Engineering Fourth Year

“Engineering fourth year”-a local South African studying at the University of Stellenbosch and the journey of engineering life specifically the journey of engineering, fourth and final year!

Written by Trevor Dunn

The view from Twin Peaks, Pieke

As I write from the comfort of my living room back home in Port Elizabeth, I reflect and realise that all four years of blood, sweat and tears have come to a blessed and successful end.This past semester has been an amazing challenge – as I had predicted in my previous blog a few months ago. Apart from fees falling and calls for workers to be insourced, a skripsie was completed, a concrete structure was designed and a cricket game was lost. The job is done.

The dreaded final year project, our “skripsie”, was one of the serious challenges of final semester. My topic dealt with demolition engineering of steel structures and looked at the design and safety aspects of weakening a steel structure before collapsing it by steel cables. This may sound impressive, but just imagine cutting up about 40m of heavy steel I-beams and re-aligning them for compression testing. It was a pretty labour intensive task that I ended up sharing with a fellow master’s student. It also required a decent amount of analysis and interpretation, and culminated in a 70 page report and oral presentation before a panel of internal and external examiners. Overall, I am very thankful for my supervisor Mr Richard Walls, and in summaryconcluded that “a weakened column is not necessarily as weak as it appears”.

At this point, I would like to recommend to the future fourth years that you choose your skripsietopic wisely, basing it primarily on the topic supervisor. Ensure you will be able to work with them, that they are good communicators, and are willing to give you the time and attention you will require – there will be stressful times ahead where a good relationship with your supervisor will be invaluable.

Advanced Design was a beast of a module. It fought for my time and attention, and called for me to find a solid balance between itself, skripsie, and the other modules of Environmental Engineering and Engineering Management.Advanced Design was split in two –the first term involved a conceptual design task of teams formed to do a layout, conceptual calculations, andartist’s impression for a chemical processing plant that we then had to present to the industry experts. It was quite a daunting task, but a good challenge and insight into a team project environment.

The second term was an individual design task where elements of the conceptual phase (the buildings from the first term) were dividedup and allocatedto us after our presentations. I was tasked with designing in concrete a retaining wall and slab structure to form the base platform for a piece of process plant. Every detail of the design had to be performed by hand and, where possible, verified using design software, Prokon ©. The deliverables for this task were a project file of background information and calculations as well as a three project plans with all essential information for construction.

Even though it was such a beast, Advanced Design ended up being a highlight of the course. It was a great challenge to utilise all the skills we have learnt over the years and implement them in an industry relevant (albeit hypothetical) task, from start to finish!

Amongst all the deadlines and the mad rush to finish strong, the university was rocked by the nation-wide #FeesMustFallprotests, as well as a number of protests more particular to Stellenbosch University. The protests gained national and international attention, and culminated in a verdict delivered by President Jacob Zuma for a 0% fee increase next year. I believe this was a positive, unifying time for our country with students of all racial and economic backgrounds standing together against the corruption being seen at a government level and its effects in the lack of student support andfunding.

After the amazing relief of getting the handing-in and presentation of my skripsie over and done with, the end of undergraduate life was celebrated with the annual “Staff vs Final Year Students” cricket day. This event has been running for over 41 years and, even though we lost the game, was an absolute highlight of the year. The afternoon ended with a catered braai and an awards ceremony for the key players. It was such a privilege to relate to the staff in a completely unconventional way, and to grab a beer and relax with them and all my fellow final years is a memory I’m going to cherish when I brag about my time in Stellenbosch.

I am truly blessed and thankful to have had such a brilliant time over the past four years at Stellenbosch University. So brilliant a time, in fact, that I have decided to extend it by another 2 years by enrolling for my MEng in Structural Engineering for 2016. So instead of saying Goodbye to Stellenbosch, I’m saying Goodbye Fourth Year, Hello Masters!