Surfers on a mission
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.