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Intellectual Connections Worldwide

Hunter Rouse (center) traveled the globe to share his passion for hydraulics.

Hunter Rouse (center) traveled the globe to share his passion for hydraulics.

According to his wife, Hunter Rouse spent half his time away from home due to national and international business travel when his career was at its busiest. By 1967, shortly after he became dean of the University of Iowa’s College of Engineering, his mother calculated that he had traveled half a million miles by air—the equivalent of 20 circles of the globe. Rouse’s many trips were conceived with a broad goal in mind: promoting engineering hydraulics education and research, and establishing intellectual connections with colleagues and students around the world.

Of course, Rouse was not the first to connect IIHR to people and agencies beyond the university’s walls. Indeed, partnerships have defined the Hydraulics Lab since the 1920s, when founding Director Floyd Nagler joined with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to develop functional culverts, bridge piers, and other practical structures. Nagler also affiliated the institute with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to survey and investigate utilization of the Upper Mississippi River and its Iowa tributaries.

A Statesman for Hydraulics

But it was Rouse who extended IIHR’s connections into the international realm and pushed them to the extreme. He became well known for tirelessly fostering international exchanges of personnel, information, and goodwill. His love of travel and fascination with foreign cultures took him to Istanbul and Singapore, Bora Bora and Leningrad, and points beyond.

Believing that such travels boosted world understanding and stability, he encouraged international experiences among IIHR’s staff. In the early 1960s, Rouse became one of five Americans to participate in a U.S. State Department–arranged exchange of American and Soviet hydraulics directors — an exchange that he had conceived. In 1974, he joined the first group of engineers to tour the People’s Republic of China. A widely sought consultant and lecturer, he relished international conferences and projects, he examined research laboratories around the world, and he enjoyed being a world statesman for hydraulics.

Spreading the Gospel of Hydraulics

International travels brought foreign students flowing into “Rouse’s Hydraulics Lab,” many seeking mentorship by “the master” and then carrying his expertise back to their countries of origin, where they shared it with their own students. Once established in careers, these students asked Rouse to return and lecture at their universities. “Of course!” he would say, using his visits abroad as opportunities to strengthen existing professional bonds while recruiting new international students. Soon Rouse was boasting that half of IIHR’s graduate students came from nations other than the United States – a total of 43 other nations by 1970. Even today, former students returning to visit the “IIHR family” recount stories about Rouse’s courses—the most demanding of their graduate years, they say, but also the most useful and profound, the classes that stretched them the most.

IIHR Researchers John S. McNown with students representing more than 10 different countries. They are inspecting the institute's air-speed measurement tunnel.

IIHR Researchers John S. McNown with students representing more than 10 different countries. They are inspecting the institute’s air-speed measurement tunnel.

And what about students who couldn’t travel to the United States? How would they learn to apply the fundamentals of fluid mechanics to hydraulic engineering problem-solving? Those who were able asked Rouse to design laboratories for their own universities. Would he provide plans for schools in Columbia? Perhaps for those in Venezuela and the Philippines? “Yes,” he replied, drawing the preliminary designs himself and then supervising members of the IIHR shop staff as they constructed the necessary equipment. For those who could not afford such luxuries, Rouse wrote textbooks that expanded the fluids mechanics curriculum in the United States and many other countries, and he produced movies that he narrated himself, films that demonstrated with remarkable lucidity the important physical processes of water’s flow. Those movies, now about a half-century old, are still occasionally used in classrooms (the films are also available on the IIHR website).

No Rest for Rouse

Even after Rouse retired and retreated to the sunshine of Arizona to focus on his hobby of gemstones, the requests continued: would he come to South America? Taiwan? Mainland China? What about Australia? Rouse answered yes to all, lecturing abroad until his urge to travel quieted as he approached the age of 80, in the mid-1980s.

Hunter Rouse (who died in 1996 at 90) left Iowa for Arizona nearly 35 years ago, but his legacy lives on. IIHR continues to welcome graduate students from other nations—60 in 2011 alone, 57 percent of IIHR’s total student body, representing 18 countries. But now the formal educational exchange goes both ways.

One year after Rouse died, IIHR initiated its International Perspectives in Water Resources Science and Management short-course, which takes 12–20 students abroad for two to three weeks to focus on multiple aspects of water resources elsewhere. To date, courses have traveled to China, Taiwan/Japan, Turkey, Egypt, Eastern and Western Europe, and Argentina, with a repeat visit to India in 2011–12. Rouse would have heartily endorsed this program.

In addition, IIHR scholars regularly travel abroad to lecture and consult with colleagues in other nations. They work with UNESCO to share floodrelated research information around the world, and they teach in various venues — for example, training scientists in other nations in advanced methods of monitoring rivers and processing data for river flows. And IIHR continues to share expertise in developing practical structures through projects such as helping design dropshaft systems to carry storm or sewer water to underground chambers in Abu Dhabi, London, and Toronto (see story, page 23).

Today, challenges such as climate change and the failure of water supplies throughout the world increasingly remind us that hydraulic engineering, and broader environmental problems, do not recognize political boundaries. Put another way, we all — regardless of nationality or location — must respond within a global setting. Thus we need a union of people, organizations, and problem-solving approaches unlike any seen before — a forming of new and more comprehensive partnerships around the world. With nearly 100 years of international experience, and with the model provided by Rouse and other past leaders, IIHR is well suited to rise to the call.

By Cornelia Mutel

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Last modified on June 29th, 2015
Posted on February 27th, 2012

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