Our history

Ours was a modest start at best. In July 1957, 74 young men started engineering classes at what was known at the time as Waterloo College Associate Faculties. Their classrooms were two tin-roofed portables outside of Willison Hall in the then Waterloo College parking lot. The heat that summer described by many as unbearable had students hosing down the flat roofs only to discover they leaked. As typical engineering students, they had a Plan B. When watering the portables didn't work, they stripped down to their underwear for classes.

That October students started their first co-op placement which was also the first educational work term in Canada. As one of the original 74 recalls, many didn't understand the co-op concept. For his first couple of years the student answered questions like what is co-op and how does it work? After that, he says, there was no need to explain anything to anyone-Waterloo Engineering became synonymous with co-op.

Four young men front of the 'Chemical Engineering' bulding, now called Douglas Wright Engineering

In 1958 students gathered their books and moved to what is now the University of Waterloo campus. Granted, it was full of mud, but it was their own. Part of Waterloo Engineering's young history went along with the students — the portables were cut in half, trucked over the hill and became drafting halls and cafeterias.

Soon, construction began on the first academic building on the new site, known as the Chemistry and Chemical Engineering Building, later renamed Engineering 1 and now named after Douglas Wright, Waterloo's first dean of engineering who was the president of the University of Waterloo from 1981 to 1993. Check out more of our history timelines.

Today, Waterloo Engineering is widely recognized as Canada's premier school of engineering. We have eight academic units including the School of Architecture, the Conrad School of Entrepreneurship and Business, department of chemical engineering, department of civil and environmental engineering, department of electrical and computer engineering, department of management sciences, department of mechanical and mechatronics engineering, and the department of systems design engineering.

We are proud of our reputation for leadership, innovation, and excellence, which includes numerous firsts and bests.

And those original portables? They've been replaced by a number of state-of-the-art facilities, including our newest buildings Engineering 5, Engineering 6, Engineering 7, and the Mike & Ophelia Lazaridis Quantum-Nano Centre, which houses our unique nanotechnology program as well as the Institute for Quantum Computing.

We acknowledge that the University of Waterloo is located on the traditional territory of ‎ the Neutral, Anishinaabeg and Haudenosaunee peoples. The University of Waterloo is situated on the Haldimand Tract, the land promised to the Six Nations that includes ten kilometres on each side of the Grand River. 

Here at Waterloo Engineering

Engineering was the first faculty at the University of Waterloo. We are now Canada's largest school of engineering, with a proud history of unique firsts and bests.


Fifties era cars parked in front of a portable classroom with a large dotted line marking with the label 'Cut here'

Highlights of our journey

Engineering Deans

  • Doug Wright 1958-1959 (acting), 1959-1966
  • Archie Sherbourne 1966-1974
  • Wally McLaughlin 1974-1982
  • Bill Lennox 1982-1990
  • David Burns 1990-1998
  • Sujeet Chaudhuri 1998-2003
  • Adel Sedra 2003-June 2012
  • Leo Rothenburg (acting) July 2008-June 2009
  • Pearl Sullivan July 2012-December 2019
  • Richard Culham (acting) January 2020-June 2020
  • Mary Wells July 2020-Present