- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 7 Mar 1912, p. 167-174
- Kemp, Professor, Speaker
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- Item Type
- The speaker's 25-year experience engaged in teaching young engineers some parts of the science which they might subsequently use in their profession. Ways in which this profession of engineering is becoming involved in all of our civilization: a look back. Education as a preparation for this profession of a very elementary character in the early part of the last century. Development of the education and training for this profession. Differences between engineering now, and in the past. The different nature of the problems facing engineers today. How these matters of engineering relations enter into the total structure of our governmental and social organization. The need for engineering students, before they come to schools of engineering, to be well trained in English, so far as possible, in order that they may use their mother tongue in a way to impart their ideas to their fellows; to be well trained also in history and in economics. An engineer's profession a serious matter, and the training for it very much like that for the army. How that is so. The work of a young engineer, comparable with the work that a young lawyer does as a clerk in an office or a young medical man does as an interne in an hospital or as an attendant on an ambulance. Requirement for admission. Other aspects of life in college at the tie between 16 and 20 that are of much importance to a young man's future. Some illustrative anecdotes. The engineering profession as one that is very closely involved with the development of our civilization.
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- 7 Mar 1912
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- Full Text
- TECHNICAL EDUCATION
An Address by PROFESSOR KEMP, President of the American Institute of Mining Engineers, and Professor of Geology of Columbia University, New York, before the Empire Club of Canada, March 7, 1912.
Mr. President and Gentlemen,-
I must bring you the very warm greetings of Mr. James Douglas who was first scheduled to address you. Unexpected business engagements, which could not be deferred, have prevented him from keeping this appointment, and to substitute for Dr. Douglas is a very 'embarrassing position in which to find one's self. There is no man more beloved in New York City or throughout the United States amongst those who know him than is the speaker who was expected to appear before you. We owe Canada a great debt for Dr. Douglas, and I am very happy to express this obligation to you who have come away from busy vocations to spend an hour, or half an hour, together in the discussion of a topic of interest. We have only partially repaid the debt in loaning, occasionally, an engineer to Canada; Sir William Van Horne, I might think of as a public man, and Mr. Hays of the Grand Trunk Railway, and perhaps others. We have at least a free interchange of men, even if the proposition for a free interchange of commodities is one of those things that, in rose leaves and lavender, we have laid away in a bureau drawer.
I am to speak to you about Technical Education. It is a subject in which for twenty-five years I have specially been engaged, teaching young engineers some parts of the science which they might subsequently use in their profession. The profession of the engineer is one that is becoming involved in all of our civilization, year by year in a mores and more important way. If we go back to the early years of settlement, whether in Canada or the United States, we find the people almost wholly given to agriculture. Agriculture is based upon hand labour, and the unit of power is the man. The only engineer we found in those early days was a surveyor, and his chief occupation was running out land boundaries and the occasional laying out of a highway. But, as the years rolled on and the eighteenth century opened up into the nineteenth, we found the demand, for improved methods of communication being answered first by canals. They called for a higher degree of engineering than the mere surveyor. A highway could surmount a hilt if it stood in, its course; but; a canal and, soon thereafter, a railway had to be laid out with very close attention to the matter of grades, and the engineer first, in anything like his present capacity, made his bow to the professional world on this side of the Atlantic.
Education as a preparation for this profession was of a very elementary character in the early part of the last century. Somewhere in the twenties the famous old patron, Stephen Van Rensaeller, who had control of great estates of land in the vicinity of Albany, established ' a little school based entirely upon natural science intended to prepare high grade agriculturists for his estate. In the 40's that was reorganized into the present Rensaeller Polytechnic Institute which I think is the oldest engineering school in either Canada or the United States, the oldest we might say upon the continent of North America. During the decades that followed, we find some preparation for engineering appearing in our various institutions. Courses in surveying were given in a very modest way, and instruction in mathematics, physics, and chemistry naturally, in time, found a stronger and stronger foothold; but it was not until after the Civil War in the United States, at the close, that we find proper attention given to training for this line of work. In the decade of the 60's, the latter half of it, the engineering school begins to spring up, and while I am not so familiar with that branch of education .in Canada, I presume we would find about this time the same thing true of the Dominion. If, however, we look back in our minds to these years, I think we may say that as the little steamer, the Maid of the Mist, which may ferry people across the Niagara River, is to the great cantilever bridge that now spans the gorge, or as the little single track railway that used to limp upon the shores of the St. Lawrence from Toronto to Montreal is to a great transcontinental railway of today, so is the engineering of the past generation to the problems that now confront us. Where we had a modest telegraph, we now have telephones and trolley cars and dynamos and the applications of electricity in all sorts of complicated ways, without end. Where we had small mines, often served with a horse winze or a very simple engine, we have to face the problem of thousands of tons of ore produced in a single day. The Utah Copper Company, up in Bingham Canyon near Salt Lake City, sends from fifteen to twenty thousand tons of ore through its mills every twenty-four hours. And we are face to face in other respects with problems that are of an entirely different order of magnitude from those which our predecessors had to solve. Those of us who are teaching in engineering schools and who see our scholars go out year by year to enter into this profession have felt the growing responsibility upon us, and the very serious problems which our young people would in time be forced to meet.
