“It Was Interesting!” – SUSU Veteran, Candidate of Sciences (Engineering), Professor Vladimir Stikhin

In the year of SUSU’s 75th anniversary, a veteran of the university, Candidate of Sciences (Engineering), professor of the Department of Welding Engineering, former Dean of the Workers’ Faculty and the Mechanical and Technological Faculty of the Chelyabinsk Institute of Engineering and Technology, Vladimir Stikhin is celebrating his 85th birthday.

He has been teaching and doing research for more than half a century. The main field of his research is technologies for welding products from special alloyed steels. Professor Stikhin is the author of nearly 80 scientific works and textbooks and an Honored Worker of Higher Education of Russia. He was awarded the Badge of Honor of the Ministry of Higher Education of the USSR “For Excellent Success in Work”, a Medal from the Exhibition of Achievements of the National Economy, and Certificates of Merit from the Governor of the Chelyabinsk Region and the Mayor of Chelyabinsk.

“I studied in a typical village school, we didn’t have any engineering classes or societies there. But I was intensely interested in mathematics, physics, chemistry, and radios were my hobby. So I knew quite well that I would enroll in an engineering major,” remembers Vladimir Stikhin. “I considered a few universities as possible places to study, including Ural Polytechnic Institute (today known as Ural Federal University named after the First President of Russia B.N. Yeltsin). But in the end, I preferred Chelyabinsk Polytechnic Institute (ChPI), which I don’t regret at all. I took the entrance exams in 1951. I wanted to enroll in the ChPI Faculty of Power Engineering, which had just opened, but I just barely missed the number of points I needed. Since I loved physics and am interested in power engineering, I was advised to enroll in the Mechanical and Technological Faculty in the Welding Department, and if I didn’t like it there, transfer to the Faculty of Power Engineering. That’s what I did. I studied there for one year and I understood that I didn’t need to change my major, it was interesting to me.”

– Please tell us about your student life.

– I believe that we got lucky with our professors. Our mentors included wonderful specialists and engineers, fantastic pedagogues and well-known researchers from Leningrad (St. Petersburg now), Sverdlovsk (Yekaterinburg now), and Chelyabinsk with solid work experience: Petr Berezkin, Aleksandr Rudakov, Ivan Patskevich, Leonid Khrustalev, Oskar Bakshi, and many others. And all of them treated students very well.

When I was studying, the current student campus didn’t exist – there were no academic buildings and no dormitories. The Institute was just starting to be built – they had begun erecting the heat engineering building. The ChPI Communist Youth League Committee decided that each student should work in construction of this building for no less than 50 hours. My peers and I mostly did excavation for the foundation. There was little mechanisation of this labour, we had no excavators. At that time, the trolleybuses only went to the Pedagogical Institute. You got out of a trolleybus, crossed the Chelyabka river (now this river is hidden under asphalt), and kept going by foot past the barracks to the lot where the construction was being done. And when the building was ready, we had parties and holidays there in room 103 – we had no assembly hall because the main building was just being erected. But the large classroom held almost all of the students – there were much fewer of them than now. When they built the first wing of the main building, they gave it to the Faculty of Engineering and Construction (now the Institute of Architecture and Construction). We saw the building layout – it was supposed to look roughly like it does now. But here began, as is well-known, fights with “architectural excess”. The causes are understandable: the government had just survived and won the hardest war, its development and the construction of new residential areas and factories required a huge amount of resources – they needed to build as much as possible as cheaply as possible. We were all very upset when we found out that the project was being cut – there would not be a tower with a spire, and they would only build seven floors. Only in the beginning of this century, when the university was headed by German Vyatkin, did they complete construction of the SUSU main building and give it the image that had been planned from the beginning.

Then, in my student years, they began construction of Dormitory No.1, so we lived there in our last year of study. Before this, students mostly lived on Mogilnikovskaya Street, where the Central Market is now located, in rental apartments: some rented a room, some rented just a bed, depending on their financial situation. The main building of ChPI was School No.11 (Lyceum No.11 now), but we did not study there. Our lectures and seminars were held mostly in the Assembly Vocational School in the second half of the day, and our laboratory work was completed in various places: for physics and electrical engineering – in the Power Vocational School, where there were good laboratories, and for heat engineering – at TETs-1 (a thermal electric power station). Our physical education lessons were held at the Palace of Culture of Sergo Ordzhonikidze Plant.

We also didn’t have the number of cafes and cafeterias like SUSU has now. We ate where we could. There was a canteen at School No.11 and a cafeteria at the Power Engineering Vocational School. We ate at home, of course – we cooked on our own.

– How did your path to science begin?

