MU professors traveling to Iraq to help university train engineers

Saturday, June 2, 2012 | 6:28 p.m. CDT; updated 9:53 p.m. CDT, Thursday, June 7, 2012

COLUMBIA — Vladislav Likholetov, an MU research assistant professor and director of international partnerships, will lead a team to Iraq to strengthen the education of the country's future engineers.

MU engineering professors have teamed up with Baghdad's University of Technology through the University Linkage Program, which is administered by the International Research and Exchanges Board and funded by the U.S. Department of State through the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

MU's College of Engineering received a subgrant from the International Research and Exchanges Board to develop a project to help the University of Technology's engineering education. The grant will provide $1 million over three years, Likholetov said. After it expires, he said he hopes the universities will continue to communicate.

"The intent is to make this a long-term, sustainable relationship," Likholetov said.

Likholetov, the project leader, specializes in the global spread of technology information through educational partnerships, commercialization and research collaboration.

The team of seven College of Engineering faculty and staff will fly to Iraq on June 17 to meet a partner team of 20 faculty members from the University of Technology in Erbil. The MU team will then hold a three-day seminar aimed at updating the engineering program offered by the Iraqi university, Likholetov said. 

"Historically, Iraq has been a very advanced country in education," Likholetov said. However, Iraq's educational system was isolated because of the myriad problems the country has experienced in the last decade, he said.

Now, as the country slowly settles down, the University of Technology is looking for ways to catch up. To aid them in their efforts, Likholetov helped develop four areas in the University Linkage Program that the project will address.

  • Area one: Update the curriculum for industrial engineering. Linsey Barker Steege, an MU assistant professor of industrial and manufacturing engineering, will help the University of Technology develop courses in this area, such as engineering management.
  • Area two: Create two new courses in energy efficiency and renewable energy sources. Sanjeev Khanna, an MU professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, will work with the Iraqi university to provide training and develop these classes.
  • Area three: Train engineers from the university in nanotechnology. The university possesses equipment for the field, but no one can currently operate it. In fall 2012, engineers from the University of Technology will travel to Columbia to go through intensive training with MU's College of Engineering and learn to operate the equipment. Shubhra Gangopadhyay will guide the visiting engineers through this training.
  • Area four: Begin a career and professional development program for engineering students. Because of the government's previous involvement in the university, engineers were selected for jobs by the government upon graduation. As government involvement loosens, students need to learn basic skills, like how to write a resume and how to apply for a job. Meredith Shaw, head of the College of Engineering's career services office, will work with the Iraqi team to develop this program.

The seminar will feature a workshop in which the MU team will help the other university gain certification from the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. Achieving this certification will be a big step in updating the engineering program. Larry David, a retired industrial engineering professor and expert on the accreditation board, and Scott Kovaleski, an MU associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, will collaborate with the University of Technology to achieve the certification. 

Likholetov and the other professors involved in the project have done lots of communicating with their counterparts in Iraq since January, when the project officially began, he said. 

"We have the chance to finally talk face to face," Likholetov said. 

But the process of developing the project wasn't without complications, Likholetov said. Communication is challenging because of language and cultural barriers, let alone the unreliable Internet in Iraq that makes Skype conferences difficult. 

Kifayah Abbood Al-Saffar, a visiting professor of industrial and manufacturing engineering from Baghdad, has been a key component in overcoming differences and difficulties, Likholetov said. She is currently at MU but will return to her country to help the team during the project.

Supervising editor is Hannah Cushman.

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