Tuesdays with Professor Collins

A hundred or so frosh line the seats of the well-known “Blue (now beige) Room” in the Sandford Fleming Building. It’s our first day as Engineering Science students, and CIV102 is the one course that will teach us what most of us always envisioned engineering to be – designing buildings and infrastructure.

Professor Michael P. Collins takes his post up at the front of the classroom, and starts off on a story about the legacy and ingenuity of Roman engineers. He continues with yet another tangent about the anthropological significance of using a metre stick as a lecturer, one of his trademark tools. He finally lists the three fundamental principles of engineering, being:

  1. You can’t push on a rope.
  2. F = ma
  3. To get the answer, you must know the answer.

It is this kind of casual storytelling, mixed with amusing proverbs and calmly-delivered jokes, that has allowed him to win the hearts of many an EngSci. And from the bridge-designing projects (one of which is actually built and tested in a class competition), to the admittedly cute Clairefontaine notebooks each student is required to take notes in, to the standard ultra-confusing problem sets, CIV102 is as memorable a course as they come.

One need not look very far to see students’ respect for Collins. Be it rave reviews on professor-rating websites, or a Facebook page entirely devoted to the worship of the professor (complete with a long list of quotations), everyone has something to say about his quirks and entertaining lectures. Ask any EngSci whom their favourite professor has been, and many will cite Collins.

Fast-forward to the last day of lectures in the fall semester. Once again, sitting in the “Blue Room”, a group of upper-year students accompanies the usual first-year crowd to hear Collins’ final lecture. He discusses the legacy that all engineers have brought forth on us, and the power to create but also destroy that is within our hands. It’s a solemn conclusion, but it leaves his pupils with the same kind of lasting impression as the structures past engineers have left our civilization with.

1 comment for “Tuesdays with Professor Collins

  1. Deb Chan
    December 27, 2010 at 9:42 am

    This is great! Will you be posting an interview?
    :)

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