Many NJIT students visit the Van Houten library on a daily basis to study, use any available computers, or to print anything deemed necessary. Despite most students making frequent visits to the building, few know the origin of the name.
Robert Van Houten was the President of Newark College of Engineering, the former name for NJIT, during the years 1947 and 1970. However, his relationship with the college and the city of Newark lasted much longer than that.
Van Houten was born and raised in Newark in 1905, where he also attended public school. He then became a graduate of New Jersey Normal School in 1924, the former name of Kean University, which was also originally located in Newark. Subsequently, Van Houten discovered his passion for teaching after his experience teaching in public schools of Essex and Roseland.
In 1926 Van Houten entered NCE as a freshman and graduated in 1930 with a Civil Engineering degree. He was an exceptional graduate as he received high honors in his courses, as well as a “highest general faculty honor.”
Because of his extraordinary tenure achievement as a student and immense potential, the current President of NCE (at the time), President Cullimore, offered Van Houten a position as senior instructor in mathematics “with small pay and no promises”. From there, Van Houten served as “an instructor, assistant professor, associate professor, assistant to the president, assistant dean, dean, acting president, president, and president emeritus after retiring in 1970”, according to NJIT’s website.
He was so loved and cherished by NCE faculty, that a letter signed by nearly all faculty members asked him to delay his retirement for two years beyond his proposed date at June 1970. Van Houten graciously declined and penned a response letter to both faculty and staff which was published in The Vector, explaining his decision to retire in 1970.
Looking through the archives of The Vector, there were many issues found that were published under his Presidency, which mention him or feature letters written by him. In a December 1969 Issue, an article titled “Pres. Van Houten Honored by Urban Assn”. “In that meeting, Van Houten was recognized for being an important and active member, as as for his past service as president from 1953-1954.”Houten had represented NCE at the AUU for more than twenty years.
Van Houten’s prolific career also included honorary degrees from numerous colleges which included: Stevens Institute of Technology in 1955, Doctor of Engineering; Rider College in 1955, Doctor of Science; Clarkson College of Technology in 1956, Doctor of Science; Newark State College in 1961, Doctor of Letters; Seton Hall University in 1966, Doctor of Law; and Newark College of Engineering in 1970, Doctor of Engineering
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