Within months of earning his master’s degree last December, Jabber Al-Bihani Jr., BS 2010, MS ’11, spent his work days for an entire month aboard a barge in the middle of the Hudson River in order to
collect and test soil and bedrock samples for the foundations of a new Tappan Zee Bridge north of Manhattan.
As a geotechnical and instrumentation engineer for New York’s Mueser Rutledge Consulting Engineers, he has also implemented remote vibration monitoring programs for new construction at the United Nations complex and Columbia University and for a number of city residents—including movie director Spike Lee—concerned that nearby construction is compromising their own residences.
Although he downplays the high-profile nature of his assignments, they are impressive for a Brooklyn native whose G.P.A. after his first semester at a City University of New York campus was below 2.0. Al-Bihani, who was the college’s student commencement speaker when he earned his BS in civil engineering in May 2010, credits transferring to Temple for his remarkable turnaround.
“I don’t feel like I’m a rookie,” he says of his work projects. “My firm understands I had some hands-on experience at school and they really put me to work right away.”
Initially a mechanical engineering major at Temple, Al-Bihani early on switched to civil engineering and soon was captaining a Temple team at an American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Geo-Institute Stabilized Earth Wall Competition in Orlando, Fla. “The whole concept of trying to hold back nearly 1,000 pounds of sand with just a poster board and strips of brown wrapping paper really fascinated me,” he says.
At Temple, he also captained the college’s ASCE Concrete Canoe Competition; served as treasurer and public relations advisor for Temple’s ASCE chapter; and assisted Temple teams that assessed the impact of the BP and Exxon Valdez oil spills on Gulf Coast and Alaskan beaches. For five months he also was a PennDOT construction inspector whose duties included inspecting concrete pours for the I-76 Schuylkill River Bridge rehabilitation.
But it was an opportunity that former professor Naji Khoury offered him after Khoury supervised the stabilizing wall competition that most influenced Al-Bihani. Working for three years as a research, teaching and laboratory assistant, he was part of Khoury’s research team that developed and investigated PlastisoilTM, a porous paving material made of PET plastic recycled from soda and water bottles combined with clay and crushed stone—research that The Economist magazine featured.
In early 2011, Al-Bihani presented the group’s research on Plastisoil’s potential to minimize storm water runoff at both the Delaware Valley Geo-Institute and the ASCE’s Geo-Frontiers conference in Dallas, Tex.
“The value of college is in the experiences you go through, the people you meet, the opportunities you get and whether or not you take advantage of them. In that regard, Temple has provided me with more than what I could have asked for.”
And he is clearly relishing the work. “Our firm focuses on the foundations of these projects, so I’m just working on the beginning stages,” he says. “But five or 10 years from now I’m going to see these structures and buildings and I’m going to be able to say to myself that I put my mark on all of them.”