GoAbroad Interview

Issam Srour - Associate Professor of Engineering 

Issam Srour - Associate Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Dr. Srour is an Associate Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the American University of Beirut. His research focuses on the use of quantitative techniques and sustainability principles to solve real-world project management problems including information, labor, and material management. Dr. Srour earned MS and PhD degrees in civil engineering from the University of Texas at Austin. He also holds a BE degree in civil and environmental engineering from the American University of Beirut.

After earning your master’s and PhD at the University of Texas in Austin, what attracted you to work for AUB?

After finishing my graduate studies at UT Austin, I worked for an international project management firm where I was exposed to large scale construction projects worldwide. The decision to leave the corporate world and return to academia was driven by one, my desire to build a career in academia, and two, my passion towards AUB. My first experience with AUB was in the late 1980s. As a child, AUB was a safe haven where my friends and I would escape the chaos of Beirut and play sports in an ideal environment.

American University of Beirut professor with Barcelona soccer shirt
Celebrating AUB 150th anniversary with a Barca shirt by Messi

You earned your bachelor’s degree at AUB. How do you use your own experience as a student in your current role?

I do feel that I have things in common with AUB students. My experience as a student at AUB helps me understand our students’ perspectives. I have an appreciation for the hard work that they do. I can relate to the dilemmas they face in terms of choosing an area of concentration, or in terms of career planning and choices.

What makes AUB a great place to study engineering abroad?

Several factors make AUB a great place to study engineering abroad. First, the quality of education is at par with highly ranked institutions in North America. We are an ABET accredited school, the vast majority of our faculty members received their Ph.D. from the best schools in North America, and our students are considered the “cream of the crop” in the region. Furthermore, education at AUB is affordable compared to other peer institutions in North America.

American University of Beirut professor and students
Final year project students

How do you help engineering students solve real-world problems through their coursework and assignments?

Most of the problems we work on in undergraduate and graduate classes relate to issues faced in practice, whether in an engineering office or on a construction site. Not only do I bring to the classroom my first hand experience with real-world projects, but I also ask the students to draw on their exposure (even if limited) to the real-world through internships or even discussions they have had with family members or friends who are active in the engineering profession.

The real world projects and research you’ve done in civil and environmental engineering breakdown complex issues and make them relatable and accessible. Why is this field important to study when it comes to understanding the relationship between social, environmental, and economic factors in the field?

The relationship between the civil and environmental engineering domain and the sustainability triangle (society/environment/economy) is intricate. It is hard to find a civil engineering real-world or research project that does not touch on these factors. Throughout our research, we are constantly looking for ideas to enhance the environmental performance of our built facilities while maximizing value for key stakeholders (often times society at large). 

American University of Beirut dean and students
With dean and students after FEA students won the Big Game

Why is Beirut a particularly interesting destination to study engineering?

Throughout history, Beirut has been a source of robust engineering education for the region. Graduates of AUB’s Faculty of Engineering and Architecture (FEA) act as role models for young engineers and architects. Founders, CEOs, and managers of the major regional engineering and construction firms have links with AUB. In addition, a good number of AUB’s FEA graduates build successful careers in other parts of the world such as Africa, Western Europe, and North America. What is common across all these graduates is the unique experience they received while studying at AUB. 

In what ways can international students get involved in the engineering community in Beirut?

By coming to Beirut, international students get a chance to work on challenging engineering projects. Most of the large scale complex projects in the Arabian Peninsula (airports, railroads, highways) feature work by Lebanese engineers, and engineering firms based in Lebanon. Several faculty members at AUB have first hand experience with these projects. International students can also be engaged on challenging development projects in Lebanon. Examples include projects with social and environmental dimensions such renewable energy, water and wastewater management, and low cost temporary facilities for displaced communities.

American University of Beirut students and faculty
Group of students and faculty organizing the Big Game

What type of research opportunities do AUB students have at their fingertips?

AUB students have great research opportunities whether their work is of theoretical or experimental nature. Most faculty members are actively engaged in innovative research projects focusing on problems and challenges of relevance to the country and to the region. My graduate students work on practical problems faced by the construction industry. For example, we develop economic and mathematical models to manage construction and demolition waste resulting from regular construction activities and from emergency demolition (e.g., wars, earthquakes). We also develops models and tools to manage the construction workforce with the goal of maximizing efficiency. 

You’re a regular footballer and as the organizer, the driving force behind AUB faculty and staff leagues. How has has soccer connected you to the AUB community?

I am a firm believer in the role of sports in building and sustaining a healthy community. At AUB, we are fortunate to have outstanding sports facility with sublime views on the Mediterranean. As an avid soccer (football) fan, I play with a group of students, staff, and faculty members on a regular basis, usually twice a week. These games create a sense of camaraderie and community with between the various AUB constituents. My favorite memories include a few tournaments I played with a team comprised of security guards who invited me to join their team. Almost every day I enter campus, I am greeted by a fellow football player with a wide smile. 

American University of Beirut engineering students
Parade of engineering students

What do you enjoy most about working for AUB?

I truly enjoy working with innovative and persevering young minds at AUB. 

It is rewarding to see the development of students throughout their studies. It is equally rewarding to see them build a successful career once they graduate from AUB.