Thursday, July 23, 2009

Summer Travel: Dubai, Kuwait and France

Back from a bit of a hiatus. Since my last blog, I traveled to Dubai to visit LCS civil engineering undergraduates working as summer interns at the Dubai Contracting Company. The interns are doing great, having a terrific time, and getting to know Mr. Abdallah Yabroudi '78, G'79, the CEO of DCC and a graduate of the LCS Civil Engineering program. Dubai is a center of commerce for the Middle East and new buildings are going up one after another.

In the morning, the students are working on DCC construction sites at the Rolex Tower, the 014 Tower (a.k.a. the “Swiss Cheese” building), and the Kingdom of Sheba residential complex. In the afternoons, when temperatures often top 110 degrees, the interns are learning about contracting, cost-estimating, and project management from top DCC managers. As Lauren Seelbach, one of the interns said “It was great to work on construction projects in an area with such a high volume of innovative and unique building. Wherever you looked, there was an example of every phase of the construction process, from foundations to finishes. You can’t find that in a textbook.”

After Dubai, our group flew on to Kuwait to attend an alumni event. We were met at the Kuwait airport by a remarkable alumnus, Iman Al Qatami. Iman was a student at the American University of Beirut in the mid 1970’s when the Lebanese civil war broke out. Iman and her friends transferred to Syracuse University to escape the war. Not only did Iman adapt well to the United States, but she was invited to join the Syracuse women’s basketball team and became team captain. Today Iman lives in Kuwait City and is the Asst. Managing Director for Anwar Al Qatami & Company.
This picture shows some of the remarkable women who attended the alumni get-together – most hold management-level positions in Kuwait. It was a wonderful evening, and I am hoping to spend more time with our terrific alumni in the Gulf States in the future.


On the way back to Syracuse, I stopped in France to see the stunning Roman aqueduct at Pont du Gard. Built between 40 and 60 AD under the empires of Nero and Claude, this massive stone structure is a 49 m high bridge over the River Gardon. It is topped with a water channel capable of carrying 400 liters/sec from the natural springs in the country-side to the thirsty residents of the great Roman city of Nimes. The bridge has three tiers of arches placed atop each other, forming a link between cliffs on either side of the river. This amazing piece of engineering was built by over 1000 workers without mortar or cement and stands today as arguably the most impressive feat of Roman engineering.

One of the best things about the site is that it is completely open to the public. We walked across the aquaduct (over the very stones that were laid 2000 years ago!) and explored the woods and hills, following the path of the aqueduct. The site has been named a World Heritage Site by the United Nations and has a terrific museum with simulations of the construction process and representations of the bridge over the ages. One of my favorites is a painting by Hubert Robert, 1787.

It struck me that between the Pont du Gard and the Eiffel Tower and the Pompidou Museum in Paris, France has many engineering marvels to visit. Perhaps this is fitting, as France was home to many great mathematicians and engineers such as Fermat, Laplace, Fourier, Poincare, Carnot, and Coriolis.