Studying Coastal Engineering with the Dutch Masters – Joseph (Jack) Colonell – Netherlands 1960

1961-06 Enclosure Dike

Here the dike was closed, 28 May 1932

When I determined that I wanted to further pursue my interest in coastal engineering, I pondered “What better place to study than the Netherlands, whose prowess in coastal engineering has enabled it to survive the fury of North Sea storms that have battered its rings of protective dikes for centuries?”

In Spring 1960, I was notified of the success of my application and advised to prepare for my Fulbright year at Delft Technological University (DTU) in the city of Delft, Netherlands. In September, after two weeks of Dutch language instruction and an orientation to the history and culture of the Netherlands at the seaside resort of Noordwijk near Amsterdam, I made my way to Delft to begin my Fulbright adventure.

Upon completing the DTU enrollment formalities, I learned that my faculty advisor would be Professor Johannes Thijsse. While I had previously heard and read about Professor Thijsse, an internationally known coastal engineer and Director of the world-renowned DTU Hydraulics Laboratory, the most I had hoped was that I would be able to attend his lectures and perhaps to meet him. To hear that he would be my mentor at DTU was good fortune beyond belief!

Professor Thijsse had been the chief engineer for design and construction of the 20-mile long Enclosure Dike that was completed in 1932 and which, effectively, protects most of the central part of the country from storm-driven floods from the North Sea. In addition to providing flood protection, the Enclosure Dike created on its landward side a large freshwater lake called Ijsselmeer, which became a rich fishing ground. Since construction of the Enclosure Dike, several thousand square kilometers around the periphery of Ijsselmeer have been drained and reclaimed for agricultural, residential and industrial uses.

After completion of the Enclosure Dike, Professor Thijsse and his fellow coastal engineers (including many former students) continued their work of designing and building more flood protection works to protect their country and to create more land. The expansive Deltaplan in southwest Netherlands was constructed in response to the 1953 flood, during which more than 1,800 Dutch citizens and countless livestock were lost. The Deltaplan, which consists of several massive tide barriers and large tracts of reclaimed land, was named one of the World’s Seven Engineering Wonders by the American Society of Civil Engineers. These and continuing accomplishments by Dutch coastal engineers support the adage: “While God created the Earth, the Dutch created the Netherlands.”

Thanks to Professor Thijsse’s tutelage and guidance, I enjoyed academic and research opportunities that would not have been available to me elsewhere. It was truly an honor to know Professor Thijsse and to benefit from mentoring by the “Father of Dutch Coastal Engineering,” as he is known.

Joseph (Jack) Colonell – Fulbright to Netherlands 1960

1 Response

  1. Dick Groot

    Jack Colonell also was an outstanding and generous ambbassador for the USA at a time when there was a lot of negative talk about americans. We lived in the same student accomodation and have been lifelong friends since. Importantly he introduced me to chips and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches as well as Charlie Brown and Cannery Row.

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