The University of Utah is now known for research programs that plumb the depths of space and the intricacies of the human body, but there was a time when University coursework took a more practical turn. A hundred years ago, the University offered vocational classes in such subjects as radio repair, carpentry, auto mechanics, and even horseshoeing.
Vocational training programs at the U started during World War I, with the establishment of the Student Army Training Corps (SATC). When the United States entered the war in 1917, the government wanted to engage the young ranks of college students, and it established an SATC branch on campuses so that young men could receive training in fields that would benefit the armed forces. The SATC lasted only a few months, and the students were discharged and the corps demobilized shortly after the war ended in November 1918.
The impetus for practical, vocational training, however, lasted longer. By 1919, the University of Utah was meeting with federal representatives to establish a summer vocational school curriculum under the aegis of the Smith-Hughes National Vocational Education Act, a law passed in 1917 that helped fund secondary school training in the various states in home economics, trades, industries, and agriculture. Vocational programs flourished at the University during the 1920s, and by 1937, along with diesel mechanics and aeronautics, courses in mining were offered. For female students, home economics courses were available.
After World War II, vocational training in Utah was gradually shifted to the newly established community colleges and the Utah Agricultural College, which in 1957 became Utah State University. Today, though students and others can take U Continuing Education classes in practical matters such as organic gardening, the only remnants of the U’s once-thriving vocational training programs that have survived into the modern era are old historical photos, of students repairing tractor wheels, building telephone lines, and yes, even shoeing horses.
—Roy Webb BA’84 MS’91 is a multimedia archivist with the J. Willard Marriott Library and a regular contributor to Continuum.
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