Asian Institute of Technology Celebrates 50th Anniversary with CSU Founders

CSU Professor Emeritus Arthur T. Corey never dreamed when he taught his first groundwater and irrigation master’s-level courses in Thailand that he would be returning 50 years later as an honored guest of the prestigious institution he helped create, the Asian Institute of Technology.

On September 8, 2009, Corey and John D. Nelson, another CSU Professor Emeritus and former AIT instructor, will join AIT’s President Said Irandoust in celebrating a half-century of education, training and research in the Asia-Pacific Region. The Golden Jubilee will honor all those who have contributed to AIT’s advancement and achievements, starting with the faculty members from Colorado State University who founded the school.

As one of the visionaries who helped lay the groundwork for the SEATO Graduate School of Engineering, as AIT was originally known, Corey remembers the excitement involved in building a new school overseas. His wife, Vera, and sons, Philip and Paul, shared his enthusiasm for the chance to spend two years in what they had heard was an interesting and exotic foreign land.

Working with CSU Professor Thomas Evans, who served as the school’s first dean, Corey developed the school’s curriculum in hydraulic engineering. Professor Maurice Albertson was the campus coordinator for the CSU contract, and involved in recruiting new faculty to teach at the school. Corey’s research programs in groundwater and irrigation engineering made him the obvious choice to play a leadership role in this new international school.

In September 1959, Corey and three other instructors from SEATO-member countries began teaching the first master’s level courses to a class of 18 students from Thailand, India, the Philippines, and Pakistan.

Corey played another key role at the new school. He was charged with creating a Regional Technical Library to serve individuals, universities and research organizations throughout Southeastern Asia. He continued working to build the library collections when he returned to the U.S. following his two-year teaching appointment.

As the school began attracting students from a wide range of countries and new programs of study were offered, AIT’s international reputation grew. Top scientists and engineers took time during their travels in the region to present special seminars, providing a unique opportunity for AIT students and faculty to interact with leading experts from around the world.

John Nelson was one of the AIT faculty members who benefited from this exposure. He was recruited to AIT in 1968 from the IIT Research Institute, and was responsible for developing the school’s soil dynamics program. Nelson tailored the program to meet the needs of developing countries in Southeast Asia, focusing it around the design of foundations for large machinery. His research centered on the behavior of Bangkok clay, with applications to embankment and foundations. Nelson extended his two-year contract at AIT, teaching soil dynamics, mechanics and testing courses for a total of five years before joining the faculty at CSU in 1973.

“I can think of no other international aid program that has been more successful,” says Nelson. “AIT is now an independent, autonomous institution that has an excellent international reputation. Being a part of its beginnings, and learning what I did as a faculty member there, has been the cornerstone of my entire career.”

Since its founding in 1959, the institute has graduated more than 16,000 men and women from 80 countries; today, women constitute 36% of the graduates. The original course offerings in hydraulic engineering quickly expanded to include highway and structural engineering. AIT now offers postgraduate education in engineering, technology, development and management, with courses taught by faculty from more than 20 countries.

AIT boasts a number of distinguished graduates who are joining in celebrating the 50th anniversary. Dr. Subin Pinkayan, who earned his master of engineering degree in 1961 from AIT and his Ph.D. from Colorado State University under Dr. Yevjevich, is one of the most prominent AIT alumni. Over his career, Dr. Pinkayan has held numerous high-level positions in government, serving as Thailand’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Commerce, Minister of University Affairs, and Deputy Minister of Finance. He is chairman of the SEATEC Group of Companies and honorary advisor to GMS Power.

Dr. Anat Arbhabhirama, one of Dr. Corey’s former students, also has AIT connections. After earning his M.S. at AIT and Ph.D. at CSU under Corey, Dr. Arbhabhirama returned to AIT as a professor and then member of the administration. He was named Minister of Agriculture and Cooperatives in Thailand, and is currently the CEO and managing director of the Bangkok SkyTrain, Bangkok’s above-ground rapid transit light rail system.

Dr. Ramchand Oad, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Colorado State, is another distinguished AIT graduate who earned his master’s in water science and engineering.

The Asian Institute of Technology has met the original goals set by its founders. It is recognized for furthering economic development, social wellbeing, and political stability in the Southeast Asian nations. Its graduates hold positions in government, private practice, and academia, working to conserve natural resources, bring higher living standards to their countries, and develop new industries. The Ramon Magsaysay Award for International Understanding was presented to AIT in1989 for shaping a new generation of engineers and managers committed to Asia, in an atmosphere of academic excellence.

Professors Corey and Nelson will join Pinkayan and other former colleagues and friends for a dinner with AIT alumni. The 50th Anniversary celebrations also include roundtable workshops, exhibitions, open houses, and an awards ceremony.

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