– When I was still a student, the head of the Department of Welding, Konstantin Eskov, who noted my academic successes, brought me into a research project. I went to ChTZ (Chelyabinsk Tractor Plant) twice a week to do research in the plant’s laboratory. It was interesting to me. At that time a new idea was implemented everywhere: bushings for machines and mechanisms should be made of steel, but areas of friction should have bronze welded on. Although bronze is less durable than steel, it is more resistant to abrasion. My task was to determine which grade of bronze would be best for this application. I included my results in the research portion of my final project. This was my first experience with serious research work.

– How did the path to your profession develop?

– I graduated from ChPI with honors. At that time, they sent you to different jobs. But they took into account students’ academic performance and how they showed their skills in their studies at the institute. Konstantin Eskov proposed that I stay as an assistant in the department. At that time, the teachers who worked there had solid practical experience that I, of course, did not. I thought about it and I declined. I decided to go into manufacturing, work, and if my interest in science remained, I would then work in research.

I ended up at Sergo Ordzhonikidze Plant (ZSO). I worked with passion. The plant worked on secret projects – closed production for the army, including the welding of ИС-3 tanks (one of them stands on a pedestal in Komsomolskaya Square, so I knew all of the welds for this machine. The finished tank bodies were sent to ChTZ, where they were outfitted with everything they needed. Then this tank was removed from production, and the ZSO turned to different military production – in particular, rocket bodies. This work was extremely interesting, but also very tense and it came with a lot of responsibility – these were military orders! We used new methods of welding and materials which were highly irregular for that time – steel and titanium alloy. Titanium, as is well known, has the advantages of steel and aluminum – it is durable and light-weight. I proved myself well, and after about a year and a half, I was appointed the head of the plant’s welding laboratory. This work was so fascinating and took so much time and energy that I had to forget about the offer to teach at the institute. But I maintained contact with the department. I worked with great success, I was in good standing, I made efficiency proposals, and received inventors’ certificates for my creations that were put into production.

Oskar Aleksandrovich Bakshi, the creator and head of the Chelyabinsk School of Welders and Structural Analysts, who was at that time an assistant professor of the Department of Welding, recommended that I return to research. I hoped that I could combine my work at the plant with writing my candidate dissertation. But the plant is the plant – manufacturing, plans, deadlines. There was no time for research, but the desire to work on it remained. I left the plant and enrolled in the postgraduate program – almost eight years after graduating. I knew all of the methods of welding, and not from the books. This solid body of experience was helpful for both teaching and research.

I chose the same topic for my research that I had been working on while at the plant: study of plasma sources of heating during welding. At that time, this was a new field in the USSR, which had been mastered by the E.O. Paton Electric Welding Institute in Kiev. One thing that was interesting is that before me, there were only two dissertations on this topic successfully defended in the Soviet Union. My research advisor was Ivan Patskevich. But, unfortunately, after one year, he left for Lvov Polytechnic to head one of their departments. So I had to work on my own and complete all of this with just my own wits. So it took me five years to complete my candidate dissertation. But I did it! I was given a position in the Department – junior researcher, then I was made senior researcher, then an assistant. I went from teacher to professor. I worked until I was 80 – I retired in 2013. Of course, I maintain a relationship with the university. By the way, in 2014, I was still working at SUSU as a head analyst. I do not regret at all that I dedicated my life to research and teaching.

– Please tell us more about your work in the university.

– I was a research advisor for two people who defended their candidate dissertations. Both of them went on to work at SUSU and complete research. These students were Vladimir Malakhovsky and Boris Berezovsky, who, by the way, went on to defend his doctoral dissertation and became a professor. Unfortunately, they have both passed away.

One very interesting topic of my research was the development of techniques for welding workpieces from high-alloy steels for important, special-purpose products. My colleagues from the E.O. Paton Electric Welding Institute and I developed a flux for the automated welding of tank armor; we obtained an inventor’s certificate for our creation.

From 1973 to 1982, I headed the Institute’s Preparatory Department (Workers’ Faculty). During this time, we solved a number of organisational, academic, and methodological issues: we created specially-equipped classrooms and subject-based methodological divisions and organised the work of the pedagogical committee for our department. The ChPI Workers’ Faculty became one of the largest leading faculties in the Ministry of Higher Education – it had 550 students, was a member of the Exhibition of Achievements of National Economy, and became host for regional meetings two times. By assignment from the All-Union Scientific and Research Institute for Abrasives and Grinding, I prepared and published a fact sheet about the experience of the Workers’ Faculty.

