Establishing the Engineering Technologies at MCC, 1965-70

In the beginning…

In a sense, this story begins with one Cecil C. Tyrrell, a Purdue-educated mechanical engineer. (You may recognize that last name, but Cecil? Read on.) It was 1946. WW II had recently ended and, just north of Binghamton, NY, the New York State Institute of Applied Arts and Sciences at Binghamton was being formed. Cecil Tyrrell was brought in as its first “director,” his title later changed to president as the institution grew, becoming Broome County Technical Institute, then Broome County Technical Community College (now SUNY Broome Community College). By the mid-1960’s President Tyrrell’s Dean of the College was Frank M. Chambers.
When Middlesex County College was evolving from a resolution of intent into a reality in
1964-65, Frank Chambers travelled to New Jersey to be interviewed for the presidency. He did not mention that possibility to President Tyrrell at Broome. And, by the time Frank was formally offered the position, and accepted it, he still had not mentioned it to his boss. I will return to that point in the story in a moment.

First, let me note that Cecil Tyrrell had a son, David, who had followed him to Purdue, but in electrical engineering. After earning both a BSEE and MSEE at Purdue, and following a brief period in private industry, David fulfilled his ROTC commitment with a two-year stint in the Army Signal Corps at Fort Monmouth in New Jersey. Because of a shortage of qualified engineers he had the good fortune to be assigned to a 100% research position there. As that assignment was drawing to a close, David began to consider a career in education. He had enjoyed teaching as a graduate student at Purdue and, of course, he had been exposed to community colleges by virtue of being Cecil’s son.

He became aware of a faculty opening at Rockland Community College in New York, applied for the position, and was hired. The expectation was that he would create an electrical engineering technology program there and become its initial faculty member. As it happened, the president who had hired him retired and the successor had a purely liberal arts and transfer focus with little interest in the technologies, not a happy circumstance for young David.

Back to Frank Chambers. Frank’s daughter, Bobbi, happened to be pursuing a nursing degree at Rockland, while David and his family were there. David did not know Frank well, at that point, but he knew of Bobbi and he knew that he sometimes needed a babysitter for his young family. So Bobbi became their regular babysitter and, in that way, David got to know the daughter much better than the father. As Frank was making his way back to Broome from Edison, having just accepted the MCC presidency, he stopped by Rockland to visit with his daughter and pay a surprise visit to David Tyrrell. He shared his news and asked how David would feel about following him to New Jersey to start an electrical engineering technology program, the first in the State. In being interviewed for this piece, David indicated that “I gave it some serious thought – for about 15 seconds – and replied with an emphatic ‘YES’.” Then, finally, Frank returned to Broome, found President Cecil Tyrrell, told him that he would be resigning to become the founding president of MCC, and added, “By the way, I’m taking your son, David, with me.” (Asked how his father felt about Frank’s departure at that time, David indicated that he was fine with it. He knew Frank was a star and it was his time to shine.)


On your mark, get set, go

David Tyrrell moved to New Jersey in fall, 1965 and lived on campus in the Hof Road residences along with Frank Chambers and other founders. The pressure and the volume of work were intense that first year, but they loved what they were doing. They understood how important laying a strong foundation was and, if ever inclined to forget that, Frank was there to remind them. David developed the Electrical Engineering Technology and Math curricula and courses and even had input into the original liberal arts programming. His main priorities for the year were curriculum and course development; equipment purchase and development of the lab spaces in Main Hall and what was then West Engineering (later, East and West Engineering became South I and II and are now gone – the site of the newly emerging science building): and, in the spring, the hiring of the original faculty members. [Note: only one member of MCC’s original faculty remains on-board today; that’s Bob Colburn of the Natural Sciences department.]

With the start of classes in September of 1966, David Tyrrell was the department chair of Math and Electrical Engineering Technology and taught departmental courses, as well. At that point, the department chairs reported directly to the first Dean of Instruction, Jim Gilsenan. Within a short time, as the College grew rapidly, four academic divisions were formed with department heads reporting now to division directors: Engineering Technologies, David Tyrrell; Science, Frank Spano; Liberal Arts and Business, Irv Elan; and Health Technologies, Rose Channing, later Rose Channing-Danzis, third president of Middlesex County College. Then Business Technologies was separated out from Liberal Arts to form a fifth academic division under Tom Regan. Eventually the chief academic officer’s title evolved from dean to vice president and the five division directors became academic deans.

