Holden Hall, circa 1960s

From as early as its founding in 1872, Virginia Tech (at that time the "Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College" ) had already granted a number of “certificates” to students graduating with, what would be considered today, a concentration in mining engineering. However, in its first decade, the college and its curriculum was structured differently than today. Students were not awarded “degrees,” but rather certificates of the college attended. In addition, students chose a “course” rather than a program in the modern sense. Students took a loose mix of subjects that would prepare them for the type of work or careers they planned to pursue.

The first mining engineer to graduate from the university studied such a variety of subjects ranging from chemistry and metallurgy, and later geology. It was not until the early 1900s that the university recognized a need to establish a “school of mines," with a fixed curriculum leading to a degree in mining engineering.

Dr. Otto C. Burkhart

In the fall of 1908, students finally had the opportunity to enroll in an official Department of Mining Engineering under its first department head, Dr. Otto Cornelius Burkhart, after whom our SME student chapter is named.

The following timeline highlights steps leading to the founding of the department as well as the prominence of mining engineering at the university.


In the spring of 1885, under its original name of VAMC (Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College), the university awarded a student with the degree of mining engineer. Until this point, the university had awarded only the “Bachelor of Arts” degree, making the “mining engineer degree,” in effect, the first engineering degree awarded from the college.


The second student graduates from the college with the degree of mining engineer.


In the university’s 1902/03 annual report, then President McBryde voiced that “there was a growing demand upon the College by the young men of the state for instruction in mining engineering and architecture,” and he expressed a desire to have a chair of mining engineering before the start of the next academic year.


On July 23rd, 1906, a Joint Committee of the General Assembly met at the university to discuss the need to expand mining engineering into a separate department at the university and specifically recommended to the General Assembly “that such a department be added to the institution as soon as practicable.”


Early in the 1907-8 Academic Session, university President Barringer secured Dr. Professor Otto Cornelius Burkhart from Lehigh University’s department of mineralogy and metallurgy to fill the newly created chair of mining engineering.


On March 13, 1908, the General Assembly approved an act to establish a School of Mines as a department at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (VPI) and an appropriated sum of $6000 for its equipment. The new mining school was organized in the spring of 1908 with the mission “to prepare men for practice in the field of mining engineering.” 

A month later, on April 21, the VPI Board of Visitors approved the building of a one-story structure between the university’s laundry facility and a proposed engineering building, for the new School of Mines.

During the summer of 1908, the new School of Mines building was completed at a cost $2,500. The structure was 35 X 85 feet and contained “office space, recitation and drawing rooms, and testing laboratories for the concentration of ores.

Original Virginia Tech "School of Mines" building, 1908.

In September of that same year, the new School of Mines formally opened for the 1908-1909 academic session. Nineteen undergraduates enrolled in the new Mining Engineering program, with four graduate students signing on for mining engineering-related subjects.


During the 1910-11 academic, the department saw a general solidifying and intensifying of its requirements and curriculum. Many 5th-year courses were now required of seniors and likewise 4th year courses now required of juniors.


In the spring of 1912, the department awarded its first Graduate Degree to a student: the E.M., or Engineer of Mines.


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