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MU Industrial engineers receive grant to work with faculty from Baghdad university

From left, Vlad Likholetov, director of international partnerships with MU College of Engineering; Sanjeev Khanna, professor MU professor of mechanical engineering; Kifayah Al-Saffar, MU visiting professor of industrial engineering; Noah Manring, MU professor of mechanical engineering; and Linsey Barker Steege, MU assistant professor of industrial engineering traveled to Erbil, Kurdistan, in Iraq, in October to discuss a the partnership with the Iraq University Linkage Program (ULP) with delegates from the University of Technology at Baghdad (UoT). They also spent part of the trip learning about the city, visiting many sites.

Years of war have devastated Iraq’s system of higher education and isolated university faculty and administrators from the international academic world. In an effort to ameliorate the situation, a U.S.-based nonprofit organization, International Exchange and Research Board (IREX), has launched an Iraq University Linkages Program (ULP) whose mission is to “strengthen university curricula, enhance and update teaching methods and technology, and improve career services for students.”

The ULP has partnered with eight American universities to accomplish its goals, including the University of Missouri College of Engineering. Mizzou Engineer’s multi-departmental team applied for and received funding to work with the University of Technology in Baghdad (UoT-B), in a three-year linkage project.

MU Engineering’s ULP efforts will be focused on curriculum/course development and faculty training in the areas of industrial engineering, sustainable energy, and nano/micro fabrication, with different goals for each discipline. A forth focus is aimed at career and professional development.

“This initiative is very important to a country that is rebuilding with scarce resources,” Luis Occeña, chairman of the Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Department (IMSE), said of the program.

Several of MU’s industrial engineering faculty members are engaged in that portion of the ULP project, led by Assistant Professor Linsey Barker Steege. MU Engineering is uniquely positioned to participate since IMSE visiting professor, Kifayah Abbood Al-Saffar, is an Iraqi native who formerly taught at University of Almustansyria College of Engineering in Baghdad.

“As a start to rebuilding, the cultural and educational component is most important,” Al-Saffar said of her war-torn country. “We want to build a future for Iraq’s young people.”

Industrial engineers can play an important role, she added, not just in manufacturing, but also in areas of transportation, health care and education.

Initially, the IMSE department is reviewing UoT-B’s curriculum, teaching methodologies and resources, and helping them to develop assessment criteria in order to move the Iraqi university toward accreditation by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET).

ABET accreditation is voluntary and involves an in-depth peer review process. It provides assurance that a university meets the quality standards established by the profession for which the program prepares its students.

Because of his experience as an ABET evaluator, IMSE Professor Emeritus Larry David is working as a consultant on this portion of the project.

MU faculty will travel to Erbil — a more secure location than Baghdad —  this summer to offer a three-day workshop on ABET accreditation criteria, which will be open to all disciplines.

The second part of the industrial engineering mission is to help make improvements in UoT-B’s engineering curriculum by compiling a collective list of topics and resources that any instructor can utilize while designing two new courses titled Engineering Management and Total Quality Management.

“We will be helping with the development of two courses, both an undergraduate course and a graduate course. This is a linkage program; so we are sharing our expertise but it is a partnership with engagement and participation from both institutions,” said Barker Steege.

This portion of the ULP project will be highly collaborative and faculty from UoT-B will spend ten days on the MU campus observing engineering faculty as part of the process.

“I am more than lucky to see myself involved in the project to help my colleagues,” said Al-Saffar.

A key consideration of the project is the cultural and business model differences between the two countries.

“When we were writing the proposal, we took into account that industry is different in the U.S. and Iraq,” said Esra Sisikoglu, MU IMSE assistant professor.

“This is not a cut and paste project,” said Al-Saffar. “We will have to adapt what we do to the culture and environment of the people. We must prepare students to be marketable in more than one environment, in Iraq, or maybe somewhere else. They will all have to go to work and apply what they learn, not just work on paper.”

Barker Steege said that differences in how writing and other skills are integrated into the curriculum will also have to be considered in the course development and when providing guidance in preparing for accreditation.

“The use of technology in the labs is different, they have specialized majors and also a different educational structure,” she added, noting some of the program’s challenges. “There is a lot we can offer, but there is a lot we can learn.”

There are currently four Iraqi doctoral students studying in the MU College of Engineering. Through Al-Saffar’s connections, the college also is working on a memorandum of agreement with the Kurdistan Ministry of Higher Education to bring more students here.

“The ULP program calls for an initial three-year investment, but once the linkage is established, we can continue with our partnership,” said Barker Steege.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for MU and industrial engineering to be involved in an effort to rebuild, to be a part of that. It’s a very positive thing to do,” Occeña said.

IMSE Professor Jim Noble also is working with the industrial engineering portion of the project. Sanjeev Khanna, MU professor of mechanical engineering is leading the sustainable energy portion of the project and Shubhra Gangopadhyay, MU professor of electrical and computer engineering is the lead for the nanotechnology portion of the program. Meredith Shaw, head of the College of Engineering’s Career Services Office is the lead for the career and professional development for the ULP program. Overall, the project activities are coordinated by Dr. Vlad Likholetov, who serves as ULP project director.