Engineering instruction first began in 1908 under the auspices of the newly chartered land grant College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts of the Territory of Hawai‘i, later to become first the College of Hawai‘i and then the University of Hawai‘i. To launch the new college, the newly appointed president, John Gilmore, recruited the faculty, many of them from Cornell University, a New York land grant institution. The faculty numbered thirteen, one of whom was John Mason Young, the new school’s only engineer. He graduated from Cornell with a mechanical engineering degree. Young taught approximately half of all the engineering courses. He served as dean of the college before a president was appointed and as acting president during the absences of the president.

By 1909, Young had completed a plan for the new college in Mānoa. Academics today speak of “vision statements.” Young’s plan for the new college was indeed visionary and included provisions for future schools of law, medicine, veterinary science, and architecture. In an era when a line between “engineer” and “architect” was not so clearly drawn, Young was instrumental in the planning of the college’s first building, Hawai‘i Hall, and he designed and supervised the construction of other early buildings of the University: Miller, Dean, and Crawford Halls.