Logo Image
This winter, a group of seniors majoring in construction engineering, civil engineering and chemical engineering spent five weeks studying abroad in Dubai.
This winter, a group of seniors majoring in construction engineering, civil engineering and chemical engineering spent five weeks studying abroad in Dubai. The program was focused on international construction and engineering project management while allowing students to experience this dynamic Middle Eastern city up close and personal.

Construction engineering with a multicultural twist

Photos courtesy of Andrew Ahlborn and Jack Murray

UD engineering students study abroad in Dubai

Towering above Dubai, the largest city in the United Arab Emirates, is the Burj Khalifa. Completed in 2004, the world’s tallest building towers above a sprawling metropolis full of modern man-made marvels and architectural wonders. 

Matthew Spector, a senior construction engineering major at the University of Delaware, was so impressed with the Burj Khalifa that he kept going back again and again to take in its grandeur.

“It gave me the chills,” he said. “You feel like you're encapsulated in your own world when you're there, with the tower standing in front of you and everything else built around it.” 

This winter, a group of 23 undergraduate students in UD’s College of Engineering got to take in the majesty of the Burj Khalifa and many of Dubai’s other unique sights as part of a study abroad program. During their five-week trip, students learned about international construction and engineering project management while experiencing this dynamic, fast-growing Middle Eastern city up close and personal. This year, thanks to support from the Turner Construction Company, the program was enhanced by additional tours, including a “once in a lifetime” chance to visit the active construction site of an innovative new museum complex.

Construction management in a multicultural setting

The Dubai study abroad program first took place in 2019 and was led by Edgar Small, professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and founding director of UD’s construction engineering and management program, who passed away in February 2022

This year’s trip, taken by seniors majoring in construction engineering, civil engineering and chemical engineering, was led by associate professor Mohsin Siddiqui. The goal of the study abroad program, Siddiqui said, is not only to provide students with an up-close view of Dubai’s numerous signature buildings but to also allow them to see different approaches for managing construction sites and projects in an international setting.

New culinary experiences were a significant part of the study abroad experience, from karak tea and paratha flatbreads to Lebanese, Pakistani and Iraqi cuisines.
New culinary experiences were a significant part of the study abroad experience, from karak tea and paratha flatbreads to Lebanese, Pakistani and Iraqi cuisines.

“Dubai is one of the newest built cities in the world. There are new projects happening every single day, many of which are using the latest construction techniques, methods, and materials that are not possible anywhere else,” Siddiqui said. “It’s also an opportunity for students to experience a multicultural environment in which they can experience construction as an international activity, where people from all over the world are getting involved to deliver projects that are one-of-a-kind.”

Julia Hatoum, an honors chemical engineering major with minors in chemistry, materials science and civil engineering, grew up in Dubai and was excited for the opportunity to complete courses for her civil engineering minor while returning to the city she called home for the first ten years of her life. 

“Dubai’s breathtaking architecture, meticulous designs and cutting-edge technology are unreal and pushes the bounds of engineering in ways I’ve never seen anywhere else in the world,” she said.

One of the 18 excursions taken by students this winter included the Dubai Frame, the largest structure of its kind in the world, designed to “continuously frame” the city’s ever-evolving skyline.

“Dubai is a vision of what humanity can accomplish in such a short period of time. It serves as a symbol of impossible creativity and challenges us to envision an even greater society for ourselves and future generations,” added Michael Spehalski, a senior construction engineering major.

Students in the program earn three credit hours in engineering project management (CIEG 486), which covers topics such as project organization, budgeting, resource allocation, best practices, project delivery and communications and serves as a prerequisite for the Project Management Institute’s certified associate in project management exam. Students also earn three credits in international construction (CIEG 492), with a focus on examining the differences in construction practices, regulations, and labor relations between the U.S. and other countries. 

Outside of the classroom, students participated in 18 excursions, including visits to the Burj Khalifa, the Dubai Frame and the Miracle Garden, where they got to see both finished buildings and active construction projects that incorporated a variety of construction techniques. 

“Before we went on any excursions, we talked about the site, the methods and techniques used, to make sure that the students had a learning opportunity when they were there,” Siddiqui said. “Every single one of the sites we visited was unique, and the students were awestruck with the magnitude of work that went into getting those things done.”

Julia Malich, a senior construction engineering management major, described Dubai as an “extravagant, futuristic city” and said that through this study abroad program she enjoyed meeting new people while learning and exploring. 

“International construction went hand in hand with the excursions that we did outside of the classroom. Overall, we had a perfect balance of classwork with exploration,” she said.

UD students on top of the 492-foot tall Dubai Frame.

