A Tribute to Dr. Robert Braswell and His Impact on ISE’s History

(Photo Credit: FAMU-FSU College of Engineering)

Robert Braswell, Ph.D., grew up in Boaz, Ala. After completing secondary school, he joined the Air Force and served in Korea during the war. He subsequently attended Snead College where he became inspired to a life in academia. In 1965, at 31 years old, Dr. Braswell became chair of what was then known as the Industrial Engineering Department at the University of Florida. He was a major figure in the department and a significant contributor to its development until he departed UF in 1974.  

Dr. Braswell served as department chair for seven years through 1972. Under his leadership, the department made tremendous strides in terms of undergraduate program development, breadth of coverage of the industrial and systems engineering discipline, new graduate programs, and student graduations. 

With Dr. Braswell’s start at UF, the department was renamed to the Department of Industrial & Systems Engineering (ISE). This change had implications for the existing degree programs with the undergraduate degree becoming a Bachelor of Science in ISE. At the same time, a new “systems engineering” option was created on the undergraduate level and a Bachelor of Science in Systems Engineering was added to the department curriculum. From the department’s historical record, this program was designed for coverage of “the more mathematically based techniques of OR (operations research) …” At that time, both the bachelor’s degrees required 140 credits as compared to the 125 hours for the current bachelor’s degree in ISE. During Dr. Braswell’s administration, the undergraduate curriculum was limited to engineering, mathematical statistics, and economics courses. Students took electives outside the department for breadth of study. 

Under the direction of Dr. Braswell in 1967, the department added the Doctor of Philosophy program. The new program, according to historical record, was motivated by the need for “UF to maintain leadership in growth of the state and region,” and research facilities at the doctorate level were necessary. The doctorate was first offered with a major in systems engineering, which was then considered an OR-oriented degree. At the time, the department catalog included 40 courses at the 6000 level for graduate study. In 1969, the first three doctorate students graduated from the UF ISE program. 

In 1970, based on faculty interests, Dr. Braswell approved and supported the introduction of the first health systems engineering courses in the department, making UF one of the first ISE programs in the country to offer courses in this application area. In 1971, the system engineering designation of the doctorate program was dropped, and students could prepare for a doctorate with specialization in industrial engineering, operations research, or systems engineering. 

In 1974, Dr. Braswell took leave from the department to go to work at the Department of Defense. During his time in Washington, D.C., Dr. Braswell was appointed to the National Academy of Science. He went on to a faculty position at Florida State University (FSU) in 1986, serving as the Director of the Super Computing Laboratory.  

Dr. Braswell retired from FSU in 2005, and passed away in 2022 in Tallahassee. He was a forward thinker in the ISE discipline and made seminal contributions to make the ISE department what it is today. He was a NASA Fellow and Hughes Fellow. 

David Kaber, Ph.D.
Dean’s Leadership Professor
Department of Industrial & Systems Engineering


This article makes reference Dr. Braswell’s obituary, as previously published in the Gainesville Sun.