CEG @225: Illustrious engineering

The oldest technical institute in the country has witnessed historic milestones. Its distinguished alumni have put it on the global map, and the story of its evolution mirrors that of engineering itself. The College of Engineering, Guindy, Chennai, stands for tradition, pride and path-breaking work

Updated - July 31, 2018 10:23 am IST

Published - July 30, 2018 01:00 am IST

Walking across the vast campus, opposite Gandhi Mandapam on Chennai’s Sardar Patel Road, is an illuminating experience. The winding tar road that leads you inside the campus, is flanked by monuments and shrouded in verdant stretches of land. On one side, is a temple-like structure, while on the other, is a gaggle of youngsters lazing around on stone benches, catching up on gossip, exchanging notes, or just grabbing some “me” time. But the pièce de résistance is the majestic Red Stone building that looms before you, filling you with an inexplicable sense of purpose. This year, the College of Engineering, Guindy (CEG) has entered its 225th year.

India’s first engineering college, CEG was started in 1794 as School of Survey, and established as a college in 1859. At present, it has 23 departments and 590 colleges affiliated to it. Over the years, the college has witnessed a sea-change in the manner in which engineering has evolved. Anna University’s Vice Chancellor, M.K. Surappa, traces the evolution of engineering over the years, his pride palpable. “A gradual paradigm shift, in our country’s engineering education, has been visible in the last 200 years. Today, technology which we had never imagined could exist, has moulded our lives in unthinkable ways,” he believes.

“During the pre-independence years, engineers were taught about surveying, building bridges, and canals. Soon after independence, however, we had innumerable challenges — we were below the poverty line, people were starving, and we lacked infrastructure other than the railways and the British canal systems. Gradually, engineers built steel plants. Public sector undertakings such as HAL, ITI, and others, emerged. Thus, our main focus was to ensure that we had engineering graduates who were adept in the fields of mechanical, civil, electrical, and aerospace engineering. Naturally, the intake in the field increased. Today, it has been further revolutionised with the advent of the Internet, paving way for the digital era,” the VC continues. “Today, engineering is no more a subject that flies solo; over the years, it has taken on an interdisciplinary aspect. It is not enough, for instance, for engineers to merely build machines. Now, they have to also study related subjects such as psychology, biology, and more, to understand the needs of people, and build technology that will also lend itself to solving society’s problems or bridging gaps that people didn’t know existed. And that is what CEG is preparing its students for — to not only be successful theoretically, but to be able to think critically, and meet the demands of the future.”

Then and now

The field, which was once deemed a male bastion, has over the years witnessed many women making a mark and carving a niche for themselves, an observation made by Dean, T.V. Geetha, who is also CEG’s first woman dean. “I joined the college as a student in 1977, and pursued electronics and communication. After graduation, I joined the college in a temporary capacity. I was one among the first women who had reached this stage, back then,” she reminisces. “The first class I handled was for the department’s technical staff. They were surprised to see me eloquently explain technical terms and concepts. Now, however, the faculty comprises a majority of women,” she exclaims.

Vish A. Viswanathan, CEO, UBICS, who passed out of the college in 1985, points out one other change in the field.“Engineering has now become competitive. From being a profession for only a few, it has now become quite popular with various sections of the society. Professionals have increased opportunities from both public and private sectors. In fact, the percentage of engineers in the private sector has grown disproportionately due to the increasing demand for such skills in private sector growth,” he avers.

Innovations galore

What many of CEG’s illustrious alumni are proud of is how the college took science and technology outside classrooms, providing young, untethered minds a chance to explore, innovate, and create. Viswanathan says, “As far back as 1900, our engineers were involved in nation-building activities such as survey, construction of monuments, agriculture and irrigation engineering, telecommunications (BSNL, AIR, for instance), and more. From 1920 to 1970, CEG was a breeding ground for outstanding graduates who were absorbed by government organisations to apply their conceptual learning and address real-world problems.”

An example of the most innovative work is that of an alumnus, Dr. Varghese Kurien, the father of the White Revolution, who created what is now Amul, says Vishwanathan. “He used the power of his engineering knowledge to revolutionise how the country’s dairy industry worked, transforming us from a milk-starved country to a milk excess country, in a matter of a few years. Yet another alumnus, Dr K.L. Rao, was instrumental in building various famous dams in the country including Nagarjunasagar dam, Hirakud dam, among others.”

Saravan Krishna, a graduate from the 2015 batch, concurs. “CEG has a glorious history of producing stalwarts in various fields. Students are constantly encouraged to involve themselves in activities and projects that transcend the realm of classrooms — we have over 20 student clubs focusing on techno-management, entrepreneurship, robotics, and so on. These clubs and their events give us tremendous opportunity to innovate and lead. This ensures that students tune themselves to the real world rather than merely being theoretically sound,” he insists.

Saravan believes engineers are the main players in the digital revolution, and to ensure India moves forward, technology, infrastructure and renewable energy are essential. “In terms of academia, it is time to improve quality and reduce quantity — there is an excess of engineering colleges which is not required. The quality of syllabus has to match the needs of the industry, and most importantly, teachers have to be trained to impart new syllabus. Today, many bright students go abroad to pursue research. Our government must ensure we stop this brain drain and create a conducive atmosphere for research in India with good grants and infrastructure. A public-private partnership will be the key to the growth of Indian engineering education,” he signs off.

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