Iraqi university presidents visiting Oregon State University this Saturday


CORVALLIS, Ore. – As part of a tour of key campuses across the United States, a delegation of Iraqi university presidents is visiting Oregon State University this Saturday. The initiative is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and the American Council on Education, but the OSU leg of the tour was made possible, in part, by the efforts of an alumnus who helped create a relationship between OSU and Iraqi universities while serving as a captain in the U.S. Army.

Ali Ismael Obeid Al Snafi, president of Dhi Qar University in southern Iraq, and Nabeel H. Al-A’aragi, President of Babylon University just east of Baghdad, will meet with OSU President Ed Ray and other campus leaders, tour OSU College of Engineering research facilities and sign memoranda of understanding between their institutions and Oregon State. They are among seven presidents making similar visits to universities around the United States this week, a visit that began last week with participation in the American Council on Education’s annual conference in Washington, D.C.

The presidents have said they are interested in setting up partnerships and completing exchange agreements with their U.S. counterparts to increase scholarly activity between higher education institutions in both countries. They also are being exposed to the latest that top U.S. universities have to offer in technology, administration and pedagogy, and using that knowledge to help improve Iraq’s higher education systems.

Iraq’s colleges and universities, which suffered under Saddam Hussein and were further hit hard by sectarian violence in over the past few years, have enjoyed more peaceful times over the past two years. Classes at the University of Baghdad, for instance, are reported to be full, and the university says it no longer has difficulty with staffing.

Both Dhi Qar University and Babylon University are set to be part of the nation’s first engineering faculty exchange seminar between the United States and Iraq. Proposed by the OSU College of Engineering, the seminar is scheduled for August 2009. The exchange seminar will focus on sustainable engineering and design, green building materials use in construction projects, and renewable energy technologies.

The relationship between OSU and the Iraqi campuses had its genesis last year, when then-Army Captain Josh Mater gathered about 200 engineering textbooks worth $10,000 for donation to Dhi Qar University. Mater had been stationed in Iraq as part of rebuilding efforts, and had seen firsthand the dire need for supplies. He and his family, through the Michael Scott Mater Foundation, paid to ship the textbooks to Iraq. The Foundation, which he founded, is named for Mater’s late father; his mother, Catherine Mater, is director of sustainability for the School of Civil and Construction Engineering at OSU’s College of Engineering.

Josh Mater now works for Honeywell and is stationed in Iraq, where he is an on-the-ground liaison between Iraqi institutions and OSU.

At OSU, the two Iraqi university presidents will meet with Ray and the leadership of the OSU College of Engineering on Saturday, 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m., at Kearney Hall, Kewitt Conference Room 111. After discussions and signing of the memoranda, they’ll tour Kearney Hall, which is in the midst of a major renovation, and then visit the O.H. Hinsdale Wave Research Laboratory, the world’s largest scientific facility for tsunami research and related wave studies.

That evening, the group will be hosted by OSU Engineering and International Programs leaders at a private dinner before flying out of Portland for Washington, D.C., the following day. Media interested in attending any portion of the visit may call OSU News and Communication Services at (541) 737-4611.