There are certain other aspects in the matter of the engineering profession which must come home to us all with great force. A railway is no longer, I presume in Canada any more than in the United States, run solely for the profit of its stockholders; and it cannot be. It is regarded as a great public utility in which the general interests share, as well as those of its owners. The day has passed for the concealed rebate and for the conduct of business as if it were a purely private enterprise, and we find, more and more, these matters of engineering relations entering into the total structure of our governmental and social organization. Therefore we who have to teach young people have felt with increasing importance that we should have our students, before they come to us in the engineering schools, well trained in English, so far as possible, in order that they may use their mother tongue in a way to impart their ideas to their fellows; -and well trained also in history and in economics, by which I mean that branch of instruction ,perhaps more familiar to you under the older term of political economy. When I say they should be taught in history, I do not mean the list of rulers in battles in which many of us in our youth were especially instructed, but the history of the way in which men have earned their living-the industrial history that now we see coming more and more to the foreground in all of our universities. We should like to have our young men, as they become employers of labour, well informed about the relations of the past. There are many instructive lessons in this.
You may not all have learned, perhaps, that some excellent historians have attributed the stagnation of the middle ages, in large part, to the cessation of the mining industry in Europe. The Romans operated with slave labour captured in war, or with the labour of the natives of the country which they had acquired and in which the mines were situated, as was the case in Spain, whose inhabitants were forced to labour without wage. Man was used until he was worn out and died by the wayside, and as the supply of labour gave out, the supply of metals also gave out. To a great degree the loss of these raw materials for the simple manufactures of the clay, of course curtailed the lines of activity in all directions. It is very important that, as we come to face the great problems which we see before us in the matter of the employment of our fellow men, something of these old matters of experience should likewise be understood.
An engineer's profession is a serious matter, and the training for it is very much like that for the army. We constantly see parallels in our work that are akin to that of military preparation. There is a very high sense of duty necessary among engineers: there is a great need of accuracy: bridges must not fall down, and man must be right in his first design. Railways must not be laid so that the cars will run off the track, and the grades and curves must be plotted according to the inevitable requirements of the service. It is not a matter of taste in engineering, as it often is in literary training and is necessarily so largely, but it is a matter of absolute right or absolute wrong; and we always feel as to our young people as they come into the engineering schools, that we have them under a tighter discipline, and that they must be more devoted to their studies, than is often the case in general education. Yet, young people have a stage, from sixteen to twenty, when they do enjoy what is called college life, and when, to a great degree, they crave it. It has been felt by many professors in engineering schools and in technical institutions of a similar character, that it would be best perhaps to gratify that craving and, at the same time, their craving in history and English and economics of which ' I have spoken. Having then become properly equipped, and having outgrown this somewhat more youthful stage in his career, a young man may take up the more serious and exacting studies of the engineering profession, and find them more suited to his own attitude of mind and find himself mature enough to be graduated and far better prepared to take up the problems which confront him. Of course, you all know this same experience has already been gained in the preparation for law and for medicine. Few medical 'schools now admit a man without a previous college education. Few law schools, will, correspondingly, accept men at the outset of their career. We have felt with greater and greater force that, in so serious a matter as the engineering profession, an equally good equipment in the way of preparation might be expected. The work that a young engineer has, after he leaves his technical school, is quite comparable with the work that a young lawyer does as a clerk in an office or a young medical man does as an intern in a hospital or as an attendant on an ambulance. It is, however, when the young engineer wins out from the less responsible positions and attains a greater and more important place in his profession, that his original preparation counts for the most. You will find therefore, if you keep track of technical education, that more and more these requirements are being felt, and, here and there throughout our two countries, the requirements for admission ire being moved up so as to meet what is felt to be an inevitable necessity.
