Missouri S&T: Improving Masonry Education

Words: Megan Rajner

 A Reputation in Rolla   

At some point in our lives, we’ve probably occupied space inside a brick or masonry building, or walked along the footpath of a stone bridge, or stepped foot on some form of concrete such as… a sidewalk maybe? It is inevitable for humans in the twenty-first century to not be exposed to masonry construction, which in turn inevitably continues to advance its methods and technologies. It is for this reason that we, the daily or even hourly users of this built environment need to understand the implications of making sure the individuals working in this field are educated to the highest degree possible. We now know that Missouri University of Science and Technology has this job covered.   

 Located in the heart of Rolla, Missouri University of Science and Technology has been named 3rd Best Engineering College in USA Today. The institution and its students thrive on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, or STEM, a term coined for the development of these academic subjects. In 2008, the name of the school was formally changed to reflect these academic interests. But how exactly did Missouri S&T reach the level of success and scholarly reputation it now has? 

The school was founded in 1870, making it the oldest technological university west of the Mississippi River. Its establishment was made possible as a land-grant institution under the Morrill Act, which was enacted in 1862 with the purpose of donating public lands to several states and territories to colleges for the benefit of agriculture and mechanic arts. It was first known as the Missouri School of Minds and Metallurgy (MSM), and two of the first three graduates were civil engineers and were employed in that field. Over the years, the school’s graduates have populated many nearby engineering design firms.  

In 1964, nearly 100 years after its establishment, the name of the school changed from the Missouri School of Minds and Metallurgy to the University of Missouri Rolla (UMR), making it a part of the University of Missouri system along with the University of Missouri Columbia and the University Missouri Kansas City, MO. The year of 2008 is when the name was finally changed to the University of Missouri of Science and Technology for being the major engineering hub in the system.   

Missouri S&T has been successfully known for its engineering programs, including a civil engineering program that dates back to its establishment in 1870. Around 2001, a new architectural engineering program was initiated by Dr. John J. Myers and his colleagues. Myers is a Professor of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering and is Associate Dean for the College of Engineering and Computing at Missouri S&T.  

In a recent interview, he states that the difference between architectural and civil engineering is that architectural engineering focuses on the building environment while civil engineering is much broader including infrastructure projects of not only building facilities, but, bridges, dams, airports, etc. When helping to implement the start of the architectural engineering program there were fewer than 20 architectural engineering programs in the country that were accredited; the oldest dates back to the program at Penn State in around 1910.  

 University + Programs… + Masonry     

Myers explains that both the civil and architectural engineering programs at the undergrad and graduate level both have required coursework that includes an introduction to masonry as well as more advanced coursework electives. All architectural engineering students have to take a course in architectural engineering entitled Architectural Materials and Methods of Construction, which includes multiple lectures on the background of masonry, masonry construction, and detailing. Each student is required to build their own masonry wall mockup in the laboratory component of the course so they experience a hands-on education in building a wall, using brick mortar, and understanding the assembly.  


Myers says that the masonry industry has been very supportive in these lab activities by providing the materials we use in the lab classes. Having designed the course himself knowing well what the students would benefit from, he says, “I originally developed the course shortly after the ArchE program was implemented… the Missouri S&T curriculum has always included a very hands-on focus. We like to say that we produce “street-ready engineers” based on this immersed hands-on practical focus.” 

Similarly, both the architectural and engineering programs take a course entitled Construction and Material Properties and Testing. Myers describes this course as “their first experience with testing and evaluating masonry. In the first masonry-related course they get hands-on experience, learn about it, and build a mock-up... but when they take this subsequent course, that’s where they learn more about quality control evaluation. They’ll learn how to get and determine some of the properties for the masonry itself as well as grout and mortar cubes that are used in the construction process.”  

When students become seniors they have the opportunity to select courses in their emphasis area. This is where students that are interested in, for example, structural engineering, can take very focused design courses. One of these special topic courses is called Civil Engineering / Architectural Engineering 5270, which in 2010 was the first course Missouri S&T developed in masonry design. This was a collaborative effort between both the University and support from the Masonry Institute of St. Louis (MISL) where Dr. Myers and Mr. Darrell McMillian (MISL Technical Director) co-taught the course. Mr. McMillian is also currently serving as The Masonry Society (TMS) President. 

At that time the school had design courses in steel, concrete, pre-stressed concrete and timber, and eventually recognized the need to include an option for masonry. Myers notes that this laid the foundation for all the future masonry design courses that were to come. A few years later his colleague, Professor Mohamed ElGawady developed an advanced structural masonry class, which was offered as a graduate level and intended to build on the first masonry design course addition. 

Another benefit Missouri S&T offers aside from its high-quality engineering education is the ability to take what are called “distant education courses,” which allows practicing engineers to enroll without being a full-time student. Myers is an advocate of this program and elaborates on its benefits in the interview. 


“We’ve had a number of people in the industry that want to learn more about masonry design and have taken it as a distant education course. So you can take it as a stand-alone course or individuals can work towards a four-course certificate degree, which is considered a degree between an undergraduate degree and a master’s degree. Once they complete the four-course certificate degree they can go on to complete a ten-course non-thesis master’s degree through the web-based program that we call distant education. Students can watch courses live alongside with the on campus students or the archived versions in the web library.” 

The last course Myers describes is one he personally teaches himself called Infrastructure Strengthening with Composites and is focused on strengthening and repair. It examines how modern composites can be utilized to upgrade or repair both masonry and concrete structures. The course presents composite materials and includes principles of reinforcing and strengthening for flexure, shear, and ductility enhancement in buildings and bridges. It covers the design of existing members strengthened with externally bonded laminates and near surface mounted composites. Missouri S&T is one of the few universities in the country that offers this depth of masonry.  

 Timeless Methods, Architecture, and Education     

A type of construction that continues to be used all around the world will always prove worthy of advancement. Masonry, is arguably one of the oldest and most common types of construction, is so pertinent to the society we live in. These materials have been veritably used time and time again as aesthetic, as structure, and as a pure function for their clean forms and durable material properties.


Architectural legend Louis Kahn stated, "What do you want your building to be?" Kahn was widely known for poetic sensibilities of his spaces, and worked closely with contractors and engineers on his buildings, making the results technically innovative and highly refined. The way he worded his architectural beliefs made it seem like he truly understood the importance of architecture suggesting truth in its material use, “it’s important, you see, that you honor the material that you use. You can only do it if you honor the brick and glorify the brick instead of shortchanging it.” 

So not only does masonry as brick, concrete, stone, and all its forms holds true to its value in low maintenance, affordable, and practical construction, but is recognized to evoke a strong influence in a conceptual, architectural spirit as well.  

Special thanks to Dr. John J. Myers Ph.D., P.E., F.ACI, F.ASCE, F.IIFC, F.TMS Professor of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering and Associate Dean, College of Engineering and Computing at Missouri S&T 

Words: Megan Rajner
Photos: Missour S&T 
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