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Civil Engineering Education (1957 – 88) [1]

Updated : August 5, 2019

By Saya U Min Wun: March 12, 2012

Dr. Aung Gyi’s article about the history of Engineering Education reminds me of my 31 years of tenure as a teacher at RIT. I’ll try to describe some achievements in rendering Civil Engineering education, as far as my memory would carry me through by recollecting events of the past 55 years. I’ll try to supplement some of my recollections to his excellent account of engineering education in Myanmar.

Abroad for further studies

Dr. Aung Gyi and I had similar academic journey at the University of Rangoon, starting from admission to Intermediate of Science class to the day when we left Myanmar to pursue further studies abroad, until we graduated from MIT earning B.S. in Civil Engineering.

On September 19, 1952 three 2nd Year students [namely, Aung Gyi, Maung Maung Than, and Kyit In (aka) Min Wun] of BOC College were sent off at the Mingaladon Airport by a large group of classmates. It was such a wonderful event and surprisingly good news that three of us, the engineering students from B.O.C. College, were to be sent abroad to study engineering on State Scholarship.

U Maung Maung Than went to Falls River to study Textile Engineering. Dr. Aung Gyi and I flew to Boston to study at M.I.T. which is situated in Cambridge on the opposite bank of Charles River from Boston. When we arrived at the Logan Airport in Boston, Freddie Ba Hli, who was a post graduate student at M.I.T. , came to welcome us and helped us to get accommodated in the dormitory. He also took us to buy slide rule and advised us to learn how to use it before the classes.

As soon as the 1st assignment was given I really came to appreciate Freddie’s advice. Slide rule was an essential tool for calculation at that time. As we were admitted to the 2nd Year [sophomore] class we found Physics a bit tough for us. Freddie willingly came to our help again.

Before I was sent abroad to study engineering I was informed that I’ll be assigned to come back home to teach. I, therefore, paid special attention to the engineering education curriculum and collected all my class notes and assignments. Between school years I went to get practical training in structural engineering, both in design and construction, by working with the same company for three summers. In my final year I have to compile a Thesis, doing a Bascule Bridge Design, as part of the requirement.

After graduation from MIT in June 1955 Dr. Aung Gyi continued graduate studies in Transportation Engineering at M.I.T. However, I transferred to Cornell University to study Geodesy and Photogrammetry, as directed by Ministry of Education, because MIT did not offer this course at that time. I chose Structural Engineering as Minor option. I got M.S. degree in June 1956.

A Burmese State Scholar’s monthly allowance for boarding was $140. As I needed extra pocket money I worked for Professor Dr. Belcher doing aerial interpretation of terrain geology for real estate development. Dr. Belcher later came to Myanmar to train surveyors in the Department of Survey, under the Ministry of Forest and Agriculture.

I also worked part time for Professor Dr. Winter, doing bamboo-reinforced concrete design and testing. Dr. Winter sponsored me to continue with post graduate study in structural engineering. However, I was not granted extension of stay. The directive from Ministry of Education was to extend my stay for one more year to work and gain practical experience in Geodesy and Photogrammetry. I got a job with Hycon Aerial Surveys Company in Pasadena, California, where I gained practical experience in Aerial Mapping and Terrain Interpretation to select corridors for highways, power transmission lines, and oil pipe lines.

Beginning of teaching career

In June 1957 I flew back to Yangon and reported for duty at the Faculty of Engineering. I was appointed as Assistant Lecture in the Department of Civil Engineering, Faculty of Engineering of the University of Rangoon. This is the beginning of my teaching career as a young engineer freshly out of college with only a limited practical experience.

Three major Departments of Engineering [namely, Civil, Mechanical, and Electrical] of B.O.C. College were relocated in the new buildings along Prome Road. The turtle-shaped dome [Leik Khone] was a beautiful wooden folded plate structure and it served as an assembly hall. Dr. Aung Gyi and I were later promoted as Lecturers in 1958, and in 1960 the late U Mya Han was appointed as Professor and Head in our Department. But he did not stay long enough and I did not have a chance to get acquainted with him. He later worked for Louis Berger Construction Company to design Rangoon Mandalay Highway and as Dr. San Lin has recounted, U Mya Han employed some Civil Engineering graduates with higher pay to work for him.

In 1958 I was appointed as warden for the new Pagan Hall for engineering students. Pagan Hall was a new building situated in the same compound as Prome Hall and Tagaung Hall. At that time all the hostels were managed by a warden and an assistant warden. Instead of assistant warden, I requested U Yu Khin, registrar of the University of Rangoon, to allow me to appoint three tutors to help manage hostel matters, especially to help students in their studies. Three tutors were U Tun Shwe and U Ko Ko Gyi [Johnny King] of Mechanical Engineering Department, and U Ko Ko Lay of Chemical Engineering Department. I managed the hostel together with the three tutors, and EC members of the Students’ Welfare Committee. Procurement matters were jointly handled by us in consultation with U Aung Sein, the chief cook. We purchased rice, cooking oil, salts, etc at whole-sale prices and thus could save for messing. Packing materials were carefully salvaged and later sold back to the vendors and the proceeds were distributed to the hostel staff as annual bonus. The quality of meals became greatly improved so that the students could enjoy plentiful and better meals.

When we moved to Gyogone Campus in 1961 Saya U Kyaw Tun of Electrical Engineering was appointed as warden of three hostels [Block A, B, and C] and I continued as warden for three hostels [Block D, E, and F]. Our quality of meals was so well known that U Yu Khin interviewed me as to how we could provide batter and plentiful meals. I could still remember the first grand dinner held on the lawn in front of the hostel buildings. When new rules of a two-year term limit for a warden were set I resigned from the warden post.

Curriculum Development

When B.I.T. [later renamed as R.I.T.] became a separate institute the first thing I noticed was that the curriculum for the first two years were developed with emphasis toward technology. The curricula for Civil Engineering were also revised based upon our academic and practical training abroad.

One requirement for undergraduate study was to prepare a Thesis in the Final Year. All the staff was assigned as supervisors, thus creating an opportunity for the staff to work more closely with the students.

Graduate courses leading to Master Degree were also offered in [a] Structural Engineering, [b] Water Resources Engineering, and [c] Surveying and Photogrammetry. A Diploma Course was also offered in Water Supply and Sanitation Engineering.

Upgrading Laboratory Facilities

In an effort to upgrade laboratory facilities we have achieved to set up several up-to-date laboratories through foreign aids. Some equipment were also acquired through government funding.

1. Structural Testing Laboratory was established with the aid from German Government and Dr. Roberts of Tulane University came to teach Structural Engineering for one year.

2. Hydraulics Laboratory was aided by the British Colombo Plan.

3. A Photogrammetry Laboratory was also acquired through the British Colombo Plan Aid. Mr. Heathcoat from Great Britain came to teach Photogrammetry for one year. A Russian Professor came to the Department to teach Photogrammetry also. He delivered lecture through an interpreter. Through UNESCO aid the Department of Archeology, under the Ministry of Cultures, a Terrestrial Photogrammetric Plotter was acquired and it was set up in the Photogrammetry Laboratory. This plotter was later used to map ancient monuments of Pagan.

4. Materials Testing Laboratory was also expanded with equipment for testing soils as well as bitumen.

5. For Survey Laboratory modern Theodolites, such as Wild T-1, T-2, and T-3 and Zeiss Automatic Levels, and Invar Tapes for precise distance measurement were acquired.

Saya U Min Wun and C58

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