PORTLAND, Ore. - While Oregon's economy remains sluggish and the war in Iraq continues, the Oregon Built Environment and Sustainable Technologies Center (Oregon BEST) has helped Oregon State University broker funding for a unique project that could boost business for the state's green building and renewable energy sectors while helping the people of Iraq rebuild their war-ravaged infrastructure.
Engineering faculty from OSU, working with the Michael Scott Mater Foundation, used a $27,000 grant from Oregon BEST to leverage more than $400,000 that will support a two-week, hands-on workshop in August for 20 Iraqi delegates who will visit Oregon to learn about green building, sustainable design and renewable energy from researchers at OSU, University of Oregon and Portland State University.
"This will be the first time an event of this type has been undertaken in the United States," said Scott Ashford, head of the OSU School of Civil and Construction Engineering, which is organizing the visit through its Kiewit Center for Infrastructure and Transportation.
Joshua Mater, CEO and founder of the Mater Foundation, said the American Embassy in Bagdad is excited about the project.
"We've been informed that Gen. (Ray) Odierno, who took over for Gen. (David) Petraeus, has received briefings on the project," Mater said. "And we've even had calls from Hollywood producers who want to make a documentary about this project. It's very exciting."
In addition to learning from their U.S. academic counterparts, the group of university presidents and engineering professors from 13 Iraqi universities will also visit a range of green building and renewable energy projects under way in the state and spend time with some of Oregon's leading construction, engineering and architecture firms, including CH2M HILL, Granite Construction, Gerding Edlen Development, SERA Architects and others.
Delegates will also meet with Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski and tour state agencies, including the Oregon Department of Transportation.
"This is an extraordinary opportunity for Oregon businesses, universities and state agencies to make connections with Iraqi engineering professors and others involved in the rebuilding efforts under way in that country," Ashford said. "Our Iraqi colleagues will have a tremendous impact on their students in Iraq, where they are tasked with essentially rebuilding the infrastructure of an entire country."
The seminar is a part of the SENERGI Initiative (Sustainable ENERGy and Infrastructure) at OSU, which is having an impact on sustainability by sharing the university's leadership on efficient use of limited resources, Ashford said.
"Oregon is internationally known for our green building and renewable energy research and innovation, and this is an excellent way to share that with the global community, which could lead to increased business for Oregon companies," Ashford said. "Although their contribution is often overlooked, construction managers have a tremendous impact on green building, because they are the people tasked with making sustainable projects a reality."
The exchange will also benefit Oregon faculty members and students, offering exposure to international and cultural differences that will prepare students to compete in the global marketplace.
"Not only will engineers from Iraq learn about green built materials and environments, but Oregon's engineering faculty and students will learn how to incorporate sustainable engineering and design into new cultures - making them more competitive in a green jobs market," Ashford said.
The relationship between OSU and the Iraqi campuses started a year ago, when then-U.S. Army Capt. Josh Mater, an Oregon State alumnus, gathered 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 College of Engineering at OSU.
In February, the presidents of Dhi Qar University in southern Iraq, and Babylon University east of Baghdad, visited Corvallis to meet with OSU President Ed Ray and other campus leaders, tour the College of Engineering research facilities and sign memoranda of understanding between their institutions and Oregon State.
Since then, the project has come together quickly for OSU and the Mater Foundation with assistance from the U.S. Embassy in Bagdad and the U.S. Department of State helping to fast-track the project in Iraq.
"But none of this would have happened without the initial $27,000 investment from Oregon BEST," he said. "And this is just the beginning. I believe we'll be able to secure much higher levels of future funding from the U.S. Department of Defense, which is great news for Oregon's economy."
The initial funding from Oregon BEST helped leverage an additional $240,000 from the U.S. Department of State in Iraq and $50,000 from an OSU engineering alumnus. These funds were matched with cost sharing from the OSU College of Engineering ($75,000), the Michael Scott Mater Foundation ($14,000) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (up to $19,000).
"This is an excellent example of how Oregon BEST helps Oregon businesses and Oregon universities collaborate to help create jobs and develop a trained green jobs labor pool for the state's emerging green economy," said David Kenney, president and executive director of Oregon BEST. "This unprecedented visit will lead to stronger ties between Oregon and Iraq, which can create jobs for our state's green building and renewable energy sectors."
Following their stay in Oregon, the delegates will return to Iraq to apply their knowledge to the reconstruction efforts in their country and to improve the engineering curriculum at their universities.
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David Kenney, 503-725-9849