditation

After World War II, engineering departments offering five-year baccalaureate programs began reducing them to four years in response to market demands and the need to allocate faculty and laboratory resources to growing graduate programs. Speed School was one of the nation’s last holdouts against this trend, but finally, in 1972, the school and its departments divided the five-year program into two portions: a four-year portion resulting in the award of B.Sc. degree, and a fifth year resulting in the award of a practice-oriented master of engineering (M.Eng.) degree.

Later that decade, ABET and the Engineering Accreditation Commission (EAC) established separate basic-level and advanced-level accreditation options (with the basic level criteria forming a completely-contained subset of the advanced level criteria).2,3 At that time, the EAC permitted programs to pursue either basic- or advanced-level accreditation but not both. Speed School made sure that its integrated B.Sc./M.Eng. programs satisfied the expanded criteria and successfully stood for advanced-level review in 1978. Speed School has maintained advanced-level/masters level accreditation.

In 2009 ABET changed its longstanding policy prohibiting dual-level accreditation, providing an opportunity to resolve the problems associated with masters-only accreditation. Speed School is proud to be the first engineering school to achieve dual-level accredited for its baccalaureate and master of engineering degree programs.

Growth to Meet Industry Standards

The Department of Computer Science and Engineering (CSE) has been a degree granting department since the early 1970s when it was known as the Department of Applied Mathematics and Computer Science.

Industrial engineering courses have been part of each degree program since 1927, the Department of Engineering Management/Industrial Engineering was established and the MEng with specialization in IE degree was approved in 1977. The five-year Master of Engineering in Engineering Management (MEngEM) degree was announced in 1971. The Department of Industrial Engineering was officially named in 1981. In 1987, the IE Department received approval to establish a PhD in IE.

In 2003, the J.B. Speed Scientific School was officially renamed the J.B. Speed School of Engineering.

The Bioengineering program at the University of Louisville was created in response to the University of Louisville’s Challenge for Excellence. This challenge originated from a statewide higher education initiative launched by the Governor of Kentucky. This initiative identified a need for biomedical engineers to fuel Louisville’s growing biomedical and biotechnology space. The Bioengineering Department was established at Speed in 2004, and is already recognized as one of the top programs of its kind in the nation.

The Department of Engineering Fundamentals (EF) was created in 2007 specifically to engage and support our newest students to help insure their success as they pursue an engineering degree. EF introduces students to the practice of engineering via a two-course sequence: Engineering Methods, Tools, and Practice I and II. The sequence focuses on the areas of engineering professionalism, computational and programming skills, communication (graphical, written and oral), problem solving, design analysis, teamwork and project management. The first course focuses on skill development, and the second course requires demonstration of skill acquisition and integration culminating in completion of a team project in the Engineering Garage. EF faculty also teach all the undergraduate mathematics courses for engineering students as well as additional graphics courses.

The Speed School community has been shaped on a foundation of exemplary faculty and staff, capable and committed students, exceptionally accomplished alumni, and generous donors. The School is proud of its impressive history of achievements in engineering education, scholarship, diversity and service to the community.

Today’s more than 2500 enrolled engineering students at the undergraduate, graduate and PhD level become the movers, shakers and makers that create a better world tomorrow.

Speed Family Contributions

Dr. William S. Speed and Mrs. Olive Speed Sackett contributed generously to our campus facilities, including the James B. Speed Building, Frederic M. Sackett Hall, and William S. Speed Hall. In later years, Mrs. Virginia Speed, wife of Dr. Speed, contributed gifts and financial support prior to her death in 1969.

Speed School Deans

Emmanuel G. Collins
July 1, 2018 – present

Gail W. DePuy, Interim Dean
July 1, 2017 – June 30, 2018

John S. Usher, Acting Dean
2015 – June 30, 2017

Neville G. Pinto
2011 – 2015

Mickey Wilhelm
2004 – 2011

Thomas R. Hanley

Leo B. Jenkins Jr., Acting Dean

Earl R. Gerhard

Harry C. Saxe

Robert C. Ernst

Ford L. Wilkinson

Bennett M. Brigman