UIndy launches School of Engineering

The University of Indianapolis officially announced on March 21 the launching of the R. B. Annis School of Engineering. The school received a $5 million gift in honor of the late Robert B. Annis, an inventor and scientist.

Annis is from Indianapolis and went to high school there but had to drop out to support his family. He began his career working with radio equipment but expanded to magnetics and precision balancing equipment, according to indianahistory.org. He founded his own company in the late 1920s and became very successful, according to Dan Yates, a trustee of the R. B. Annis Educational Foundation.

“He solved problems with his uncanny ability that other trained engineers could not solve,”  Yates said. “His little company up on Delaware Street was sought after by government agencies from time to time, from larger corporations, huge corporations, because of his reputation and innovative ability to design whatever products it might be to solve problems or to address proceeds to solve problems.”

Annis had a history with UIndy and brought the Central Indiana Regional Science fair to the university. He also established a scholarship in his wife’s name that has helped more than 130 students, according to Yates.

The R. B. Annis Educational Foundation made a gift for the R. B. Annis Theatre in the Health Pavilion. The gift for the School of Engineering also was given through the foundation. The foundation primarily focuses on education and science but also has donated to the Indianapolis Zoo, Eiteljorg Museum, Indianapolis-Marion County Library, Indiana Historical Society, Indiana State Museum, Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, Indianapolis Children’s Museum and Interlochen Center for the Arts.

Yates said he was impressed with the vision and strategic plan President Robert Manuel had for the university. After he and his fellow trustees Wayne Webber and Chuck Angus gave the gift for the R. B. Annis Theatre, he remained in contact with UIndy.

Manuel said that it was through the relationship UIndy had with the foundation that they were able to have the school named after Annis.

According to Yates, UIndy appealed to Annis because it provided students, especially first-generation students, with equipment and the means to do research, something he was very passionate about. He also said UIndy shares a lot of the same values as Annis, including problem-solving, robust study, understanding the value of research, a high sense of ethics and making a difference.

“He was a very creative, applied yet expansive person,” Manuel said. “So he liked the arts. He liked taking ideas from other disciplines and applying them to the engineering problem that he had. If you look at the University of Indianapolis, because we’re a comprehensive liberal arts institution, we mimic those same characteristics.”

Manuel said it is through requiring students to take many different courses in arts,  humanities, sciences and social sciences that UIndy shows this. He also said that Annis wanted to make the world a better place, something UIndy also tries to do by giving students opportunities for service.

Having a school of engineering named after Annis is the perfect legacy for him, according to Yates.

“He did not graduate from an engineering school, but that was his passion and really his self-taught discipline,” Yates said. “So if it were a business school, he was also an entrepreneur and was very successful … his focus and passion was science, engineering and math. So to have that school focus on engineering and train engineers and carry his name on—it is just such a fitting, lasting legacy.”

Director of the Engineering Program Jose Sanchez said that it is great that UIndy is able to have a school of engineering and that it was named after Annis.

“He [Annis] is from the area of Indianapolis,” Sanchez said. “He has great connections with the university, and he’s been an inventor and a scientist. You could say he was an engineer as well because he was creating things. So the fact that the School of Engineering is named after him [Annis], I think that it’s really great, because of the root of where he’s come from and what he’s done. And the fact that our program is extremely innovative would make him very proud. What we’re doing is not something many institutions are doing nationwide. We’re providing students with an ability to solve the challenges of tomorrow through projects.”

Both Manuel and Sanchez said there has been an increase in jobs in the science, technology, engineering and math fields, so having a school of engineering will be helpful.

“If you look at the state and city, there’s quite a big need for STEM-educated folks and engineers,”  Manuel said. “And creating this program will help our students in those fields gain access to those jobs. It’ll help the economic development in the area by providing educated students to take those jobs across the region.”

UIndy launched an engineering program in fall 2016. It had two sections: industrial and systems engineering and software engineering. The Annis School of Engineering will have four different programs within it: industrial and systems engineering, mechanical engineering, software engineering and computer science. Computer science is currently housed within the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, so work will need to be done to move it to the Annis School of Engineering.

Sanchez, who is leading the efforts to set up the school, said other things need to happen as well. These include creating a curriculum, hiring new faculty, working out the internal structure and becoming ABET accredited. According to its website, ABET is a not-for-profit, non-governmental accrediting agency that is recognized as an accreditor through the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. ABET makes sure colleges and universities have applied science, computing, engineering and technology programs that meet the quality and expectations of the profession.

The R. B. Annis School of Engineering will launch in fall 2017, something Yates feels would make Annis very proud.

“He [Annis] was such a modest man,” Yates said. “It [having the School of Engineering named after him] was not something that we would have affirmatively sought out on his own, but he would really be pleased…. He would look at this and be so proud that others thought that he was worthy of having this school named after him and that the university itself would accept the responsibility of providing quality science, engineering [and] math education for kids in his name. He would be truly humble and probably pretty emotional about it as well.”

Graphic by Zoë Berg
Graphic by Zoë Berg