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Corps holds engineering webinars in Iraq

BAGHDAD, IRAQ — Staying professionally aware has been a bit easier for Iraqi engineers with a series of web-based seminars offered at Gulf Region Division (GRD) in Baghdad. The web seminars began in January 2007, when engineers in the program management section at GRD wanted to establish a relationship with Iraq’s engineering community.

"It’s just engineers working with other engineers and establishing relationships, a dialogue," said Steve Rivera, deputy director of GRD’s reconstruction division, "and that stimulates friendships and conversation. That’s why we’re here."

"There’s quite a bit of continuing education required on the licensing side for civil engineers," said Alexander Newman, the most recent lecturer in a series of webinars, seminars delivered from a remote location via the Internet. Newman was talking about continuing education requirements for licensing civil engineers in the different U.S. states, which can vary greatly. The necessary continuing education may not be a licensing requirement for civil engineers in Iraq, but the seminars have been well-attended with 70 to 80 engineers filling the available seats at each opportunity in the GRD Annex chapel.

Iraqi civil engineers study deterioration and repair of concrete at a Feb. 24, 2009 Webinar meeting held at Gulf Region Division, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Iraq. The class was instructed seven time zones away from Natick, Mass., by Alexander Newman, author of "Structural Renovation of Buildings," and "Metal Building Systems: Design and Specifications."



Newman presents the engineering topics for the GRD webinars from his office at Exponent Failure Analysis Associates in Natick, Mass. Some of the topics presented have been Renovation of Masonry Façade, Renovation of Slabs on Grade, Strengthening Concrete Buildings, and Deterioration and Repair of Concrete.

"I do a lot of webinars for American Society of Civil Engineers in general," Newman said, "and there was this opportunity to help the people in Iraq because there was an interest in learning about the best techniques in various types of construction and design." Newman is able to draw upon text, photos and illustrations from his several books to teach the seminars but the hard part has been dealing with the seven- to eight-hour time difference.

"Some of these webinars start at something like 5:30 in the morning here," Newman said, "so it’s not just me, because other people here have to come in bleary eyed but somehow we got it all going."

Newman said the topics for the seminar were selected by the Iraqi audience, "with some input from us. And we went back and forth as to what would be the most advantageous thing to do. Without me actually knowing what the real needs are, a lot of that was guesswork, but we came up with a lot of different topics that were hopefully some help."

Mohamad Gozeh is a naturalized American who received his degree in civil engineering from the University of Mosul in 1976. Now offering consulting services with his own company, Rocky Mountain Geotechnical Engineers, in Colorado Springs, Colo., he returned to Baghdad last summer after an absence of almost 20 years.
Gozeh was intrigued by the seminar called, "High-Rise Steel Structures; New Construction Technologies."

"Most of the engineers in Baghdad want to convince the business developers to bring steel buildings here," Gozeh said, "but people in this country are not used to it. When you build with steel, especially for multi-story buildings, you occupy less space on the ground. Baghdad is a growing city and there are about 6 million people living here. They need a lot more space."

Newman could also sense the audience’s interest in his presentation about building with steel, even eight time zones away. "One interesting webinar was an introduction to high rise and skyscraper design," Newman said. "That topic was requested several times by the Iraqi side." Newman said he had to research this particular presentation from scratch to "make something snazzy and interesting. High rise construction is presently on a needed list here," he said. "The highest skyscraper in the world is being built in Dubai, the height of which is still confidential, and won’t be released until completion. I’m sure our engineers are confident those will be built in Iraq as well."

Gozeh said Iraq’s difficult history of multiple wars and sanctions since 1980 has not only stunted construction growth but also forced professionals, including himself, to leave the country. Gozeh graduated from engineering school in Iraq but the present dean of the civil engineering college at Baghdad’s University of Technology, Namir Al-Saudi, studied his profession at the University of Manchester. That was a time when the Iraqi government sponsored students to study abroad.

"Most of (the engineering faculty) who have graduated before the 1980s from universities in the United Kingdom or the States, are close to retirement age," Saudi said. "Since the 1980s, there were no scholarships, so there were no Iraqis studying abroad. All the newer staff members have graduated from Iraqi universities. Of course there is a great difference between European university graduates and Iraqi graduates. This is one of the main problems Iraq has as a nation, the (performance) level is degraded. But we look forward to improving the capacity of the younger staff members by having good relations with American and British universities."

Saudi said the basics of engineering education in Iraq are comfortingly reliable, just as they are at any university world-wide. "When you teach Newton’s law, it is the identical law of physics since Newton’s time," Saudi said. "It is always there. But what have changed are the mechanisms, the measurement techniques, the new building materials, the improvements in communication, developments of information technology and the Internet facilities. For engineering curriculum, whether 30 years ago or today, about 70 percent stays the same."

Gozeh said Iraqi engineers are starving for all kinds of technical information right now, and the source is not a critical consideration. He said it would be helpful if engineers in the west even packed up their old professional magazines and shipped them to Iraq.

"If the security problem is solved completely, Iraq will be a big workshop for all sectors of engineering," Saudi said, "not just engineering, there will be many jobs. And if an investment program is encouraged, then Iraq will become a very big workshop, indeed."

Contributed by Rick Haverinen, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Public Affairs Office, Gulf Region Division