Civil Engineers understand the importance of a building a strong foundation, and for the past 25 years, Fouad Fouad, Ph.D., has focused on just that.

Fouad Fouad 500A member of the School of Engineering faculty since 1981, Fouad took over as chair of the Department of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering in 1996, and for the next quarter-century he laid the groundwork to ensure future success for the department through engineering education, research, and community engagement.

As Fouad neared retirement from UAB (effective July 1), colleagues said that the department’s current and future success will be due in large part to Fouad’s leadership and the relationships he built over decades.

“It is rare in academia for someone to stay in a position of leadership at one institution for so long,” School of Engineering Dean Jeff Holmes, M.D., Ph.D. said. “But at UAB, Dr. Fouad was able to lay a foundation for success and then build on it and foster sustainable growth that will benefit the school long after he is gone. He is leaving a department that is in great shape and is poised for a successful future.”

A 40-Year Trial Run

When Fouad first came to UAB in 1981, he did not imagine he would be a part of UAB’s long-term future. In fact, he saw his employment in Birmingham as a temporary stop on his way home to Egypt. 

Fouad had come to the United States in 1975 to go to graduate school at the University of Texas and later at Texas A&M. His plan was to return home to Egypt and go into the construction business with his father, but a network of American engineers saw another path for him. “Donald McDonald, the chair of the civil engineering department at Texas A&M, was a college classmate of Dr. Joe Appleton, the founding dean of the UAB School of Engineering,” Fouad said. “Up until that time, UAB had offered only a general engineering degree, but Dr. Appleton was in the process of creating departments, and he was looking for faculty with specialized expertise.”

Both men saw potential in Fouad, who as a young engineer already had expertise in both steel and concrete engineering—two related but very different components of construction engineering. “My first love was steel construction and design, and that’s what I studied for my master’s degree at UT-Austin,” Fouad said. “For my Ph.D., I went to Texas A&M, where they were renowned for the work they did in concrete. I planned to move back to Egypt, but Dr. McDonald kept asking me to give Birmingham a chance, and I eventually agreed to come here on a trial basis.”

Once Fouad arrived at UAB, that versatile background proved to be just what the young civil engineering program needed. “In my first few years, I taught 13 different classes, because I was able to instruct students in both steel and concrete engineering,” Fouad said. “To this day, I encourage students not to get locked into one niche, no matter how much they may love it. I think it’s always good to try to develop expertise in more than one area.”

Despite his success as a teacher at UAB, Fouad was not immediately ready to abandon his plan of returning to Egypt. In fact, during a visit home in the early 80s, he called UAB to request a year of unpaid leave. “In the back of my mind, I knew I would never come back after the leave,” Fouad said.

Appleton denied the request, saying he needed Fouad to be present on campus for an accreditation visit. “He asked me to just come back for one month, and then I could take a leave if I still wanted it,” Fouad said. “I came back, and within those few weeks, I realized that the opportunity I had here was better than anything I would find anywhere else in the world. So I had to call my wife, who was still in Egypt with our young daughter, and tell her that I had decided to stay at UAB. I had no idea we would be staying 40 years.”

Decades of Growth

If Fouad could have seen into the future, the conversation may have gone much easier. His wife, Mona Fouad, M.D., would join him and start her own successful career as a professor and researcher in the UAB School of Medicine. Their daughters, Nancy and Mary, would also earn multiple degrees from UAB.

fouad segnerIn this undated file photo, Fouad Fouad (right) is pictured with his predecessor Ed Segner, who served as chair of Civil Engineering from 1990 until 1995.“There were several reasons why I decided to stay,” Fouad said. “One was that my father had passed away, so I couldn’t follow through with my plan to go into business with him. But I also realized when I came back for those few weeks how much easier it is to get things done in the United States than it is in other parts of the world. Even today, the U.S. is the easiest place to follow your dreams and fulfill your goals.”

In following his dreams at UAB, Fouad quickly built a network among fellow academics, UAB alumni and local industry leaders. That network served him well when he took over as chair in 1996 and began to grow the Civil Engineering Department into something more than it had ever been.

Among the numerous honors and awards Fouad received over the decades are the Ellen Greg Ingalls Award for excellence in teaching (1993), the ASPE Engineering Educator of the Year (2004) and Engineer of the Year (2007), and the Engineering Council of Birmingham Engineer of the Year (2009) and Educator of the Year (2018), among others. 

“When I became chair, there was very little research going on in the department,” he said. “We didn’t have a Ph.D. program, a construction management program, or any certificate programs or online programs. Of course, those things couldn’t be built overnight, but we were able to add all of those things in time, and we developed the department into what I believe is one of the strongest arms of the School of Engineering. And we did all of that without ever once operating in the red.”

Grand Challenge

In recent years, the CCEE department has played an important role in UAB’s Grand Challenge, studying the built environment of Birmingham’s Titusville and Kingston neighborhoods. In addition to organizing faculty and student efforts, Fouad called on members of his Advisory Board, as well as other industry contacts, to provide services, materials and expertise to make major improvements to the two neighborhoods.

“We are a small part of the Grand Challenge, but I believe our role is very important to the overall goal of improving the health of these communities,” Fouad said. “The built environment is critical in so many ways to the health, safety, and quality of life.”

