By Nazrul I. Khandaker, GSA Fellow and Chair, GSA International; Professor of Geology at York College and Graduate Center, City University of New York

Bangladesh Open University (BOU) selects Dr. Syed Humayun Akhter (geology professor at Dhaka University, Bangladesh) as Vice- Chancellor.

Figure 1. Dhaka University Geology Campus is located inside the iconic Curzon Hall.

Image 1. Dhaka University Geology Campus is located inside the iconic Curzon Hall.

Sincerest congratulations to Humayun, my batch mate, for reaching the pinnacle of success as Vice Chancellor. The timing of the announcement coincided with the One Hundred Year celebration of the establishment of Dhaka (previously Dacca) University (DU) in 1921 (Image 1). Dr. Syed Humayun Akhter’s high-profile appointment to such an esteemed public university in Bangladesh is very significant; he is perhaps the only known geoscientist ever to assume the leadership position in the upper echelon of an academic institution of higher learning. His previous role as an educator, research supervisor (both internal-and-externally funded projects), and administrator (Chair Professor and Provost) will certainly speed up the process to train individuals often left out from attending or completing higher education due to financial and personal reasons (Image 2 and Image 3).


Image 2. Syed Humayun Akhter is leading a field-mapping course. Acquisition of field experience is a major focus in both undergraduate and graduate programs.  A part of Dakhin Nilla anticline is exposed along the Chittagong coastal belt showing long escarpment, which prominently exposes the lower Boka Bil Formation (Upper Miocene) in the axial region.

Image 2. Syed Humayun Akhter is leading a field-mapping course. Acquisition of field experience is a major focus in both undergraduate and graduate programs.  A part of Dakhin Nilla anticline is exposed along the Chittagong coastal belt showing long escarpment, which prominently exposes the lower Boka Bil Formation (Upper Miocene) in the axial region.
Figure 3. Syed Humayun Akhter (sitting) with Belal Ahmad Sayeed (standing to the left) and Nazrul Khandaker. Humayun’s visits to Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in the past enabled get-together in New York City and sharing information about the status of geosciences in Bangladesh.

Image 3. Syed Humayun Akhter (sitting) with Belal Ahmad Sayeed (standing to the left) and Nazrul Khandaker. Humayun’s visits to Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in the past enabled get-together in New York City and sharing information about the status of geosciences in Bangladesh.

Since the inception of the Dhaka University-supported geoscience program in 1949, thousands of students have graduated with well-rounded educations, and are currently working as professionals, academicians, consultants and technocrats. The remarkable change that became quite evident in the last decades was the narrowing down of gender gaps, where female students’ representation either reached or exceeded equilibrium! It is very encouraging to notice the current workforce with an increasing number of female representation (Image 4). BOU’s selection of Humayun to lead this core mission to bring STEM education and technical skills to the women population in Bangladesh will ensure greater participation and financial upbringing to the Bangladesh economy.


Image 4. An astonishing representation of female geology students at Dhaka University. It was unfathomable in 1973 when we started as undergraduates. Attraction towards geoscience careers and broader available scopes for employment opportunities and pursuing higher education piqued their interest.

Image 4. An astonishing representation of female geology students at Dhaka University. It was unfathomable in 1973 when we started as undergraduates. Attraction towards geoscience careers and broader available scopes for employment opportunities and pursuing higher education piqued their interest.

The selection of Humayun to spearhead the mission of the Bangladesh Open University is very timely, as the COVID-19 related learning loss and knowledge gap needs to be addressed and mitigated. As an innovative thinker who possesses broad-based societal knowledge, Humayun is prepared to bring many practical ideas and strategies to the Open University for implementation. I am confident in Humayun’s vision to expand upon continuing adult education, particularly with financially distressed and underrepresented women in STEM fields.   

Figure 5. Geology students are busy at collecting structural data from the highly folded Neogene clastics. Medium to fine-grained and well-bedded sandstone of Boka Bil Formation (Upper Miocene) is exposed in Balukhali Khal section of Sitakund anticline, Chittagong, Bangladesh.

Image 5. Geology students are busy at collecting structural data from the highly folded Neogene clastics. Medium to fine-grained and well-bedded sandstone of Boka Bil Formation (Upper Miocene) is exposed in Balukhali Khal section of Sitakund anticline, Chittagong, Bangladesh.

Other public academic institutions involved in offering geoscience, environmental science and applied geosciences program in Bangladesh include Rajshahi University – Geology and Mining, Barishal University  – Geology and Mining, Jahangirnagar University – Geological Sciences, University of Chittagong – Forestry and Environmental Science, and Jashore University of Science and Technology – Petroleum and Mining Engineering. DU remains as the lead geoscience and disaster management science programs in the country. 


Image 6. The classic, textbook quality upper Miocene outcrops with alternations of thin-bedded sandstone and shale typify the Boka Bil Formation at Teknaf Sea Beach (located in the southernmost part of Bangladesh). Structurally, these represent the down thrown block (footwall), the western flank of the Dakhin Nilla anticline. Near vertical strata (towards the west) are allowing students to envision about the paleogeography of the area.

Image 6. The classic, textbook quality upper Miocene outcrops with alternations of thin-bedded sandstone and shale typify the Boka Bil Formation at Teknaf Sea Beach (located in the southernmost part of Bangladesh). Structurally, these represent the down thrown block (footwall), the western flank of the Dakhin Nilla anticline. Near vertical strata (towards the west) are allowing students to envision about the paleogeography of the area.

