Iraqis Thirsty for Training - Y Magazine
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Iraqis Thirsty for Training

Professor Jim Nelson and Engineers by the Red Sea.

Professor Jim Nelson (in white hat) and Iraqi engineers pause near the Red Sea. Photo Courtesy Jim Nelson.

A duo of engineering researchers specializing in water resources management recently returned from Egypt, where they trained Iraqi civil engineers to use cutting-edge software.

“I have yet to teach a group of students who hungered and thirsted after new knowledge—especially with respect to technology—like they did,” says E. James Nelson (BS ’89), an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, who was accompanied by BYU research associate Chris Smemoe (BS ’95). “It is like their lives were put on hold 30 years ago, and finally they are free to pursue their own goals.”

Seventeen engineers representing all regions of Iraq were trained on BYU-developed software that will help them to more effectively manage their country’s water resources. The software was originally developed by Nelson, professor Norman L. Jones (BS ’86), associate research professor Alan K. Zundel (BS ’88), and other researchers.

Initially, Nelson was wary about traveling to the Middle East. “People would say, ‘You’re going to train Iraqis? Are you crazy?’ They thought Iraqis could be hostile, or at best indifferent, toward Americans,” Nelson says. “No matter what you see on the news, that’s not the feeling of the people I came in contact with. Like us, they just want a better life for themselves and their families. They’re so grateful.”