Building a better infrastructure in Nigeria

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The West African country of Nigeria is plagued by wretched highway conditions and land erosion problems. Civil engineer Isaac Abiodun plans to change that.

The 43-year-old Nigerian native, who completed Norwich University's Master of Civil Engineering program in 2009, is now pursuing a doctorate in the Built Environment from the University of Salford, UK. He hopes that the Norwich civil engineering degree coupled with a PhD will give him the knowledge and influence he needs to spearhead change in Nigeria's highway network and infrastructure development practices.

Abiodun's interest in improving Nigeria's infrastructure stems from a desire to help his country, and a keen professional interest in civil engineering. He is director of the cost engineering department of an architectural and engineering firm that he founded with two partners in 2000. Though he already held a master's degree in business administration and a bachelor's degree in quantity surveying, Abiodun felt he still lacked the prestige necessary to really bring about change.

"In Nigeria, there is a belief that quantity surveyors can only apply their cost expertise in architecture and not in civil engineering," said Abiodun. "I was determined to overcome this exclusion, and broaden my area of influence by studying civil engineering."

Abiodun credits Norwich Prof. David Muckerman with helping to brainstorm the engineering details of his capstone project, which recommended a specific application of storm water best management practices (BMPs)–techniques used to control the quantity and quality of storm water that reaches streams and rivers–on an erosion and flood control project in Ganye in northern Nigeria.

Abiodun plans to expand on his capstone project for his PhD research, with the ultimate goal of using those practices on infrastructure projects throughout Nigeria.

"My PhD research will focus on how public-private partnerships can encourage the additional finance, innovation and efficiency that could lead to sustainable infrastructure provision in Nigeria," he said. "Currently, there are no BMPs being followed in erosion control execution."

Like many other international students at Norwich, Abiodun was drawn to the civil engineering program because of its reputation and flexibility.

"I was looking for a university that would give me the opportunity to study without leaving my job," he said.

Like all international students planning to enroll, Abiodun faced a certification process to ensure equivalency between his foreign education and U.S. standards. According to the civil engineering Associate Program Director Rija Ramahatra, Abiodun was guided through this process by Norwich's admissions advisors.

"Our advisors aid international students from their initial expression of interest all the way through to final acceptance into a program," said Ramahatra, who corresponded often with Abiodun while he was enrolled in the civil engineering program.

Once he started the program, Abiodun enjoyed the challenge of juggling work, study, and family (he is married and has three children) and found online camaraderie in the "great support from the program team, interaction between students and tutors, and networking with other students."

He singles out Prof. Linda Ratsep's project management courses as particularly memorable–in part because Ratsep placed calls to Nigeria at the beginning of both classes to touch base with Abiodun.

"The telephone calls really gave me a sense of belonging," he said.

When it came time for his civil engineering capstone project, Abiodun worked closely with Muckerman, who labels Abiodun one of the best students he's ever taught in the program.

"Isaac's thirst for knowledge was shown by earning the highest grade out of 24 students in his cohort in my course," said Muckerman, who is confident that Abiodun will have no trouble transferring his coursework excellence to the hands-on work he wants to do at home.

"Isaac has already started to apply the storm water BMPs from the United States to change how civil engineering projects are performed in Nigeria. He is working to get the BMPs he learned in the civil engineering program implemented on all civil engineering projects there."