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The Warsaw Voice » Special Sections » December 13, 2015
Wrocław University of Technology
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It Takes an Engineer
December 13, 2015   
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Engineers play an increasingly important role in contemporary society and will have an even stronger impact on it in the future, says Prof. Tadeusz Więckowski, rector of Wrocław University of Technology, which provides its students with a solid education in engineering.

Good engineering practice makes the world a better and more comfortable place, while poor engineering skills can produce serious consequences. “It is important for engineers to be well-educated people with broad horizons,” says Więckowski. “There should be a little humanities scholar in every engineer.”

Engineer with a humanities bent
Wojciech Wodo, a 28-year-old engineer from Wrocław University of Technology’s Faculty of Fundamental Problems of Technology, calls himself a “humanities engineer.” Currently working on his doctoral degree at the Department of Computer Science, Wodo feels particularly at home in computer security technology with a special focus on biometrics. “Biometrics deals with our personal features such as hand-written signatures, typing techniques and manner of walking,” says Wodo. “These are unique to each human being. The more distinctive the feature the better. What differentiates us most are our irises and retinas.” Wodo says that in a world where more and more passwords are required to access bank accounts, e-mail accounts and the like, it is becoming next to impossible to memorize all of them. “A key rule in computer security is that the human factor is always the weakest link,” says Wodo. “You can give away your password, forget it or, even worse, write it down on a slip of paper. You can lose or forget your key. All such safeguards are unreliable. But when the key is part of you, as in, your fingerprint, retina or the blood vessels in the tip of your thumb, you can’t possibly lose it. This is a phenomenal thing and the reason why I find biometrics so fascinating.”

Studying at Wrocław University of Technology was not an obvious choice for Wodo, whose mother, a physician, instilled a love for biology in her son. As a high school student, he spent a lot of time studying both biology and the exact sciences, and he faced a dilemma before graduation. It was a hard decision to make, but in the end, he chose to enroll at Wrocław University of Technology. “As a scientist, I do my best to turn whatever goes on in the world of science into management and business practice,” Wodo says. “It is also important to be able to build a team of people around you who you can work with and trust.”

He says that, to an extent, this attitude makes him feel like a man of the humanities. “This is a very helpful attitude,” Wodo says. “I do not have a cybernetic approach to problems and I know how to find the human aspect in them, so my solutions can be of service to people. I like to think that I can see the bigger picture and that empathy allows me to see through the eyes of someone who has no technological background.”

When Wodo found out that Wrocław University of Technology ran a Film Discussion Club, he immediately wanted to join. “I remember like it was yesterday,” says Wodo. “They were showing Fellini movies. There were a dozen or so people in the theater and a discussion followed, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I understood there and then that that was what I’d been looking for: a community with which I could share my passion for film and my thoughts, a place where I could learn what others were thinking. Not only did I get to see interesting movies, but I was able to share my thoughts and opinions with other people. That let me see things from a broader perspective and different angles.” Wodo was soon invited to sit on the club’s board and then he became its president. He was able to pursue his greatest film-related dreams, including one to screen a silent movie with live music.

The high point of Wodo’s involvement in the Film Discussion Club was an exhibition on German expressionism. “It sort of summed up my work for the club,” says Wodo. “I left soon after.” But his passion remained and he is still in touch with Wrocław University of Technology students who are members of the club. He also attends screenings and discussions.

Wodo says he once considered obtaining an extra degree in the humanities and even gave it a try. “It was an unpleasant experience,” he says. “As a student of a university of technology, I faced a number of obstacles when I tried to start studying the humanities. Among these was the fact that I had passed my high-school leaving exams under the old system. So here I am: I have a technological education and I am an amateur humanist. But that doesn’t make me feel any worse and my technological education only expands my humanist views.”

An engineer-cum-entertainer
Some engineers are artists at heart and one of them is 23-year-old Piotr Barszczewski. A graduate of Wrocław University of Technology’s Faculty of Electronics, Barszczewski is also a student of the university’s Faculty of Computer Science and Management. From early childhood Barszczewski knew he would study technology as he was interested in it and had technical skills. “I have always been interested in technology, sound systems in particular,” says Barszczewski. “Whenever I got a toy, I would instantly take it to pieces to see what was inside. I wanted to fathom the mechanisms; that was the fun of it. I am interested in different electronic devices to this day. When I’m using one, I start with checking what’s inside.”

Barszczewski says people around him were not very happy with how he loved taking things apart. At first, they saw it as a destructive urge, but then they understood there was method to it. “In my case, broken things became new projects,” Barszczewski says. “I used various inner parts to make something new, something useful. Most of us here at the university started with breaking things and taking them apart. Such is the nature of an engineer.” He adds his need to undo things and peek inside led to his other main interest. “I have played various instruments for years,” says Barszczewski. “Of course, before I started playing the keyboard, the guitar or drums, I had to find out how they worked. How do you amplify an instrument? Why do the strings vibrate? How does the membrane in a speaker move? Then I started DJ-ing to earn some pocket money. I soon realized people liked what I did. They liked me. I like making people have a good time and I know how to do that. I know how to make a party fun.”

