This month we catch up with one of our Chartered members – Professor Ilanko Ilanko, from the University of Waikato’s Engineering school.

What is your role at the University of Waikato?

Professor in the School of Engineering, with interests in the areas of structural vibration, mechanics of materials, computational mechanics and engineering education.

Why did you decide to become an engineering academic?

During my final year of studies at the University of Manchester, a few weeks out from our final exams one of our lecturers, Dr Takhar fell sick. Less than an hour before class he asked if I could deliver his prepared lectures to my classmates – a surprise that had me wondering whether the request was a joke. However, I was assured it was genuine and that I could access his notes and transparencies. I read through the notes and went to deliver the lecture, reading his supplied material and explaining the reasoning slowly as I understood the information myself. When I finished the lecture, there were applause and I received a lot of positive feedback. 

The next day Dr Takhar was present but had a croaky voice. He said students said I’d done an excellent job and asked if I could help again. I had more confidence this time, and despite the lack of preparation time (5 minutes before the lecture), I agreed. There was more clapping and compliments from my classmates following the lecture. That’s when I decided this would be something I’d like to do.

What’s your favourite paper that you’ve taught at the University of Waikato and why?
Mechanics of Materials, an analytical paper that’s generally considered challenging and boring. In the early days of my academic career, I thought about how to teach the concepts and relatable analogies that students could readily understand. This led me to think about life and human behaviour in various interesting ways. For example, when subject to the same constrained loading, a flexible material undergoes less stress compared to a stiffer one – comparatively, those who have a flexible attitude in life could reduce their stress levels. Comments from appraisals showed many students enjoyed this. 

Dr Ilanko Ilanko

Dr Ilanko Ilanko

What’s one trait that today’s students have, that you wished you had when you were a student?
Students adapt according to the needs of the time. The traits that suit learning now mightn’t have worked in the 70s/80s. More time was spent on self-learning in my days, but our curriculum was more focussed. However, the ability to gain specific knowledge through the internet is something that would have saved me several hours each week. 
What is the most rewarding part about being an engineering academic?
Being able to work with students who come up with their own design.
Why are you a member of Engineering New Zealand?
To be in touch with the Engineering Community in New Zealand.
How do you engage with Engineering New Zealand?
I have been a member of the local branch, attended conferences and workshops, and have been a member of the accreditation panel. 
How do you explain global mobility to your students who are working towards a Washington Accord degree? 
I haven’t had to explain this. I guess I’d say it’s like getting a drivers licence. I think New Zealand licence is recognised internationally, but it may require a translated version for some countries. 
What is your favourite piece of engineering in Hamilton?
Te Manawa Student Centre (our library is in this building).
What do you do in your spare time?
I enjoy gardening. From seeing the seedlings emerge through cracks in the soil, watching the structural forms and the way they respond to wind, touch, to the fresh scent of flowers – it’s a very relaxing and uplifting experience.