Department History

A Brief Department History

Much of the information regarding the history of the department comes from a paper by Carl Albert Grimm, a former faculty member. The following is a brief outline of the major highlights from materials on hand. We hope the time will come when we can provide a more detailed record.

Mathematics was a necessary subject at the inception of the School of Mines in 1885, but the first record of a mathematics professor was Virgil H. Lewis, professor of mathematics and mechanics, in 1887. The record is not clear exactly when a department involving mathematics was formed, but there is a record of a Department of Mathematics and Physics in 1901, the two disciplines separating shortly after that date in 1903. Howard Lincoln McLaury, the first department head of mathematics, was a powerful force in establishing the rigorous coursework that has been the tradition at the School of Mines ever since.

In 1921 the mathematics department moved into a new building on campus along with the Departments of Civil Engineering, Electrical Engineering, and Physics. This new location was later renamed the McLaury Building, after the death of McLaury in 1952, and serves as the home of the department to this day.

In 1922, the university hired a recent Mines graduate from electrical engineering to teach mathematics as an instructor. This rather temporary start for Guy E. March eventually led to him becoming the second department head of mathematics in 1941. Born in 1895 in a mining camp near Hill City, March had deep roots in South Dakota, spending a very long career at the School of Mines. The Alumni Association existed several years before March arrived on campus, but the association was never very active during his time as a student. In 1934, March called a meeting of the Alumni Association and afterward, through his leadership, the association became the active organization it is today. Shortly after that 1934 meeting, the association produced their first issue of the The Hardrock, a publication communicating school events and alumni news.

The bachelor's degree in mathematics was first authorized in 1957; and the master's degree in mathematics was established shortly thereafter in 1959. The master's program was discontinued in 1985 with the last degree awarded to Donna Johnson (who later became a member of the departmental faculty). The master's in computer science program began as a continuation of the graduate education program, with the first master's degree in CS awarded by the School of Mines in 1984. The bachelor's degree in computer science was approved in 1978, and graduates quickly followed.

The computer science program culminated from the efforts of a rather revolutionary bunch to join the department in the late 1960s: Harold Carda, Roger Opp, David Ballew, Ronald Weger, and Dale Rognlie. The establishment of programming classes, and later a computer science curriculum, required these young faculty members, with degrees in mathematics, to learn the computer science discipline on their own and establish coursework, in some cases before there was even a textbook available.

The Department of Mathematics and Computer Science continues to be a prominent member of the School of Mines and is deeply rooted in the educational role of the university, teaching a variety of courses required by all majors on campus. In addition, the department plays an active role in research projects on campus, many of which have been nationally recognized. The brief highlights above illuminate the strong, traditional role the department plays for the university, but also point to the department's evolution and adaptation to the changing needs of the campus and industry. We think more highlights are yet to come as the technical needs of society continue to change.