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Successful first year propels Iraqi Linkage Program forward

A group of people pose for a photo.

University of Missouri College of Engineering faculty and staff pose for a group photo with faculty members of the University of Technology-Baghdad on the group’s last day of its visit to the U.S. Pictured, from left, are: Front row: Shubhra Gangopadhyay, C.W. LaPierre Endowed Chair Professor in electrical engineering at MU, Thaira Zakaria Altayyar, UoT-Baghdad assistant dean of electrical engineering, Adawiya J. Haider, director of the Nanotechnology and Advance Material Research Center (NAMRC) at UoT-Baghdad, Jill Ford, MU Engineering executive director of student programs, Muna Abbas, visiting scholar from UoT-Baghdad. Back row: Keshab Gangopadhyay, research professor of electrical engineering at MU, Ali Laiq Abed, assistant lecturer at NAMRC, Vlad Likholetov, MU Engineering head of international partnerships and initiatives and project director of MU’s Iraqi University Linkage Program, Farhad Kushnaw, professor and head of the ceramics and building materials unit at UoT-Baghdad, and Kadhum Muttar Shabeeb, a professor at UoT-Baghdad.

“Having the Iraqi faculty here face-to-face has been the highlight of the program so far,” said Vlad Likholetov in reference to the University of Missouri College of Engineering’s participation in the Iraqi University Linkage Program (ULP).

Head of international partnerships and initiatives for MU Engineering, Likholetov serves as project director of MU’s ULP, one of eight funded U.S. university programs. The linkage program, initiated by the U.S.-based nonprofit, International Research and Exchange Board (IREX), takes aim at mending and strengthening higher education in Iraq after years of widespread destruction and disorder.

A woman speaks behind a podium.

Adawiya J. Haider, director of the Nanotechnology and Advance Material Research Center (NAMRC) at UoT-Baghdad discusses her time spent visiting the U.S. as part of the Iraqi University Linkage Program.

Prior to December 2012, program partners from MU and the University of Technology (UoT)-Baghdad had conducted brief visits back and forth to lay groundwork for the program, which has components in nanotechnology, energy efficiency, accreditation assistance in industrial and development of career services.

In addition to the challenges posed by compromised facilities, daily life for faculty and university students in Baghdad can be unpredictable.

“Nothing can be taken for granted there,” said Likholetov of the MU team’s efforts to establish/open up regular communication channels with Iraqi counterparts. “Electricity can go out, Internet can be spotty, and there are language barriers, time differences and a shorter work day in Iraq – challenges that must be dealt with. Under the circumstances, personal, face-to-face interaction becomes of paramount importance. ”

The first year of the program culminated in a visit by five Iraqi faculty members to MU for three weeks in December. The group spent time in working with MU faculty members in labs and meetings to familiarize themselves with current technology and to lay foundations for joint coursework development.

“It became quite personal, maybe more than one would expect. We developed really close friendships,” Likholetov said.

The Baghdad university faculty-researchers have primary interest in the field of nanotechnology, and while here, delved deeply into the topic.

“There are many benefits achieved by gaining more skills in nanotechnology laboratories in preparation, characterization and analyses of results,” said Ali Liaq Abed, assistant lecturer at the Nanotechnology and Advance Material Research Center (NAMRC) at UoT-Baghdad. “Access to a new research area, advanced technology, equipment and instruments opened a wide perspective on world.”

Abed said he has applied to do his doctorate at MU.

Professor Adawiya Haider, an accomplished researcher who serves as director of the NAMRC, said that in addition to an introduction to new procedures and the opportunity to enhance her lab skills and work on actual projects, she observed MU Engineering’s practice of encouraging undergraduate students to get involved in research.

“MU is more advanced, for example, in the process of giving projects to first year students, while in our system it occurs in their final year. From my viewpoint, this can give the student a wider range of experiences to improve not only in practical, but also in academic knowledge,” Haider said, adding that she would like to do the same thing at UoT.

As director of NAMRC, Haider also is keenly interested in safety and the risks that might arise in the preparation of nano-materials.

“Hopefully there will be collaboration with MU to help our center in building up the requirements of standard safety specifications,” Haider said.

“I was learning something new every minute I spent there,” said Professor Farhad Kushnaw, head of the ceramics and building materials unit at UoT-Baghdad.

Kushnaw sees many opportunities in the collaboration, such as training for faculty and curriculum development. He would welcome lab and student collaborations in nanotechnology, and is excited about more Iraqi graduate and undergraduate students receiving training and experience in nanotechnology at MU.

Currently, 10 Iraqi master’s students are studying at Mizzou Engineering and Likeholetov said the program might eventually support 50 graduate students.

Thaira Zakaria Altayyar, UoT-Baghdad assistant dean of electrical engineering, said there were many things about the visit that were of interest, including training in nano, solar and bioengineering labs, a visit to MU’s energy plant and a lecture on environmental health and safety.

“We discussed curricula at MU to improve our curricula at UoT,” Altayyar said. “The lectures and representations in Shubhra’s [Gangopadhyay, C.W. LaPierre Endowed Chair in electrical and computer engineering] classroom were of great interest.

“I will do research projects with my students and faculty at UoT to continue researching in the same field that I was trained in at MU. And now there are professors and Ph.D. students at MU who can collaborate with us,” Altayyar added.

With research areas that include renewable energy and wastewater treatment, Kadhum Muttar said it is important to see how developed countries approach current issues in his field as well as nanotechnology.

“I think it will be very beneficial to UoT-Baghdad if MU can help us prepare training programs with a focus on experimental work more that theoretical things in renewables and energy efficiency,” Muttar said.

All of the Iraqi faculty visitors expressed interest in long-term collaborations and almost unanimously supported the idea of sending high achieving Iraqi graduate and undergraduate students to MU for training.

“We will continue to build relationships and explore opportunities,” said Likholetov. “We are interested in building something that will be sustainable and self-sufficient over the years to come.

MU’s efforts in the areas of nanotechnology, energy efficiency, accreditation assistance in industrial and development of career services are led by Professor Shubhra Gangopadhyay, Sanjeev Khanna, a LaPierre Professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, Luis Occeña, associate professor and department chair of industrial and manufacturing systems engineering, and Meredith Shaw, MU Engineering’s director of career and professional development, respectively.

Both institutions have more trips planned for 2013 including administrative visits to formally strengthen the inter-institutional partnership.