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Marshall University engineering professor named Distinguished Educator

By Ben Calwell, Metro Reporter

As a builder at heart, it’s no surprise that Wael Zatar, Ph.D, chose engineering for a career.

The Marshall University professor of engineering and dean of MU’s College of Information Technology and Engineering was honored recently by the Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute as its Distinguished Educator for 2016.

Zatar is the first professor from West Virginia to receive the award.

The PCI developed the Distinguished Educator Award to recognize “distinguished engineering, architecture and construction educators, who have made significant and sustained educational contributions to the precast and prestressed concrete industry,” according to a MU press release.

While precast concrete might not be a hot topic of conversation among laymen, for structural engineers, builders and others in the know, it is an important part of many construction projects.

“Precast concrete is a product used in construction that forms concrete in a reusable mold and then cures it in a controlled environment. This process allows employees to monitor the product closely. Precast concrete has many advantages over onsite casting, such as greater quality and workmanship, and the forms can be reused hundreds to thousands of times before needing to be replaced, which often makes it cheaper when looking at the cost per unit of formwork. It is used in a wide range of building and civil structures where its improved concrete performance can allow longer spans, reduced structural thicknesses, and material savings are realized as compared to reinforced concrete. Applications range from high-rise buildings, residential slabs, foundation systems, bridge and dam structures, silos and tanks, industrial pavements and nuclear containment structures,” Zatar explained in an email.

Zatar received the award during the fall 2016 PCI Committee Days and Membership Conference in Chicago, which was attended by 800 experts in the field.

“I am truly honored and certainly privileged to be selected as the recipient of the 2016 Precast/Prestressed Concrete Instititue Distinguished Educator. The announcement that I was the first professor from West Virginia to receive this distinguished award is a moment I will never forget,” he said.

Zatar has a background in civil engineering with an emphasis in structural engineering. In 1990, he earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and went on in 1994 to earn a master’s degree in civil engineering focusing on structural engineering.

“I was an intern in Dublin, Ireland, working on assessment and renovations of bridges in the areas surrounding the historic Trinity College, which is one of the seven ancient universities of Britain and Ireland, as well as Ireland’s oldest university. My next work experience was for a German company called DSD Ferrostaal, which has mega infrastructure and industrial projects all over the world and employs more than 1,400 employees. I was with DSD Ferrostaal for six years, starting as a Civil Engineer and ending up the Technical Office Senior Design Engineer in its Ferrometalco Branch.”

In 1999, Zatar earned a doctoral degree in structural engineering, researching innovative, earthquake-resistant highway bridges.

“After receiving my doctoral degree, I worked as an assistant professor for two years in Tokyo, Japan. My next appointment was working with at the University of Kentucky, performing research that aimed at developing sustainable infrastructure and fixing a number of bridges for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet. I worked at West Virginia Institute of Technology from 2004 to 2006. In 2006, I accepted a professor position at Marshall University in the College of Information Technology and Engineering. In 2011, I was selected to serve as dean of the college and remain in that position today,” he said.

A natural interest in how things are built led Zatar to study structural engineering.

“I believe my interest in structural engineering was derived from my fascination with building anything, which includes pipelines, buildings, skyscrapers, roads, schools and government buildings, and I also had a keen interest in surveying areas.”

Zatar said structural engineers “are trained to understand, predict and calculate the stability, strength and rigidity of built structures for building and non-building structures, to develop designs and integrate their design with that of other designers and to supervise construction of projects on site.

“Structural engineers are responsible for engineering design and analysis and often specialize in particular fields such as bridge engineering, building engineering, pipeline engineering, industrial structures, or special mechanical structures such as vehicles, ships or aircraft. The role of a structural engineer involves a significant understanding of both static and dynamic loading and the structures that are available to resist them.”

In the coming years, Zatar believes structural engineers will need to grapple with reduced funding for infrastructure projects.

“With limited funds for fixing the U.S. and world infrastructure, structural engineers need to come up with the best and most cost-effective solutions to prolong the infrastructure’s service life and provide innovative solutions toward building the next-generation infrastructure,” he said.

Zatar also said the employment outlook is good for engineers.

“The employment outlook for engineers is very good due to the current shortage of engineers in the United States. All Department of Labor studies show the need for more engineers across the nation.”

Zatar enjoys his role as an engineering professor because of his “passion for engineering and the desire to transfer knowledge and research innovations.”

He strives to instill in his students the importance of effective communication, team-working and leadership.

“I believe the most important thing for an engineering student to learn to become a successful engineer is to have a acquire a complete knowledge of the ethical standards and professionalism,” he said.


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