Hands-on training comes first for Civil Engineering

Dr Amin Talei - School of Engineering
Dr Amin Talei - School of Engineering

MONASH University currently ranks 30 in the world for Civil Engineering, according to the QS World University Rankings by Subject in 2014.

Lecturer and course coordinator for Civil Engineering program, Dr Amin Talei credits the ranking to Monash's strong academic staff members, laboratories and the adopted learning program.

“Our lab facilities are the strength in our learning program. In delivering our units, we follow problem-based learning in which students will be exposed to real-life problems. Then they will learn how to apply fundamental knowledge, and use lab facilities to solve such problems” says Amin, explaining this is only the second year that Civil Engineering is being offered at Monash University Malaysia.

Rather than overwhelm students with theoretical knowledge in the first two years, followed by practical knowledge in year three and four, Monash starts its Civil Engineering program with hands-on practical lessons, from a very early stage.

“Even in the first year, several practical problems are defined and students will be given the skills to solve those problems. In this way, there is no specific separation of fundamentals from applications. Instead of learning the fundamentals first and then seeing what would be the application, we give the students the required fundamental knowledge and skills for dealing with real-life engineering problems,” he explains.

Amin admits that this method engages students more, since the course is not just about sitting in classes, attending tutorials and learning sophisticated formulas and theories.

Which student wouldn't prefer being in a lab exploring possibilities rather than always sitting in a lecture hall, after all?

Civil engineering is a huge field covering structural, geotechnical, water and transportation engineering. The Monash program is structured in such a way to engage students in lab exercises related to all these areas.

According to Amin, Monash Malaysia currently has three structure labs, two geotechnical labs, and two water labs – seven in total. In addition, there is a computer lab equipped with Civil Engineering specific software. Students can also look forward to an environmental lab and a transportation lab in the coming years. To date, 85% of the required lab facilities are successfully completed.

“The labs are a huge investment. Other universities in Malaysia may also have labs like these, but if you compare the sizes of the labs and capacities of the machines we have, these are some of the best in the country,” says Amin.

The most costly lab in Monash Malaysia Civil Engineering discipline is the heavy structure lab in which the provided machinery can support testing real life-sized concrete and steel specimens such as beams and columns up to 100 tonnes.

“Having such facilities, we are able to study the effects of different designs, materials, or even manufacturing methods in structural components,” says Amin.

The other two structure labs are light structure lab and concrete lab. The light structure lab has smaller machines that are useful to show simplified or idealised versions of theoretical structural designs, and is used mainly for teaching. In concrete lab, the facilities for casting and testing various concrete mixtures and designed samples are available.

In the two geotechnical labs, there is equipment to test the strength and behaviour of soil and rock samples; something which is essential for designing of any kind of foundations or piling systems.

The two water labs have the facilities for studying fluid dynamics and hydraulics including open channel equipment, piping networks and weirs.

The environmental lab, which will be completed this year, will have the facilities to study the water and waste water quality. This includes equipment in detecting pollutants in water reservoirs as well as storm water.

The transportation lab, also in the process of being set up, will have the equipment for monitoring, measuring and modelling of traffic which are useful for traffic control, planning and signalising.

Having the best civil engineering labs is no doubt very important, but so is churning graduates who can fit in and start working immediately.

“At the end of the day, after graduation, when students gain employment, they are supposed to work with many people. That is a necessity in any civil engineering project. Each project involves several engineers and technicians working together. This means soft skills such as communication and teamwork are important in civil engineering. We make sure our students are equipped with these skills in our four-year program,” says Amin.

Industry feedback suggests that there is a lack of skilled civil engineers in Malaysia.

And this is something Monash hopes to rectify, not just by educating students, but also making quality engineers out of them. For more information on the engineering programs at Monash University Malaysia, please visit www.eng.monash.edu.my. Stay updated by liking Monash Malaysia on facebook.