Thursday, April 26, 2007

A Trip Down Memory Lane (Part 3A): A Mentor-Colleague-Friend During my UF Days and Thereafter: Prof. Robert G. Dean

Continuing along my trip down memory lane (here and here), I have two outstanding academicians to thank for my successful journey along the Ph.D. route at the end of which I could proudly declare, I’m Phinally Done, yet without the trauma often associated with Permanent head Damage, both being plays on the word, Ph.D.

The first is Prof. Ashish J. Mehta, who served as the Chairman of my Ph.D. supervisory committee. And the other is Prof. Robert G. Dean, then the Chair of the Coastal and Oceanographic Department at University of Florida (UF). In a way, I had the best of both worlds in the continuum of coastal sediment dynamics. While Prof. Mehta is renowned in fine-grained and cohesive sediment research, Prof. Dean’s expertise in coarse-grained and cohesionless sediment transport as applied to sandy beach processes is legendary.

Today’s segment will be devoted to Prof. Dean, as a mentor, a colleague, and a friend. And there is a very simple reason for that choice of order. Back in 2003, I became aware of the Coastal Engineering Today meeting organized to honor Prof. Dean on the occasion of his retirement from UF. I also noted that a commemorative collection of letters and photos would be prepared for the meeting. The image, taken during the Waves 2001 conference, shows Prof. Dean to the extreme right with Prof. Tony Dalrymple, the organizer of the Coastal Engineering Today meeting and now with Johns Hopkins University and from whose personal web page this image is taken with thanks, to his left.

I realized then that I do not have any memorabilia concerning Prof. Dean in my possession, except a cherished memory of interaction with him in a variety of ways. Therefore I decided to pen this memory in the form of a written recollection of our interaction in appreciation of his kind assistance along my chosen path of becoming a competent coastal engineer and researcher.

Along with others, Prof. Dean has been invaluable and instrumental in imparting to me a firm grounding on the fundamentals of coastal engineering in particular as well as living the life of a decent human being in general, and the recollection is my way of expressing my gratitude.

I have contacted the organizer recently and was informed that the commemorative collection has been handed to Prof. Dean but is not part of the proceedings of the meeting, which comprised technical presentations on coastal engineering advances inspired by the works of Prof. Dean. Since this recollection is my thoughts on my learning process, both professionally and personally, I have decided to blog it here, both as a life impacting experience to be shared, and perhaps as a benchmark to gage the progress of my writing skills, seeing that what follows represents my way of writing circa 2003, verbatim.

It is noteworthy that were it not for the Internet and an online mail account that I’m still keeping today, I would not have been able to locate the following article, which has stayed stored in virtual space all these years.

Since it is a lengthy piece, my recollection will appear in two parts, conveniently separated by the time I left UF. Here, then, is Part A.

Prof. Robert G. Dean, Professor Emeritus, University of Florida (A Mentor, A Colleague, And A Friend) [Part A of 2]

I first came across the name of Prof. Dean in the beginning of a counterpart attachment to the consortium of international consultants commissioned by the Government of Malaysia to undertake the National Coastal Erosion Study in late 1984. That 15-month attachment under the tutelage of the late Mr. Neill E. Parker, the project manager of the study, opened my vista to the fascinating field of coastal engineering, and the pioneering work of Prof. Dean.

At the end of that study period in mid-1985, and as a preparation of the Government of
Malaysia to staff the proposed Coastal Engineering Technical Center, I was offered a
Federal Government Scholarship to pursue a graduate degree in Coastal Engineering. Mr. Parker was then kind enough to write three letters of recommendation on my behalf to three US universities well-known for their coastal engineering education: one to Prof.
Robert L. Wiegel of University of California, Berkeley, CA, the second to Prof. Bernard
LeMehaute of University of Miami, Coral Gables, and the third to none other than Prof. Dean of University of Florida, Gainesville. Unfortunately, I could not locate my copy of the letter of recommendation to Prof. Dean; otherwise it would have made a nice memorabilia. That was my first “brush” with the legendary Prof. Dean, but I doubt he remembered the brief encounter as it was done through a letter, albeit from an old friend of his.

