Five University of Missouri engineering faculty traveled to Iraq in October to plan a program to improve the country’s universities and encourage social and economic development.
The International Research and Exchanges Board selected MU for the University Linkage Program, one of eight coordinated through the U.S. State Department and the American embassy in Iraq. The program pairs MU with the University of Technology, Iraq, located in Baghdad. Participants discussed ideas to be implemented during a three-year process beginning in 2012.
MU engineering faculty members who attended the event in Erbil, the capital of the Iraqi Kurdistan autonomous region, were Sanjeev Khanna, Vlad Likholetov, Noah Manring, Linsey Barker Steege and visiting professor Kifayah Abbood Al-Saffar. The host city has been continuously inhabited for nearly 8,000 years.
The College of Engineering began its relationship with Iraq in 2009, when Dean James Thompson was introduced to the director of a nationwide educational initiative there. They discussed the possibility of having Iraqi students come to MU to study engineering, and Likholetov, research assistant professor of chemical engineering, said the linkage program was the next logical step.
Al-Saffar, a visiting professor of industrial and manufacturing systems engineering from Iraq, said she has gained new knowledge during her time at MU that will allow her to improve her curricula in Iraq. Khanna, LaPierre professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, also emphasized the added visibility the college will receive from the program.
“This shows us that our academic programs have international recognition, so people are aware of the high standards we maintain in the College of Engineering,” Khanna said. “It’s also a recognition of our efforts to develop our college into something beyond the U.S. borders. We’ve been expanding our efforts to make our college more global in scope.”
Topics covered during the meetings in Erbil included modernization of Iraqi curricula, specifically in the areas of industrial engineering, nanotechnology and renewable energy. All of these fields are critical to improving the country’s infrastructure.
The Baghdad university is working to develop specific academic programs as well as technologies for harnessing solar and wind energy. A major component of that process involves the introduction of modern equipment to Iraq, and the education of Iraqi professors in its use. Several faculty from the University of Technology, Iraq, will visit MU in fall 2012 to learn more about these tools.
“This is sophisticated equipment we use routinely in the United States, and their faculty and staff do not know how to use it,” said Manring, interim chair of electrical and computer engineering. “Part of our job will be to teach them how it works.”
Since Iraq’s economy, like those of other Middle East nations, relies heavily on petroleum production and export, engineering is critical to the country’s fiscal success. Manring and Khanna both say engineers will be at the forefront of Iraq’s rebuilding process, which requires creativity and expertise to generate a strong infrastructure. Al-Saffar noted that engineers are needed in a variety of other industries as well.
“Engineering is important for the whole world, not only for Iraq,” she said. “Without engineering, we would have nothing. Engineers are involved in communication, health and transportation. Engineering is the most important science for countries like Iraq that are recovering from conflict.”
Several of the professors say they were thankful for the hospitality their hosts showed, and they quickly grew comfortable in the northern city, which is near the borders of both Turkey and Iran. They added that they saw areas where MU and other American universities could form closer ties with schools in Iraq. Khanna said that Michigan State University is doing similar work to advance science programs, while Georgia State is assisting with liberal arts curricula.
Likholetov said he sees potential for MU to expand its collaboration to other fields beyond this three-year project.
“We met students in Iraq who wanted to travel to the United States to study music and fine arts,” he said. “This is a stepping stone for more opportunities, and we are going to work hard to make it a long-term, sustainable partnership.”
— Ryan Schmitz