Spector, who decided to come to UD to study construction engineering after learning about UD’s program (and the Dubai trip) from Small, added that the numerous excursions were a great way to gain new perspectives about construction engineering while also getting immersed in a different culture. 

“The experience of this program was more than just being in the classroom — we talked about concepts in class, but then we actually got to go and see the city, and that alone just made for the whole program,” Spector said.

Gaining new perspectives

This year, support provided by Turner Construction Company enabled students to visit additional museums, including the Museum of the Future and Louvre Abu Dhabi, where students were able to compare construction methods and techniques they saw in Dubai with what is typical of U.S. job sites. 

David Kaminski, vice president and general manager of the Turner Philadelphia office and a 2007 UD civil engineering graduate, said that Turner was excited for this opportunity to “facilitate a co-learning experience” by connecting students with the Turner Dubai office so that the students could learn more about the nuances of working on projects internationally. 

“We're always looking for opportunities to stay connected and support UD and to leverage the resources we have, either domestically or internationally, to make that happen,” Kaminski said. “As a student, I would have loved to be able to really experience what life on the construction side is going to be like, not to mention seeing the differences of how things are done internationally versus domestically.”

UD students enjoyed the dry, 80 degree weather while exploring the sprawling seaside metropolis.
UD students enjoyed the dry, 80 degree weather while exploring the sprawling seaside metropolis.

Students also visited the construction site of a new museum in Abu Dhabi, where Turner International Middle East (TIME) serves as the project management consultant. The company then hosted the students at their corporate Dubai office, where they got to meet with Turner International leadership.

The site visit was a major highlight for Spehalski.

“Speaking with the Turner construction team on site was an amazing experience where I was able to get an in-depth glimpse of the international construction world as well as what my job experience might entail after graduation,” he said. “There is nothing better than talking with the people who have boots on the ground every day to see what my future in construction may look like.”

“It was a job site like I've never seen before—just the complexity, the cost, and the way to do things in the UAE. It was an amazing experience,” Malich added. “And during the office tour, everyone was really welcoming and very friendly. It was awesome to see and experience, especially as someone who is going to work with Turner after graduation.”

Spector, who will also be working for Turner after graduation, was impressed by the time that members of the TIME leadership spent with the students. 

“They talked to us not only about what projects they did, but how they did it — how to foster a good construction site culture that helps a building like the Burj Khalifa get done on time,” Spector said. “It was mind-blowing to be in the presence of the CEO and to hear him tell us that we are the future.”

A ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ study abroad experience

Spehalski said that one of the most impactful parts of the trip for him was experiencing life in another culture and seeing its different perspectives firsthand. 

“It allowed me to challenge my own ideologies and to break away from the comfort of my own environment,” he said. “I didn't expect to walk away from this trip with new revelations about myself, but living in a vastly different part of the world allowed me to challenge my previous perspectives and come home with a new understanding of tolerance, acceptance, and respect.”

The Burj Khalifa dominates both the daytime and nighttime skyline of Dubai.

Siddiqui, who will be leading this trip again next winter, is proud of how this cohort of students was open to new experiences, whether it be trying different types of food and drink or observing cultural activities with an open mind. “The students all had an opportunity to immerse themselves in an environment which was extremely multicultural, and no matter where we went or what we did, they were willing to go out and try new things,” he said. 

Spector is thankful for Siddiqui’s support in enabling the students to have a “once in a lifetime” experience in Dubai. 

“I tell my friends and family that this is an area of the world that you have to see — it’s just unbelievable. I’d definitely recommend this trip to anyone,” he added. 

“When you help build a new building, you can look back and say, ‘I was part of that,’ and that’s a really cool experience that is tough to understand before you actually do it,” added Kaminski about how courses and programs like this can provide key insights for students before they embark upon their career. “As a student, as you're about to select what field you want to go into, having that hands-on experience — being on the job site, putting the boots and the hard hat on, and seeing it all up close and personal — it's a great thing to have.”

Malich said that the overall structure of the course, from site and museum tours to classes, tied everything together in a really engaging way. 

“It was such a phenomenal experience, and the course was really well-balanced. It was an incredible trip overall,” she said. 

Hatoum said that through this program, she was able not only to get a head start on a career path in project management and return to Dubai after ten years away, she was also able to foster new connections with students outside of her major. 

“There is something uniquely special about sharing cultural experiences with peers from varying backgrounds, an opportunity that is rare in the U.S.,” added Hatoum, who is Arab-American. “It filled me with immense pride and gratitude for UD’s mission to educate students about the world and its diverse cultures.”

More Nation & World Stories

See More Stories

Contact Us

Have a UDaily story idea?

Contact us at ocm@udel.edu

Members of the press

Contact us at 302-831-NEWS or visit the Media Relations website