As it turned out, I never made it to University of Florida then. Instead, I’ve had the good fortune of landing in UC Berkeley where I studied under Prof. Wiegel, Prof. Joe Johnson, and others. It was during this sojourn that I suspected I first met Prof. Dean in person. That was the occasion of the symposium held at UC Berkeley to honor Prof. Morrough O’Brien in March 1987. I’ve no recollection of this personal encounter, but a check of the proceedings of the symposium (Shore and Beach, July-October 1987) confirmed his attendance as a speaker, and hence my presumption.

During my 18-month academic journey into the more theoretical aspects that underpin much of the practice of coastal engineering, Prof. Dean’s name popped up more often, much like a beaming beacon guiding the uninitiated like me in deep forays into the complex realm of coastal engineering. His much celebrated textbook that he coauthored with Prof. Robert Dalrymple, Wave Mechanics for Engineers and Scientists (a.k.a Dean & Dalrymple to the initiated), was a constant companion as a supplement to the comprehensive lecture notes of Prof. Rodney Sobey in the Wave Mechanics course.

I had to wait until the spring of 1991 before I could meet Prof. Dean in person when I enrolled into the graduate degree program of the Coastal and Oceanographic Engineering Department at University of Florida. His gentle smile behind black-rimmed glasses, his affable disposition, his firm handshake, and his never-failing words of fatherly concern left a lasting impression on me.

Through my four years at UF, I took every course offered by Prof. Dean, three in all
(Littoral Processes, Non-Linear Ocean waves, and Numerical Modeling of Beach System). The assigned text during the course on Littoral Processes was the draft copy of the now published Coastal Processes with Engineering Applications (Cambridge University Press, 2002), which he co-authored with Prof. Robert A. Dalrymple. Those days some of the texts were still hand-written, including most of the questions, and I would like to think that I had a small part in beta-testing some of the questions. And thanks to Prof. Dean, I’m now a proud owner of the “zero” edition of the soon-to-be-known-as Dean & Dalrymple II, as distinct from the Dean & Dalrymple referred to earlier.

Despite having spent more than three decades on the subject, Prof. Dean still managed to maintain his curiosity in the field. That was, to me, best exemplified on one field expedition that the class (Littoral Transport) made to the Atlantic coast. There he frolicked in the surf, coming in and out of the white waters, like a teenage boy going after his priced collection (to feel the undertow tugging perhaps), leaving me, about two scores in years younger, eyes dazed, agog, and on the shore, safe from the turbulent churning. While the surf image below is not along the Atlantic seaboard where our field lesson took place but rather the Clearwater Beach facing the Gulf of Mexico at the location of the St. Pete Municipal Pier, it suffices to demonstrate the peril of a high surf condition.

Prof. Dean also sat on my Ph.D. supervisory committee as my research topic of interaction of mud profiles with waves has some analogy with his well-known work on sandy profiles. I too derived a close-form profile equation for an alongshore-uniform mud shoreline with additional consideration of wave dissipation due to wave-soft bed interaction. This consideration leads to a different profile modality, one which is able to migrate from a concave upward to a convex upward form, depending on the wave dissipation characteristics of the substrate, as opposed to a monotonically concave upward form of the Dean’s profile.

I used a similar approach to evaluate the cross-shore sediment transport, and hence, the temporal profile evolution, it being a function of the degree of deviation from a target profile based on the equilibrium beach profile concept.

One other activity that has etched into not only my own memory, but my wife’s too (I guess my kids were still too young to cherish the memory, but not too young to relish the moments though), is the annual Christmas get-together in his house, which we attended without fail. I especially enjoyed the occasion as it fostered an atmosphere of “letting one’s hair down” that facilitated “getting to know you”, especially for new graduate students who may have left the comforts of their home countries and were thrust into this strange and unfamiliar, both physically and culturally, land for the very first time.

(Please stay tuned for Part B.)

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