Regarding the original design of the engineering technology programs, Frank Chambers provided David Tyrrell with clear direction on one point. The programs must be eligible to eventually earn specialized national accreditation from the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology – Engineers’ Council for Professional Development (ABET/ECPD). Consequently, they were calculus-based with the technology taught at a significantly higher level than at many other institutions. At some community colleges in New Jersey the technology portion of the curriculum was actually taught by the area vocational/technical school at a level that was typically somewhere between what the vocational school was already teaching on the secondary level and what MCC was doing. The Middlesex programs would go on to become the first in New Jersey with full ABET/ECPD accreditation.

At the opening in 1966, MCC technology programs included Electrical Technology, Chemical Technology, Laboratory Technology, Engineering Science (an engineering transfer program), and Pre-Technology. The Pre-Tech program was an intensive year of remediation, initially offered exclusively for preparation in the technologies. As it evolved, it was used as preparation for other students, as well, eventually morphing into Collegiate Foundations and, much later, disappearing entirely as students with remedial/developmental needs were admitted directly into their program of choice with appropriate developmental courses included in their schedules.

Chemical and Laboratory Technology were soon folded into “Technicore,” a common first year in the sciences followed by a specialized second year in Chemical or Biological Technology. That Technicore program, operating out of the Science Division under Dean Frank Spano, would soon add a third senior-year option in Environmental Science under the leadership of Bob Smith (who would eventually leave his position to become a practicing attorney as well as a New Jersey State legislator, first in the Assembly, now in the Senate).

In 1968 Mechanical Technology joined Electrical in the Engineering Technology Division, followed by Civil (later Civil/Construction) Technology in 1969 – all three programs soon changing their names by adding the word “Engineering” before “Technology” to more accurately reflect the level of instruction.


We giveth and we taketh away

During these first few years, two other institutions played a particularly significant role in MCC’s staffing. First, the Academy of Aeronautics (now Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology) located near New York’s LaGuardia Airport inadvertently played a major role in the success of our engineering technology programs. In 1968 John Pautz arrived from the Academy to develop and manage our Mechanical Technology program as chair. The following year, Ray Nolan took that same migratory path to start the Civil Technology program. They were followed by Frank Rubino, who eventually would replace John Pautz as Mechanical chair; Lew Linton, an Electrical prof; and Jack Waintraub, who would, for many years, chair Electrical. I should note that not all five came to us directly from the Academy. For several, there was a very brief sojourn to private industry between there and MCC.

At the same time, we also experienced a significant out-migration to a single institution. In the first few years of College operations, at least six of our founding faculty and staff left MCC, all bound for CCM – the County College of Morris – to become founders of that institution, which opened to students two years after us, in 1968. Included among that group were both our first chief academic officer, Jim Gilsenan, and our first chief financial and administrative officer, Bob Sharpe. [Note: I have not been able to ascertain if this group spent the rest of their careers seeking yet other institutions to found – preferably institutions with one “M” and two “C’s” in their name – but let’s hope that they did find a real home at CCM.]


The starting team

Some of these names have already been mentioned above. What follows is a listing, by year hired, of the early engineering technology faculty.

1965 David Tyrrell – Founding department chair of Electrical, then division director/dean

1966 Jack Dineen – Started as Electrical faculty member, would go on to become the founding department chair of Computer Science, later returning to faculty
Neil Ullman – Began teaching math, was in the process of developing a Mechanical Technology program, but quickly emigrated out to Morris

1967 John Bakum – Started as Electrical faculty member, moved to administration in 1971; would go on to become Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs, and eventually the fifth president of Middlesex County College (1996-2004)
Tom Handler – Started as an Electrical faculty member, became department chair, and later returned to faculty
Brendan Gallagher – Electrical faculty member

1968 David Beyer – Electrical faculty member, starting SP68
John Pautz – Founding department chair of Mechanical; later left that post, joining the faculty
Joe Kubeck – Electrical faculty member
Ed Schwarzkopf – Mechanical faculty member

1969 Ray Nolan – First Civil/Construction faculty member; developed the program and first courses
John Rapka – Mechanical faculty member

1970 Lew Linton – Electrical faculty member, starting SP70
Frank Rubino – Started as Mechanical faculty member, became department chair in 1978 and remained in that position until retirement.
Jay Edelson – Civil/Construction faculty member
Jack Waintraub – Started as Electrical faculty member, became chair in 1980, and eventually returned to faculty


Gettin’ the big bucks and long johns on the line

For most joining the faculty in those earliest years, salaries were in the $5000 to $9000 range, depending on rank and qualifications. [Note: that’s not per month; it’s per year!] It would be several more years before most faculty members would hit the prestigious five-figure salary mark.

The offices for the engineering and math faculties were located in North II, an old wooden barracks building whose main claim to fame was its proximity to North I, an almost identical wooden structure. The buildings were just to the left of North Hall, and immediately behind North II was 105 Hof Road, then the home of Frank and Ruth Chambers.

