Monday, 27 February 2012

Visit to Limerick Tunnel and University of Limerick

On Friday 17th February I visited the Thomond Region of Engineers Ireland hosted by its Chairman Kieran Horgan accompanied by Dr Peter Tiernan Engineering Lecturer in UL and Seamus Barrett Assistant Chief Fire Officer in Limerick County Council. A packed agenda for the day had been organised between Kieran Horgan and Dr Con Sheahan Senior Lecturer in the UL Enterprise Research Centre.

We started early in the morning at the Limerick Tunnel Traffic Control Centre where we were briefed by Eoghan O'Sullivan of Direct Route (consortium of Lagan Roadbridge Strabag) who designed, built and operate the Tunnel.

At Limerick Tunnel Control Centre Seamus Barrett Limerick County Council, Kieran Horgan Chairman Thomond Region, PJ Rudden President Engineers Ireland, Dr Peter Tiernan UL Mechanical Engineering Lecturer and Eoghan O’Sullivan Operations Manager Lagan Projects (Operations of Limerick Tunnel)
On the many CCTV screens we could see the early morning traffic in both directions through the tunnel and the on and off ramps of the local interchanges. One can only imagine what the traffic in Limerick would have been like that morning without the tunnel which is a great example of infrastructure that has transformed the lives of people not only in Limerick but in the whole Mid West Region. In addition to providing an essential new crossing point of the Shannon, the tunnel also allows north south traffic from Cork and Kerry to bypass the city to the west and onto Galway and the North West. Infrastructure like this also does enormous good for industrial and regional development including tourism which is one of the growth areas helping to fuel our national recovery.

At the Tunnel Traffic Centre Eoghan gave us interesting insights into driver behaviours which we could see on screen and which in every way challenge road safety. I thought that the recent media coverage of Garda statistics showing motorists unwittingly driving in the wrong direction on our dual carriageways was exaggerated until I saw some of the historical footage at the tunnel but it's every bit as bad as the Gardaí describe!

From the Tunnel we proceeded on to University of Limerick School of Science and Engineering where we were greeted by Professor Kieran Hodnett Dean of Science and Engineering and his Professors and Lecturers. They included Professor Tom Cosgrove of Civil Engineering, Professor Tom Coffey of Electronic and Computer Engineering and Professor Michael McCarthy of Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering. At UL I was joined by the Registrar of Engineers Ireland Damien Owens.

In his introductory remarks, Kieran welcomed Engineers Ireland to UL and talked of his pride in UL and his pride in the region. In civil engineering terms he mentioned the fact that when the River Shannon which now literally flows through the college flooded extensively in recent years that all of the UL buildings on the banks of the Shannon were unscathed as they had been wisely designed and built above the flood level.

We then went on to discuss a number of separate topics all relevant to UL and to Engineers Ireland

  • the need for greater clarity on the learning outcome requirements for CEng - a number of departments (Electronics/Robotics and Aeronautical Engineering) want a Masters Level 9 requirement and nothing less because they say that the international industries they supply with graduates have that requirement also.
  • how to raise the visibility and profile of  Engineers and our role in Society - Engineers Ireland were complimented on the new TV Advertising Campaign for Chartered Engineer
  • the importance of CPD in the continued learning process of Engineers and the role that Third Level can take to assist Engineers Ireland in this regard
  • the need for greatly improved gender balance in Engineering (also raised with us in UCC School of Engineering on the previous day so it is clearly exercising the minds of Third Level)
  • the importance of the Springboard Programme initiated by the Higher Education Authority to facilitate greater skills conversion at Third Level
  • the need for Engineers Ireland to keep the pressure on the political system to ensure the success of Project Maths and to maintain current assistance levels to existing Second Level students and teachers (UL similar to NUIG have their own Entrance Exam in Honours Mathematics for the School of Engineering which they accept instead of the Leaving Certificate results)
Dr Ann Ledwith of the UL Enterprise Research Centre gave us a presentation on the strong interface with industry in the growth areas of the economy e.g. cloud computing and manufacturing through e-learning and distance learning. She instanced a request from industry to produce a new BSc in Engineering Science to service a cohort of employees the following autumn which UL were able to accommodate and thus get much closer to the particular academic needs of that growth industry. There's little doubt that the commercialisation of industrial research was pioneered in UL since its foundation under Dr Ed Walsh as its first President. Now it is very correctly a national priority for the entire Third Level sector and National Research Institutes.

We also heard about the 'student centred approach' to interactive learning in the Civil Engineering Dept from Declan Hughes Course Director - which I will return to see in detail! Also I was delighted to visit the Aeronautical Engineering laboratories with Prof Michael McCarthy and to hear that all of this years final years have jobs with Boeing, British Aerospace and other major international firms.

PJ Rudden President of Engineers Ireland with student building
scaled model in UL Aeronautical Engineering Laboratory
I also visited the Materials and Surface Science Institute (MSSI) with Dr Peter Tiernan. This is obviously a well resourced research area in UL and they have had a large number of industrial 'spin outs' leading to significant job creation for Irish graduates. A new extension to the MSSI facility has just been approved for an additional 2,400 sq metres of laboratory and research space.

Student of UL Mechanical Engineering showing surface engineering samples to Dr Peter Tiernan UL, PJ Rudden President of Engineers Ireland and Kieran Horgan Chairman of Thomond Region
I then visited Professor John O'Donoghue of the UL National Centre of Excellence for Mathematics and Science Teaching and Learning (NCE-MSTL). This is the national organisation assisting the Regional Education Centres to up skill Second Level teachers in the new Project Maths curriculum. Tom Cosgrove, Con Sheahan and I discussed the challenge of Project Maths with John O'Donoghue. John spoke of the need to characterise and conceptualise mathematics to improve learning. In Finland, he stated that the best international performance is due to strong cultural support from parents in addition to a high level of teacher education to Masters level. Giving context to Maths he said was like ‘making connections’ to the real world application – exactly where Engineers are good at!

Pictured at UL Seamus Barrett Limerick County Council and Treasurer Thomond Region, Dr Con Sheahan UL Enterprise Research Centre, PJ Rudden President Engineers Ireland, Declan Phillips UL Civil Course Director, Professor Tom Cosgrove UL Department of Civil Engineering and Kieran Horgan Chairman of Thomond Region
Finally we had a session on Problem Based Learning with Professor Tom Cosgrove and Declan Phillips who demonstrated that ‘traditional lecture based instruction is ineffective’ and illustrated the ‘reflective methods’ used in the Civil Engineering Department. ‘Design is a basic hunger to improve the world’ Tom maintained. The Civil Engineering course is now geared towards Energy, Environment & Infrastructure – all growth areas of the economy.

I left UL with the clear impression that their courses and teaching methods are innovative towards the changing markets that will challenge the engineers of today and tomorrow.

No comments:

Post a Comment