In no way is Muhammad Elgammal a civil engineering outsider.
He hails from a family of engineers (five to be exact). He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering from the New Jersey Institute of Technology.
But Elgammal has also made a conscious effort to develop and maintain an outsider’s perspective to his work.
“I think that’s what’s made me an effective communicator,” Elgammal said. “I’ve always thought, ‘How would I understand this if I wasn’t in this position?’ The essence of what we learn or what we practice is only as effective as what we can translate to others.”
Elgammal, P.E., M.ASCE, puts those communication skills to use as an associate civil engineer for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and ASCE has named him as one of its 2017 New Faces of Civil Engineering – Professional.
Elgammal has worked on the rehabilitation of runways at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey as both a design engineer and a construction inspector. Recently, he was appointed to be an agreement project manager for the civil engineering department, coordinating smoothness testing for 22 miles of runway baselines. Working at such large facilities requires a ton of collaboration and communication.
“There is a lot of cross-coordination, a lot of moving parts, a lot of interdiscipline cross-resolution,” Elgammal said. “When you’re sitting at these tables, it’s intimidating sometimes because everyone is looking at their own stake, their own interest. And we’re talking about fulfilling the needs of multibillion-dollar capital projects.
“It takes a lot of creativity. One of the things I’ve come to appreciate in my position is I see the different types of interactions and what they yield from people.
“At the end of the day, we’re servicing a greater need – the agency as a whole and the public. It’s a huge responsibility. This is critical infrastructure. So, going in with that mindset really puts it into perspective, the importance and magnitude of the work. It really diminishes the little things you disagree over.”
Elgammal began developing his critical thinking, communication, and empathy skills as a student leader at NJIT. “I represented the student body. I had to speak their language to be an effective communicator,” he said.
He admits his civil engineering coursework didn’t always come easily for him, but credits NJIT – his professors, mentors, and extracurricular opportunities – for helping him grow into an engineer who recently earned the ASCE Central Jersey Branch’s Young Civil Engineer of the Year Award.
This winter, Elgammal is back at his alma mater as a first-year adjunct professor.
“NJIT exposed me to a lot of different personalities. It’s a culturally and ethnically diverse school,” Elgammal said. “If you can navigate that, what’s an engineering concept at that point?
“I’m truly grateful for how it all worked out. I couldn’t imagine doing it any differently.”
ASCE will honor Elgammal and all 10 New Faces of Civil Engineering at the 2017 OPAL Gala, March 16, in Arlington, VA. Tickets are available now.
See a complete list of ASCE’s 2017 New Faces of Civil Engineering – Professional, and read about the 2017 New Faces of Civil Engineering – College.