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A brief history

Civil Engineering was established as a degree programme at the 'University College, Johannesburg' in 1920. Soon after, the Department was formally established at the University of the Witwatersrand (WITS) in 1922. The Departments first professor was appointed in 1927 - Professor 'Snipe' Sutton, who was also the Department's first Head. He later was appointed Vice Chancellor from 1954 to 1976. His successor (as Head of the Department), Jere Jennings, took office in 1954 and retired in 1976. Thus, for the first 49 years of its existence, the then Department of Civil Engineering had only two Heads. Heads of Department from 1976 onwards have been Geoff Blight (former 'A' rated scientist and holder of a PhD, 3 DScs and a DEng), Alan Kemp (former Deputy Vice Chancellor), Rob McCutcheon, Yunus Ballim (former Deputy Vice Chancellor) and the present incumbent, Mitch Gohnert. In its 87 years of existence, the School has had only 7 Heads.

The Department was originally housed in the South West Engineering Building. The Hillman Building, our present home, was formally opened by General Jan Smuts in 1941.

The mid 40s saw a period of tremendous growth in the Department as soldiers returned from the war. The Department was inundated with hundreds of students, far exceeding the capacity of the teaching staff and facilities. Double and evening lectures were given and temporary structures were built on the library lawns as lecturing facilities. The country required civil engineers to meet the boom in infrastructural development, and the Department responded to the national need.

During the 60s and 70s, the Department of Civil Engineering experienced another high intake of students and it was during this period that the Department established its strengths in research and postgraduate activities. This period of growth was associated with the country's massive infrastructural development.

During the 80s and 90s, student numbers declined while the country struggled through the period of transformation - leaving in its wake, a dearth of civil engineers. However, in 2006, the School began to experience an unprecedented surge in student numbers. The 2009 academic year received a record 2049 applicants to study civil engineering and a first year intake of 284 students.

The Department proudly graduated its first black civil engineer in 1960, 34 years before apartheid was abolished in South Africa and the first woman graduated in 1948.