“The need for an open university in Bangladesh was felt long ago. The history of distance education in Bangladesh dates back to 1956 when the Education Directorate was assigned with the responsibility for distribution of 200 radio receivers to educational institutions. This led to the creation of an Audio-Visual Cell, which was upgraded to the Audio-Visual Education Centre in 1962. After Independence (1971), Bangladesh faced the challenge of meeting the educational needs of the masses. The necessity for a new mode of education was widely felt to meet this challenge. As a sequel to that feeling, the School Broadcasting Pilot Project was launched in 1978. The project was transformed into the National Institute of Educational Media and Technology (NIEMT) in 1983. The plan became a reality in October 1992 when the Bangladesh Open University Act 1992 was passed in the Parliament.” https://www.bou.edu.bd/index.php

Figure 7. Wave-cut terraces are exposed along the shorefront of St. Martin’s Island, located approximately 9 km south of the tip of the Cox’s Bazar-Teknaf peninsula - forms the southernmost part of Bangladesh.  Gently dipping medium to fine grained argillaceous sandstone with interbeds of thickly laminated shale of Boka Bil Formation (Upper Miocene) are prominently exposed.  A veneer of calcareous boulders is found near the axial region of St. Martin’s anticline, St. Martin's Island, Chittagong, Bangladesh.

Image 7. Wave-cut terraces are exposed along the shorefront of St. Martin’s Island, located approximately 9 km south of the tip of the Cox’s Bazar-Teknaf peninsula – forms the southernmost part of Bangladesh.  Gently dipping medium to fine grained argillaceous sandstone with interbeds of thickly laminated shale of Boka Bil Formation (Upper Miocene) are prominently exposed.  A veneer of calcareous boulders is found near the axial region of St. Martin’s anticline, St. Martin’s Island, Chittagong, Bangladesh.

Being greatly focused on distance learning, BOU is striving to provide access to its students with the tools and content to become educated and job ready, and eventually foster economic growth to situate Bangladesh as a developing country in the world in the next two decades. BOU – with 12 regional centers located in various parts of Bangladesh – is engaged in providing students with education including social science, health science, applied science, and engineering technology. Currently BOU is working in close collaboration with other Open Universities located in Malaysia, Sri Lanka and the United Kingdom. BOU also affiliates with the Association of Commonwealth (ACU), the Global Alliance for Transnational Education (GATE), the Commonwealth Open Schooling Association (COMOSA), the International Council for Open and Distance Education (ICDE), the South Asia Foundation (SAF), the Asian Association of Open Universities (AAOU), and the SAARC Consortium on Open and Distance Learning (SACODiL).

Figure 8. The annual celebration called “DUGEOEXPOSURE” unites everyone and geology students are proud to display their innovative work with the greater DU community. A true depiction of Citizen Science.

Image 8. The annual celebration called “DUGEOEXPOSURE” unites everyone and geology students are proud to display their innovative work with the greater DU community. A true depiction of Citizen Science.

As a close friend, I have stayed in direct touch with him for over four decades since graduation, and witnessed his successful upward progression in academia, research and geoscience outreach (Images 5 through 7). I admire the Bangladesh Government, particularly the Honorable Chancellor and the President of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, Abdul Hamid, for selecting Humayun for the position and focusing on his stalwart services including teaching, research and geosciences outreach that crossed domestic boundaries and reached the international arena. Being a highly acclaimed tenured professor at Dhaka University, Humayun outspent his time in building a geoscience community by encouraging students to take part in international activities through the Geological Society of America (GSA), American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG), Society of Exploration Geophysicists (SEG), and Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE). The recent outcome of over 20 geology students earning the L. Austin Weeks Scholarship testifies to his able leadership (Images 8 through 11).

Figure 9. DU geology alumna Iffat Azmi (now at North Carolina State University) joined AAPG- Student Chapter-hosted virtual seminar and shared her graduate academic experience. Regular communications with alumni yield to successful networking and encourage students to seek relevant information regarding higher education.

Image 9. DU geology alumna Iffat Azmi (now at North Carolina State University) joined AAPG- Student Chapter-hosted virtual seminar and shared her graduate academic experience. Regular communications with alumni yield to successful networking and encourage students to seek relevant information regarding higher education.

Aside from being an internationally known researcher on structure, tectonics, and geohazards associated with the Bengal Basin, Humayun is a high profile geoscientist in the country and local news and digital media always seek his opinions and consider him as a credible source of information related to natural hazards. Thumbs up to Humayun!  

Figure 10. COVID-19 pandemic did not put a complete dent in student-led activities.  Well-focused and guided students took advantage of L. Austin Weeks Undergraduate Scholarships and became successful. Local Student Chapters AAPG, SEG, SPE, UDGS were among the recipients.

Image 10. COVID-19 pandemic did not put a complete dent in student-led activities.  Well-focused and guided students took advantage of L. Austin Weeks Undergraduate Scholarships and became successful. Local Student Chapters AAPG, SEG, SPE, UDGS were among the recipients.
Figure 11. Determined and highly motivated students competed for the prestigious L. Austin Weeks Undergraduate Scholarships and prevailed. Local Student Chapters AAPG, SEG, SPE, EAGE were among the recipients.

Image 11. Determined and highly motivated students competed for the prestigious L. Austin Weeks Undergraduate Scholarships and prevailed. Local Student Chapters AAPG, SEG, SPE, EAGE were among the recipients.

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