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OSU-Iraq partners on track for plan

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OSU Iraq

Andy Cripe | Gazette-Times Nabeel H. Al-A'aragi, president of Babylon University, left, and Ali Ismael Obeid Al Snafi, president of Dhi Qar Universtiy, right, look at an Oregon State University brochure at the start of a meeting with Oregon state University officials in February 2009. It was the first meeting with representatives from Iraqi universities and OSU that forged a partnership focusing on sustainable building practices.

Representatives of Oregon State University and Iraq’s Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research have signed another memorandum of understanding to move forward on a sustainable-education partnership that now has been three years in the making.

The reconfirmed partnership between OSU and Iraq, signed last week, will eventually bring hundreds of faculty and students to OSU from Iraq for training and research opportunities, with the goal of establishing sustainable practices in engineering, agriculture and forestry in Iraq.

The document was signed during a three-way video conference linked to OSU’s Kelley Engineering Center, the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research office and the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. 

Previous memoranda of understanding have been signed between OSU and the Iraqi government, including the November 2010 document between Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski and the Michael Scott Mater Foundation that planned to implement the proposed National Education Program in Sustainable Engineering throughout Iraq.

But a new higher education minister, Ali al-Adeeb, along with a new Iraqi cabinet approved by the nation’s parliament in December — made it necessary for both parties to revisit and reconfirm the partnership.

“We knew at the time that there was the potential to have new leadership at the top with the new government coming in,” said Catherine Mater, director of sustainability programs for OSU’s College of Engineering, who’s made several trips to Iraq.

Fortunately, the sustainable-education program was a priority for al-Adeeb’s ministry. Al-Adeeb approved partnership recommendations put forth by Iraqi educators this summer and helped organize the reconfirmation signing.

The $102 million partnership will help Iraqi universities build on sustainability-focused coursework in engineering, agriculture and forestry and enable OSU and Iraqi faculty to collaborate on sustainable building codes and engineering testing labs in Iraq.

Over the five-year period of the agreement, the partnership will bring 380 Iraqi faculty to OSU for two-week teaching seminars. It will also provide 100 faculty research fellowships and 250 postgraduate research appointments at OSU for Iraqi educators and students. 

So far, 30 Iraqi universities are signed on to the program, and more are expected to join.

The partnership was born in 2008, when Mater’s son, Josh, was serving in Iraq with the U.S. Army’s Special Forces and learned that Iraq’s Dhi Qar University had been bombed, resulting in the loss of many of the library’s textbooks. Josh Mater asked his mother if OSU could donate some replacement books, and eventually $30,000 worth of texts focused on sustainable engineering were donated to the university.

The Iraqi Ministry of Higher Education will pick up roughly half the tab for the project, $55.6 million. OSU will contribute $27.3 million, and the Michael Scott Mater Foundation, founded by Josh Mater in honor of his late father, will kick in $19.6 million. 

Dhi Qar University’s faculty then became interested in sustainable engineering education, and the university, along with other Iraqi institutions, explored training opportunities with OSU. About 20 faculty members visited Oregon in February 2009 to learn more about sustainable engineering.

Focusing the education partnership on sustainable engineering and research is necessary due to the state of engineering today, even in a nation rebuilding its infrastructure, like Iraq.

“That is the future of where the world is going right now,” Mater said. “That’s what students need to be trained in.”

Contact Gazette-Times reporter Gail Cole at 541-758-9510 or gail.cole@gazettetimes.com

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