The faculty members in North II were supported by Ruth Phifer, stalwart department assistant and maternal surrogate. Several of those interviewed for this piece indicated that, despite the less-than-commodious environment, this was a great place to be. John Bakum noted that Frank Chambers seemed to have a special affinity for the North II crew. Often, as they were wrapping up their days, they would gather there to chat with colleagues. Frank would stop by on his way to 105 Hof and join in their discussions. It seemed a good way for him to wind down from his days in Center I. John also retains a clear mental image of Ruth Chambers hanging their laundry on the clothes line located between North II and 105 Hof – of particular note, Frank’s long johns swaying in the breeze.


C’mon down, Jack

A few words about the last name in “The starting team” section above. Jack Waintraub’s story is an interesting one. Born in Russia in 1943, his family moved to Poland when Jack was 3, then on to Israel when he was 14. He completed secondary school at the Israeli Air Force School of Technology before serving 2 ½ years of active duty in the Air Force. At age 20, he emigrated from Israel to the United States, joining his parents in Brooklyn.

He soon found himself in a dead-end job as a low-level technician and he and his family reached the conclusion that he had to attend college if the American dream were ever to become a reality for him. He enrolled at the Academy of Aeronautics (noted above), completing an associate degree in electrical technology. While interviewing for jobs in industry, the then president of the Academy approached him about remaining at the Academy as a faculty member. The offer was $5600 per year for a 24-teaching-hour schedule. At first, he was not inclined to accept that fabulous offer until, that is, said offer was sweetened with a loan for him to pursue a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. So he joined the faculty and taught there for three years, during which time he did complete the BSEE at the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, and decided it was finally time to move on to private industry. His president tried to talk him into staying at the Academy, but he had made his decision. However, there was still the matter of the loan that had gotten him through Brooklyn Poly, and that continuing debt worried him greatly. When the president finally gave up and wished him well, Jack asked, “What about the loan?” He could not have been happier with the presidential response of, “Ah, forget about it.”

So he took a job at Sperry on Long Island, was enjoying it for the most part, and then the layoffs began. With his low salary and good performance, he was not an immediate target; but he worried a great deal about who would be next. He had always enjoyed teaching so he decided to see where he could go with that. Starting at the university level, he soon found that, without the master’s degree, he was nowhere. But he attended an IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) meeting in New York with a briefcase full of resumes in hopes of finding an educational institution that would consider his experience despite his lack of a master’s. As he was looking around for potential employers, he heard, “Hey, Jack.” It was Lew Linton who had just joined the MCC faculty a semester before. Lew was there with a group of MCC colleagues and introductions were shared. They indicated that Jack could very likely get the open position at MCC with the understanding that he would pursue the master’s degree once he arrived. Lew and company urged him to head down to New Jersey. Soon an interview with Dean Wanty was arranged, an offer was made, and Jack joined the faculty in September of 1970. Tragically, just three years later Jack’s friend and colleague at both the Academy and MCC, Lew Linton, died at the age of 34. His funeral service was conducted on campus with his MCC family very much in attendance.

Jack would go on to chair the department beginning in 1980. In 1993 he took a one-year leave of absence to serve as national program director for the National Science Foundation’s Advanced Technological Education program at NSF headquarters in Washington, DC. Back at MCC a year later, he began working on an NSF grant project: NJCATE, the New Jersey Center for Advanced Technological Education. Working with Camille Mahon, they developed a proposal for $3,000,000 over a 5-year period and received full funding. John Bakum initially served as principal investigator for the project. Jack led the efforts for a number of years along with Frank Rubino from the Mechanical/Civil side. Following the initial five-year award period, a number of grant renewals were also awarded.

Eventually, Jack Waintraub returned to his roots – a faculty position in Electrical Engineering Technology. At that point, the two engineering technology departments – Electrical and Mechanical/Civil – were folded together, initially under Frank Rubino and now under Thom Sabol. And, by the way, Jack continues in that full-time faculty capacity at MCC – the only player still active from that 1965-70 engineering crew.



I thought some might enjoy seeing our original catalogs. And do check out the dress code.

1966-67 Catalog; 1967-68 Catalog



Thanks to all who provided input for this piece, including Dave Tyrrell, John Bakum, Frank Rubino, Ray Nolan, Jack Waintraub, Jerry Shindelman, and Bob Fishco. Liz Oliu provided great support through the MCC Archives. I also consulted with Bill Walsh, though his input is mostly deferred to a future piece on the business side of MCC.

Warren Kelemen