Visionary Professor Robert Thurston: Transforming Students into Innovators Solving Problems
Robert Thurston (1839-1903), Stevens Institute of Technology’s first professor of mechanical engineering, was appointed in 1871 and envisioned a university where teaching, research and invention were combined beneath one roof — a novel concept at the time. So successful was his new model for higher learning that, by the turn of the century, universities nationwide would be implementing his ideas.
Thurston established the first mechanical laboratory for conducting funded research at an American institution of higher learning at Stevens and obtained the first federal military research contract for a university. He specifically designed his lab to be not just a place for training students as future engineers, but as a place where businesses and industry could seek out young engineers who could help them solve day-to-day problems. Scientific American heralded his work at Stevens as a “great benefit to the entire country.” Thurston’s early work helped cement Stevens' reputation as a university where students would always be engaged in applying their scientific learning to practical solutions — a legacy that continues today in force.