Barszczewski hopes that after graduation, he will find a job as an organizer of big events, so he can combine his education as an engineer with the entertainer within.

An engineer and social activist
Wojciech Ruszkiewicz, a 23-year-old fifth-year student at Wrocław University of Technology’s Faculty of Electronics, does a lot of work for the local student community. His love of technology started when he developed an interest in mathematics, physics and computers. At the same time, he was a keen reader with a special interest in science-fiction literature. He has always been a socially active person and started his college years by becoming involved in the student community and working with different student, science and culture associations at the university. “I started by joining the committee on development,” says Ruszkiewicz. “After a while, I became its president and then I joined the student council. I am now the chairman of the Student Parliament’s board in the student council.” Ruszkiewicz adds that this work is time-consuming, but gives him a lot of satisfaction. “I get to work for students,” he says. “I am able to help them out. I have a real influence on the education system and on the cultural side of our student community.”

Ruszkiewicz does not have exact plans for the future yet, but he has a clear idea of what he would like to do. His dream is to combine his community work at the university with his career. “I feel an urge to be involved in things,” he says. He believes that a degree from Wrocław University of Technology will be a guarantee of finding a job. “Almost every day when I’m in class, I hear of employers seeking to hire young engineers from our university,” Ruszkiewicz says.

An engineer and teacher
Prof. Tadeusz Więckowski, the rector of Wrocław University of Technology, says that being in touch with young people and educating new generations is a crucial aspect of his work. After his term as rector ends, Więckowski wants to teach classes again. “I will be relieved of my responsibility for 5,000 employees, 35,000 students and 1,200 postgraduate students,” says Więckowski. “I will return to my department of 56 people and be a happy professor focused on training my successors.”

According to Więckowski, Poland has a large pool of talented young people, but some of them receive inadequate education either in college or at earlier stages. To address this problem, Wrocław University of Technology last year opened its own middle and high schools. The schools are intended to provide a good education to future Wrocław University of Technology students. “If you work with them well, they will achieve fantastic results,” says Więckowski. “Young people are the greatest asset we have. If we let this go to waste, we face a bleak future.”

Quality courses and a competent teaching staff are vital, Więckowski says. “There are no more college entrance exams. We recruit students based on their high school certificates. The freshman year is when [the real] selection happens. Some young people enter the university on good grades, but then they do not cope because the kind of teaching we have differs from high school classes. Then there is the freedom, being away from home. Not everybody can cope with this new situation. Other students come in with poorer grades but then spread their wings and breeze through college. It is a major challenge for us to spot the best ones and keep them here.”

Wrocław University of Technology tries to help its students find jobs after graduation and to this end, the university’s Career Office stays in touch with businesses. All these efforts help build the university’s prestige. “The prestige rests on our students and on how they manage after graduation,” says Więckowski. “They are the face of our school. If they are good, they give their university a good name.”

Proud to be an engineer
Więckowski says the word “engineer” fills him with pride. “ I’m a professor,” he says. “I’ve worked my way up through all the academic ranks and I have achieved all there is to achieve in this area. But I consider the ‘engineer’ in my academic title to be a special obligation.”

He adds that when he graduated from college, an engineering degree was a promise of a better life. “Many people still think it is,” Więckowski says. “But today, some private colleges take advantage of that in a dishonest way. They give their graduates diplomas with nothing behind them. Such documents alone don’t mean a thing. But when a good university gives you the title of an engineer, it comes in one package with knowledge and skills.”

Więckowski comes from the small town of Lwówek ¦l±ski in southwest Poland, where anyone who gained an engineering degree instantly acquired social prestige. “You were a big shot, you mattered,” says Więckowski. He adds that in the past, college education was for the elites and opened the door to a better world. “Things look somewhat different nowadays, but the ethos of an engineer’s profession has not gone to waste, at least not at public universities of technology.”

According to Wojciech Wodo, engineers are people who know how to identify a problem and how to find a solution to it. “Whenever I can be of help, I feel like a hero in my own little way,” Wodo says. “This might sound funny, but that is how it feels. I help people deal with technical problems and each time I do so, I consider it a little success.”

Piotr Barszczewski says that engineers are people who possess some specific skills. An academic degree does not necessarily make you an engineer. “When you are an engineer, you can handle technical and other problems and you think creatively,” says Barszczewski.

Wojciech Ruszkiewicz says he is proud to be an engineer. “Engineers can invent new solutions, create science and technology, set new trends and in that way, they build communities,” says Ruszkiewicz.

Ula Małecka
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