Surfers on a mis­sion

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Rear View -

DR RICHARD White would wear board­shorts to work if he thought he could get away it.

As the pro­gram co­or­di­na­tor of the brand new Bach­e­lor of En­gi­neer­ing ( Wa­ter and Sus­tain­able Re­source Man­age­ment) of­fered by the Univer­sity of the Sun­shine Coast ( USC), Dr White reck­ons that he has never lived fur­ther than nine miles off the beach.

Af­ter study­ing his un­der­grad­u­ate en­gi­neer­ing de­gree at Monash Univer­sity in 1980, he fol­lowed up with a masters of en­gi­neer­ing at the same cam­pus some four years later be­fore com­plet­ing his PhD in en­gi­neer­ing at the Univer­sity of NSW in 1992.

I stud­ied en­gi­neer­ing be­cause I wanted to save the world and en­gi­neer­ing is the best way to do that,’’ says Dr White. ‘‘ As a doc­tor or a lawyer you only save your clients but as an en­gi­neer, you do this on a larger scale.’’

With a ca­reer span­ning iron and steel, tex­tile and phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals, wa­ter and syn­thet­ics, Dr White has worked all over Aus­tralia and around the globe. Now he’s on a mis­sion to make the USC a house­hold name when it comes to en­gi­neer­ing grad­u­ates. At present, we are only teach­ing first year of the Bach­e­lor of En­gi­neer­ing ( Wa­ter and Sus­tain­able Re­source Man­age­ment) and will roll out sec­ond year in 2009 and so on,’’ he ex­plains.

So there’s not much wave time in Dr White’s sched­ule as he is re­spon­si­ble for not only set­ting up the course, but he also teaches all en­gi­neer­ing sub­jects, while spe­cial­ist lec­tur­ers from other parts of the cam­pus present on their ar­eas of ex­per­tise.

‘‘ And I do the tu­tor­ing as well,’’ he says with a huge smile.

It’s ob­vi­ously a timetable he rel­ishes. Of the 50 stu­dents, some 20 per cent are fe­male - a fig­ure Dr White hopes will im­prove as the course de­vel­ops.

‘‘ I am the sole, to­ken male on the women in en­gi­neer­ing com­mit­tee set up by the Queens­land Gov­ern­ment’s Of­fice for Women,’’ he says.

His col­league, Dr Peter Killen, whose en­thu­si­as­tic approach to en­gi­neer­ing is ap­pre­ci­ated by staff and stu­dents alike, is equally keen on surf­ing as pri­mary re­search. Dr Killen’s pas­sion for the de­sign and con­struc­tion of surf­boards led to an hon­ours project at the Aus­tralian Na­tional Univer­sity ( ANU) where he cre­ated a con­tin­u­ously break­ing sta­tion­ary wave to test surf­boards.

‘‘ It made the cover of New Sci­en­tist in 1976,’’ he says.

Dr Killen con­tin­ued this theme with his PhD at the Univer­sity of Queens­land and de­vel­oped a con­tin­u­ously break­ing, oblique, sta­tion­ary wave for the study of wave rid­ing.

‘‘ I started build­ing surf­boards at Macksville near Nam­bucca Heads as I couldn’t af­ford to buy them,’’ he re­calls.

Dr Killen un­der­took a PhD in Me­chan­i­cal En­gi­neer­ing from the Univer­sity of Queens­land, and in 2003 taught Edith Cowan Univer­sity’s Bach­e­lor of Surf Science. Now he’ll be teach­ing Dr White’s first year en­gi­neer­ing stu­dent’s physics dur­ing sec­ond se­mes­ter.

It’s im­por­tant for en­gi­neer­ing stu­dents to un­der­stand the fun­da­men­tals and I try my hard­est to make th­ese lec­tures in­ter­est­ing,’’ he says.

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