From 1983 to 1994, I was the dean of the Mechanical and Technological Faculty. The administrative work took a lot of time and resources. So, it was great pity, I did not have the energy to complete my doctoral dissertation.

I can’t remember the 1990’s without a bit of shuddering. The university and faculty had a particularly difficult time because of problems with state financing. Contract work with different businesses helped us.

– Can you compare students from different time periods?

– Students are always students. Of course, in your youth, you want to have fun and party. But in the Soviet times, we were more serious about our studies, we were more responsible, even those who did not have any special talents for academics. We knew that we would work in manufacturing. Also, everyone was required to work for a few years wherever they were sent. In my opinion, this was good – the businesses gained workers, and the students gained work. I think it would be good to bring this system back for those who study with government funding. It’s not good when graduates of Russian universities (not international students!), who studied with government funding and earned their degree, go to other countries. After all, the state educated them to benefit itself, and not for the benefit of some other country, it spent a lot of money on them, and many professors helped educate them. In the 1990s, “brain drain” was a pervasive issue. Thankfully, the situation is changing bit-by-bit for the better, which makes me carefully optimistic.

Today’s graduates don’t always work in the same field as their degree. Sometimes, their degree is just a piece of paper they need to get work. In the 1990s, economy and law were especially popular among applicants. Many students who worked diligently in school and had solid body of knowledge applied to these faculties. Those who didn’t study so well, on the other hand, went to the technical fields. In addition, in the post-Soviet times, the level of teaching lowered significantly, including in the subjects that are especially important for future engineers – physics and mathematics. So today’s students either don’t know or don’t remember that which was considered elementary in the Soviet times. For example, in our time, we had a saying “Don’t know the law of Ohm? Stay at home”. In the post-Soviet times, I met students who didn’t know this law. But recently I was lucky enough to teach very strong students with whom it was both interesting and difficult to work: they study diligently, consciously, dig deep – they want to get to the very essence of an issue and understand everything. At times I had to study special literature to explain everything to them fully. Such graduates (unfortunately, there are not enough of them frankly speaking!) are in high demand among employers. Many students are more passive, they study without due diligence, they are lazy, they don’t care about anything except getting their piece of paper called diploma. Frankly, it is embarrassing – there might be some complaints about the university because of them.

Some things were better organised in the Soviet times, especially practical training at factories, and students were better prepared for real work. The plants were required to take on students for practical training. Now they take them reluctantly. Thankfully, I have noticed some positive trends: a number of factories are ready to pay high-performing students a scholarship if they, in return, come to work with them after obtaining their degree.

But you can’t learn everything even in the very best university. So, either way, graduates have to finish their education while working. In the Soviet times, young specialists were paired with more experienced workers who were able to explain or provide help when necessary. In my opinion, a “fresh” engineer needs about half a year to begin to understand the manufacturing processes well in a plant. So the system of mentorship absolutely must exist in factories.

– Are there graduates of yours that you are especially proud of?

– Of course. Over the years I taught and headed the Workers’ Faculty and then the Mechanical and Technological Facture, there were hundreds of specialists who proved themselves, achieved great career heights, and reached success in research or in their work in factories. The list is so long, that it is probably impossible to name them all in an interview. I will name just a few: Vycheslav Sobko headed Sergo Ordzhonikidze Plant (now “Stankomash”), where I also used to work; Aleksandr Pomazan climbed the ranks to head engineer of the Trubodetal plant; Evgeny Nikitin worked as the director of Polet radio factory. Every once in a while, I meet up with my graduates, and I’m always happy to hear their words of gratitude for how well we taught them.

– What do you do in your free time?

– I read classic Russian literature – I like Lev Tolstoy and Chekhov. I still drive my car – before, I was a motorcyclist. But my main hobby is tourism. I remember how, in our youth, my friends and I went on hikes and floated down rivers in boats: on Chusovaya River from the headwaters down with the current to the city of Chusovoy; on Biya River, in Siberia, we went from Teletskoye Lake in the Altai Region to Biysk. The sights there are wondrously beautiful – the feelings from seeing it all remain with you your whole life. I have taken a motor boat down Kama, Volga, Don, and Neva rivers. I’ve gone hiking in the Altai Region and through the Caucuses by the Voenno-Gruzinskaya and the Voenno-Sukhumskaya roads. I have been to fourteen countries.

– What would you like to wish our university on its 75th anniversary?

– Our university has always been in good standing and has always been a leading university in our country. I wish SUSU further development and prosperity! To students, I hope that you take your studies seriously, master different skills, become highly-qualified specialists and good people – educated, well-mannered, erudite. Teachers, I wish you good students and success in academics and research!

Ivan Zagrebin
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