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Geological engineering students learn about environmental protection and remediation, and are involved in the protection of wetlands, the cleanup of lead contaminated soil, the development of safe drinking water in rural Guatemala, and the protection of infrastructure like bridges, buildings and utilities from earthquake damage.
And they are in high demand once they graduate, typically receiving multiple job offers, as career opportunities far outpace the number of qualified applicants.
“We are all human. We are all the same.”
With that, Adel Elkrry, a Ph.D. candidate in geological engineering from Libya, sums up his thoughts on the conflict that has ravaged his home country since 2011 and brought about the rise of the Islamic State.
Born to organic farmers in Al-Asaba, a small town some 50 miles from Tripoli, Elkrry, his wife, and baby daughter moved to America in 2009 so that he could further his education.
At the time, Elkrry was working as a teacher’s assistant in the geology department at his alma mater in Libya, Al Jabal Al Gharbi University. The university offered to sponsor him in his quest for a Ph.D. in geological engineering from a university of his choosing in America. Upon graduating, Al Jabal Al Gharbi had promised him a full-time position in the geology department.
The Arab Spring came two years later, and led to the Libyan Civil War, under which circumstances Al Jabal Al Gharbi was forced to close indefinitely. With the university closed, Elkrry’s scholarship funding was cut off, his promise of a full-time job gone.
“My university, where I was working, is closed now because of the war,” he says. “It’s so sad.”
Elkrry is set to graduate in May, but, without the promise of a full-time job, is in no rush to return to his war torn homeland.
For now, he’s happy to continue doing paid fieldwork in Springfield, Missouri, with his advisor, Dr. Neil Anderson, professor of geological engineering. They have been surveying a large tract of land for City Utilities of Springfield since July. The first phase of the project should be done by April, but if they get awarded a contract for the second phase of the project, it could last into 2016.
‘They want us to evaluate this area all the way down to the bedrock and see if there are anywidened joints, sinkholes or stuff like that,” Elkrry says.
The work keeps Elkrry in Springfield for up to six days at a time, which can be hard on him and his family, but they manage. Elkrry and his wife just had their fourth child, a baby boy.
The rest of Elkrry’s family still lives in Libya.
“My mother and father, and sisters and brothers are all there,” he says. “You can say they are safe, but the civil war is taking place all around them.”
Elkrry says getting ahold of his family can be difficult.
“We keep in touch, but even communication isn’t easy,” he says. “Where my family’s living at exactly they don’t have internet. But we talk on the phone.”
But even that can be hard.
“Sometimes, during the day, electricity is off for four or five hours at least,” he says.
As if traveling for field work, working on his Ph.D., and taking care of his family weren’t enough, Elkrry is also a member of several student organizations: the Muslim Student Association, the Libyan Student Association and the Society of Exploration Geophysicists.
Elkrry is thankful to go to a school with a significant number of Libyan students with whom he can relate to. “If you couldn’t find your people, the people you share customs with, you’d be pretty lonely,” he says.
In fact, he first learned about S&T from his friend and colleague at Al Jabal Al Gharbi University, Abdullah Dera. The two now work in the same geological engineering lab.
But, the thing he likes most about S&T and the state of Missouri is its natural beauty. “It’s so green – rivers, streams, lakes,” he says.
Growing up in the arid Middle East, Elkrry had never seen such green in his life. That isn’t to say that his father’s farm in rural Libya doesn’t have a beauty all its own.
“He raises lambs, goats and chickens. He has olive trees. Apple, grape and fig trees,” Elkrry says. “And it’s all organic.”
Elkrry says that his family in Libya is not involved in the civil war. They are simple farmers, and just want to carry on a way of life that has been with them for generations.
Geological engineering junior Jake Hale wants to make a difference in the world. So when he saw the opportunity to help people as an engineer, he couldn’t wait to take it.
“To leave the world in a better place than how I found it was the whole reason for why I wanted an engineering degree,” says Hale. “The money is just the icing on the cake.”
During his senior year in high school, Hale was unsure what to study in college. He was interested in science, journalism and veterinarian sciences. His dad suggested that he become an engineer.
Even so, he wasn’t sure engineering was the right path until his Opening Week mentor convinced him to study geological engineering.
“She said that she was ‘trying to save the world,’” says Hale. “Now, at the time, I couldn’t believe it. Then she explained to me that she wanted to do water remediation and environmental work.”
From that moment on, Hale knew that he could have a positive impact on the world as a geological engineer.
“I want to be outside, travel and make an impact on people’s lives through environmental work,” he says. Through geological engineering, “I saw an opportunity to bridge my passion for helping people with my passion for improving the world.”
Nowadays, the native of Waynesville, Missouri, is highly involved in his major, as well as a few programs on campus.
Hale is a member of Delta Sigma Phi andStudent Council. He serves in the Student Success Programs as a student success coach and New Student Programs as a Preview, Registration and Orientation (PRO) leader.
“I made it my goal to be very busy from the start,” he says.
Hale also plans on getting three minors: humanitarian engineering and sciences, history and sustainability.
“I just love learning. I am a student, definitely, and an opportunist,” he says. “I love taking opportunities where I can learn more, experience more, and take a couple of classes that are a bit off the beaten path. And if that means me being here for an extra semester, it’s not the end of the world.”
One of the perks of being a geological engineer is that you get to travel to locations that you would otherwise never visit. During his sophomore year, Hale was able to take a 10-day trip to Peru.
“It was great. I made 101 memories, and if I could go back tomorrow I would,” he says.
Hale is keeping his options open about what to do after college. He says he would like to work for a non-profit organization that does work in developing countries.
“I’m really interested in doing good in the world,” he says. “If I can change people’s lives and leave them better off than where they were before, then that’s what engineering is to me.”
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