Syracuse University Magazine

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Sam Salem

Model Infrastructure

As an engineer, Professor Ossama “Sam” Salem can determine the integrity of public infrastructure systems—bridges, roads, and water and wastewater pipelines—by developing deterioration prediction models and conducting statistical analyses. But his understanding of what makes a viable bridge for a community goes well beyond mathematical equations. Many cities struggling with deteriorating areas need more inviting, more sustainable ways to advance the life of residents, he says. Salem, a professor of construction engineering and management in the L.C. Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science (LCS), wants to impress on students that civil engineering can have a profound effect on the fabric of a community. “When we build a bridge, we don’t build an ugly bridge; if we build a highway, we don’t put it in the middle of the city, like Interstate 81 in Syracuse,” says Salem, the Abdallah H. Yabroudi Chair in Sustainable Civil Infrastructures. “We need to improve not only the infrastructure, but also the environmental, economic, social, and cultural aspects of our communities.”

As part of his work as Yabroudi chair, Salem oversees two international experiences for students with LCS professor Samuel Clemence. The Syracuse University-Dubai Contracting Company (DCC) Summer Internship Program was established in 2008 by DCC president and SU Trustee Abdallah H. Yabroudi ’78, G’79 of Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE). The five-week internship allows six civil engineering students to learn about the construction industry through observations of DCC building projects in Dubai. A second internship focusing on infrastructure was established in 2011 through LCS alumnus Mike Venutolo ’77, managing director at Raymond International, one of the largest pipeline companies in the Middle East. In UAE last June, Salem and six students observed the operation of a desalination plant and construction of pipelines that transport potable water throughout a nation that has no source of fresh water. “Many countries pump billions of dollars into funding sustainable initiatives and infrastructure projects, and we need to prepare our students with the proper education and experience to be part of this,” he says.

Originally from Alexandria, Egypt, Salem received degrees from Alexandria University and Clemson University before earning a Ph.D. degree in civil and environmental engineering at the University of Alberta, Canada. At that time, he worked for the Alberta Ministry of Infrastructure and helped develop an integrated infrastructure management system that prioritized the province’s projects. 

The Yabroudi chair coalesces all of Salem’s work, including his concentration in green construction and infrastructure. He developed the specialty as a faculty member at the University of Cincinnati, where he directed the Infrastructure Systems and Management Program. Since arriving at SU in 2010, he helped institute a certificate program in infrastructure management and policy with the Maxwell School, and developed a new LCS graduate program in construction engineering and management. Along with teaching, Salem conducts civil infrastructure research and is the SU principal investigator on a $7 million U.S. Department of Transportation grant (shared with four other universities) to establish a transportation research center focusing on reducing traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions. In another project, Salem and his doctoral student, Baris Salman, developed models using data from the Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati to predict deterioration. “What’s really fascinating for me is using these kinds of highly theoretical statistics and structural models to get some practical answers,” Salem says. “The models don’t mean anything unless we use them to really impact people’s lives.” —Kathleen Haley

Photo by John Dowling


Abdallah H. Yabroudi Chair in Sustainable Civil Infrastructures

Recipient: 

Ossama “Sam” Salem, L.C. Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science

Background: 

The professorship, an endowed chair, was created with a gift from LCS alumnus and SU Trustee Abdallah H. Yabroudi ’78, G’79 of Dubai. Yabroudi, president of the Dubai Contracting Company, created the endowed fund to allow the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering to hire a faculty member specializing in sustainable civil infrastructures with an emphasis on international engineering in the developing world.