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Associate dean-turned-student sets sights high

A man looks at the camera standing next to a railing.

After earning his master’s and business degrees at a university in England, Ecuadorian native Jorge Abad returned to his South American alma mater to teach, rising through the ranks and eventually becoming associate dean. A student once more, he’s working on his doctoral degree through MU’s IMSE program and is focused on his goals.

Things somehow always fall into place for Jorge Abad, an MU industrial and manufacturing systems doctoral student from Ecuador. But, Abad said, luck has nothing to do with it.

“It’s opportunity and ability,” he said.  Abad has had plenty of experience with both.

Abad is from Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city, the industrial hub of the small South American country. He knew when he graduated from high school that he wanted to pursue a career in industrial engineering but his father who, at that time, owned and operated a printing company in the city, persuaded him to stay in Guayaquil and go to Escuela Superior Politecnica del Litoral (ESPOL) and earn a degree in mechanical engineering. He argued that his son could later earn a master’s degree in industrial engineering abroad.

“For me, being a technical manager — reducing costs and improving services and quality — is what I want to do. I also like economics,” Abad said. “With these skills, you can work anywhere.”

During his senior year at ESPOL, Abad took a job at a bank, working in the Department of Quality. That position led to another job as plant manager for a new factory, which was followed by a similar bank position. Six months into his second bank job, he applied for a government scholarship to get his master’s degree headed to Cranfield University in England, where he earned a master’s degrees in industrial engineering, followed by a business economics degree from England’s University of Manchester.

Ecuador requires students to repay their scholarships by teaching in the university system. So after Abad’s return to Ecuador in 1998, he went to work during the day and in the evening taught classes in logistics and production at ESPOL. Abad’s day jobs included working for Eternit as a financial manager and PriceWaterhouseCoopers as a management consultant. At Repsol, he was responsible for the logistic and distribution for the gas business unit.

The faculty in Abad’s ESPOL department, Mechanical and Production Sciences, asked him to apply to be a full-time professor. He joined the faculty in 2007, and in 2008, won an election to be associate dean. Prior to 2010, Ecuador’s university faculty were not required to have earned a doctorate to teach, but when the requirements changed, Abad, a now-tenured faculty member, weighed several options and applied to a number of programs to complete his graduate study.

He was awarded, a Fulbright Scholarship, and he narrowed his search to the industrial engineering programs at Northeastern University at Boston and MU’s Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering.

“I looked at the MU program on the web page and liked what I saw. I considered that Columbia was a smaller city, which I wanted for my children. I chose MU,” said Abad.

His decision also was influenced by the fact that MU IMSE Professor Bin Wu was on the faculty at Cranfield when Abad was a student.

Wu leads the U.S. Department of Energy-funded Missouri Industrial Assessment Center (MU IAC), whose mission is to provide energy efficiency services to industries in Missouri, promoting best practices in energy efficiency, reusable energy, waste reduction and productivity. The program offers energy audit and productivity assessments to qualified small- to medium-sized manufacturing companies.

It is this work that Abad has chosen to use as a focus his dissertation, with a plan to eventually replicate the program in his home country. So, two years ago, Abad, his wife, Rita, and their children, Luis and Alejandra, sold most of their possessions and moved to mid-Missouri.

“My children thought I was being very mean to them,” Abad said of his son and daughter, now 12- and 10-years-old. The two have changed their minds about the move, easily adapting and assimilating to life as pre-teens in Columbia, Mo.

“When we came, they didn’t speak English, but now they make fun of me for what they think are my poor English skills,” their father said, adding that he is proud of their accomplishments and that they too are expanding their horizons.  “They are experiencing a different culture and a different way of looking at things.”

Abad has been working as a teaching assistant for IMSE Professor James Noble, but will soon begin conducting MU IAC assessments, working as a graduate assistant with Wu. He expects to complete his doctorate within two more years.

In the meantime, he and his family have traveled around the country as sightseers.

“This experience has been priceless for both me and my family,” Abad said of their move to Missouri and the work he is doing.

“I want to apply the same things that the MU assessment center does in Ecuador with a focus on industrial assessments for energy efficiency,” said Abad, adding that he also plans to return to ESPOL to teach.

“I would someday like to be chancellor of ESPOL,” he said, adding that he is inspired to aim even higher by the fact that his childhood Boy Scout leader, Rafael Correa, is Ecuador’s president.

When asked if he has set his sites that high, Abad answered, “Maybe not president. I’d prefer Minister of Industry. It’s all about opportunity and ability.”