There are other aspects of life in college at the time between sixteen and twenty that are also of much importance to a young man's future. We all know that it is a place of good fellowship, where the lads mingle together often with a high appreciation of ideals and with a warm affection and sympathy for one another. We would like to see, especially in connection with the future problem of employment and in dealing with the labouring man, this same sympathy inculcated before our young people take up their exacting work in' the engineering school. And while I have emphasized to some degree the serious nature of engineering, I do so with a full appreciation of the excellent preparation on this side of life which the college career ordinarily gives the young man. We are anxious that the hardships which he may endure should be taken as part of his day's work. A few days ago we had a visit at my home university, Columbia in New York, from a large delegation of the Maryland Legislature, and from the chief officers of the Johns Hopkins University where they are hoping to introduce technical education, a branch that has hitherto not been cultivated by them. In conversation with one of my colleagues, a member of the party asked him if it were possible to get young men into overalls arid to run the machines which we were showing them as a part of the equipment. My colleague said: "I want the young man to forget the dirt and oil in the idea, to ignore it utterly, so that he is lost in his profession and in solving the problems that a machine or process may present to him." Some of us have felt that, as a means of remedying the occasional demoralization that comes from the possession of wealth on the part of a young man, the best thing we could do for him would be to put him in overalls and set him at work on the machines or down irk the mine for a time, meeting the same surroundings as his fellows of humbler station. We find that often working out to a very good result, as we follow our young people coming through the engineering schools. We also find that the engineering profession presents a very attractive ideal at times to the young man. There often arise occasions that call for positive heroism especially in connection with mining work, and often in the other branches of this great calling. Possibly some of you have read the very interesting book that appeared last year entitled "A Year in a Coal Mine." It opens with a statement that the author, within a month after his graduation at Harvard College, took service in a coal mine in Illinois. He entered as a common miner at first or, rather, not having the skill of the miner, as a mucker we would say, a man who loaded the cars with broken coal. The mine was a gaseous one, and it led to heavy explosions in the course of the year. The writer describes with the greatest vividness his experience both as a worker underground and in connection with the rescue parties following these outbreaks of gas. It is a human document and appeals to us all with just that grip which an occasional book manifests, when we know it describes experiences taken directly from real life.
I know one of our own boys from the school who went td a Cuban copper mine. Prom a caving in of the walls into the old working, the gases began to rise and he succeeded in reaching the surface while the timbers were beginning to squeeze together. He learned then that there were still two workmen in the mine. Although they were simple peasants imported from Spain, he could not be content until he had gone down in the cage, as it seemed almost to certain death, had rounded up the two muckers who were half overcome by, the gas, and had brought them to a place of safety, although he himself was so overcome at the time that he had to climb into one of the little closed places where the air was a bit better, until he had recovered himself. We find very often as a result of our disciplinary training in our technical schools, that high sense of duty which the young men maintain as they go out. As the captain of a ship feels, in case his vessel is wrecked, he must sink with her so they stand by their men even at times, if not to the actual loss of their lives, to the imminent danger of , long them.
I said, at the start, that the engineering profession is one that is very closely involved with the development of our civilization. We have recently in the United States, perhaps also in Canada, been enjoying a book, a biographical work descriptive of the life and letters of Josiah D. Whitney, the first of our mining geologists on the other side of the line. Mr. Whitney, after a college course at Yale, went to Europe in the 40's and studied various branches of science, especially mining geology and matters connected with the future work in the mining profession. He returned to America at 49, and five years later, after extensive travels, wrote a book that has been most satisfying and influencing in regard to mining in the United States or in North America-the book that some of my hearers may know as "The Metallic Wealth of the United States." Whitney for many years laboured in the west, and as a professor in the east, reached the end of his days. One of his friends has gotten together his letters and used them chiefly to give us a sketch of his life. I was very much impressed the other day with the closing words of this book, and I think they are just the words with which I would like to close this morning the few minutes which you have been kind enough to give to me: "No other time than our own has produced the type of man to which Mr. Whitney perhaps belongs, the highly trained specialists, the men of science and engineering who go about their daily tasks knowing that their work shall abide, built into the fabric of our civilization. When all is said, it is upon men like these that our civilization rests." (Applause.)