A guiding hand is how Prof Hong K Lo looks at his role as the new Associate Dean (Undergraduate Studies). The civil engineering expert certainly knows the value of this, having benefited himself from a transformative experience with a challenging yet supportive advisor during his graduate studies.
Mentoring and advising are among the areas being strongly developed across the School as the once-in-a-lifetime chance to reshape the undergraduate experience unfolds with the introduction of the four-year degree program this autumn. "The flexibility and student-centered approach built into the innovative curriculum will allow learners to direct their studies much more in terms of the courses they undertake," Prof Lo said. "So they will need good advice."
He sees explaining what engineering is to high school students as another important aspect of his role, as many are still unclear how to relate their school subjects to the work of an engineer. When Prof Lo was at school, he enjoyed both physics and math. He could have headed into medicine or science, but knew his real calling was to build structures as a civil engineer. "What fascinated me was to be able to put something on the map that would remain after I was gone. With engineering, I could put my love of the sciences to work on projects where my children could say: ‘This is my father's work."
There are several key pillars working in synergy with the revamped curriculum to make the SENG undergraduate experience special, he feels. The launch of the Center for Engineering Education Innovation will keep the School at the forefront of engineering education. Training on professional development and company matching will enrich student internships and strengthen ties with industry. Community projects with NGOs and overseas competitions will enable students to put their skills and enterprise into action. In addition, the School's international exchange program is expanding, with the aim of offering 50% of undergraduates the opportunity to study outside Hong Kong.
"These developments have been made possible because the whole School has been involved in redesigning its approach from the ground up and been willing to allocate the resources for them. We want to open students' minds and give them a chance to take a broader look at life when they are with us."
Prof Lo is keen to see more women take up engineering and, with greater understanding of what the profession now entails, he thinks this will happen. "Women engineers bring new perspectives to a team. Companies appreciate that too." He also stresses that students of engineering not only become engineers but go into business, government and many other careers.
"You may end up as managing director of a major company but you will know from your engineering training how to look at cost-effectiveness, appreciate both theory and practical applications, take sustainability into consideration. An engineering degree provides a very solid and useful foundation as a professional, regardless of where you work."
When SENG students graduate, Prof Lo would like them to be confident of their capabilities, have a flexible mindset and a passion for their work. "When students in Hong Kong join a program, they are often already thinking about which makes the most money, which may not be the most appropriate way to think of their career. We feel it would be better for them to find what they really enjoy and thus do it well. This is where guidance and support can really make a difference."