Although he is retiring as department chair, Fouad plans to stay involved in the Grand Challenge. But as he reflects on the rest of his career, Fouad says he is excited for the future of his field, which is just now beginning to embrace 21st century technologies that have revolutionized other fields. “Civil engineering has been very stable for a long time, especially when you compare it to biomedical or electrical engineering where technology is constantly changing,” Fouad said. “In recent years, though, that technology has come to civil engineering, and even though our engineering processes and calculations are unchanged, we are using technology to augment our work and to become more efficient.”

Examples include using drones to inspect bridges, using computer models to simulate the impacts of storms on the built environment, or using sensors to monitor air quality. “Civil engineering will always be popular because it is such a broad field with so many different types of employment opportunities,” Fouad said. “When I look at the young people who have entered the field in recent years and the way they are embracing innovative technologies, I am excited for the future.”

Zech to serve as Interim Chair

Wesley ZechWesley Zech, Ph.D., will serve as Interim Chair of the Department of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering while the school conducts a national search for a permanent chair.

Zech has been a member of the CCEE faculty since 2019 as Professor and Director of the Construction Engineering and Management track in the Master of Engineering program. He has more than 20 years’ experience in engineering education, having earned his B.S., M.E., and Ph.D. from the State University of New York at Buffalo.

Prior to coming to UAB, he served as the Brasfield and Gorrie Professor of Construction Engineering and Management at Auburn University.

“I am looking forward to serving the department and the school during this period of transition,” Zech said. “I want to congratulate Dr. Fouad on a very successful career here at UAB and I am looking forward to continuing to build on the strong and stable foundation he created.“


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BioHorizons is a Birmingham company whose history is rooted in UAB. Today, thanks to a growing and successful co-op program, it appears that BioHorizons and UAB will continue to be linked far into the future.

The dental-implant company, which started as a spinoff of research from the UAB Schools of Engineering and Dentistry, has hired more than a dozen UAB alumni and students over the past 28 years. More recently, though, its co-op program has begun to bring in current engineering undergraduates—creating a talent pipeline for students to get a head start in a growing industry.

“Hands-on experience has always been a key element of engineering education,” said Neil Adams, director of the Engineering Career Center. “The success of our program depends on strong co-op and intern partners, like BioHorizons, who offer quality experiences to our students so that they apply their engineering knowledge while also learning how to be a contributing part of a professional organization. We are proud of this continued partnership and look forward to supporting Blazer engineering co-ops at BioHorizons for many years to come.”

A Blazer Legacy

BioHorizons was started in 1995 by the late Martha Bidez, Ph.D., then a faculty member in the School of Engineering who would serve as the company’s first CEO before selling the company and returning to UAB in 2009. Over the years, the company has hired a number of UAB alumni, including several members of its leadership team (see sidebar).

In 2016, however, the company’s ties to UAB got a little closer when Ashley Boggs became the first UAB undergraduate to join the BioHorizons co-op program—a program that provides students the opportunity to work full-time at the company for three semesters, alternating with school. The experience is paid, and students work alongside engineers throughout their time at the company.

Boggs extended her co-op by working part-time at the company until she was hired full time after she graduated in 2018. Today, she is a Digital Dentistry Engineering Manager, and she credits her co-op experience for opening her eyes to possibilities she had never previously considered.

“I had a vague idea that I wanted to work with implants—like hips, knees, ankles—but I didn’t know anything about the dental-implant industry at all,” said Boggs. “During my sophomore year, I went to the Engineering Career Center and told them that I couldn’t keep sitting in class doing problems from a book. They told me about a local company called BioHorizons that was doing on-campus interviews.”

The interview changed Boggs’s personal career trajectory, but her story is not an unusual one. While the engineering curriculum prepares students for a wide variety of careers, it’s often that first on-the-job experience that opens eyes and doors to career opportunities in fields students may have never been aware of.

That was the case for UAB graduate Jonathan Gordon, another former co-op participant who now works as a packaging engineer for BioHorizons. “I started out on a pre-med track, but coming from a very small town to UAB was a big transition,” Gordon said. “I dropped the pre-med route pretty quickly and started looking for other options.”

Like Boggs, the Engineering Career Center helped connect Gordon with a co-op position at BioHorizons, and that, in turn, led to full-time employment. “I realized pretty quickly that I love this industry. It’s exciting to be a part of this.”

An Undergraduate Pipeline

Although Boggs was the first UAB student hired into BioHorizons' co-op program, she soon had company. Three other Blazers followed her into the program (Josh Moore, Karly Casey and Gordon), and all four stayed on to work full-time. That kind of retention is notable for an undergraduate experience that by its nature is often exploratory. 

“Since we started the co-op program about 10 years ago, we have had about 17-18 engineering students in our program—two of which have been in our regulatory department and the rest in research and development,” said Tom Lewis, BioHorizons manager of product engineering. “We feel that it has been very successful, and to date we have hired five as full-time employees.”

That transition from co-op to full-time employee makes sense when you consider the investment BioHorizons makes in students over a three-semester co-op. Each student must learn Quality System processes before getting down to work with tasks, such as design control, drawing release, and CAD modeling. “Each student is trained, but it takes hands-on involvement to learn all of these processes,” Lewis said. “It’s also helpful for students to experience how different departments work together for a common goal.”

In addition, students must learn industry standards and technologies in the medical device industry. “This takes longer,” Lewis said, “but over time they begin to understand the ‘whys’ behind the design of dental implants, restorative components and instruments. Although we have the expectation that co-ops produce for us, my hope is that when they look back they realize the value of their experience here, and as they move into their careers they have a head start in their understanding of engineering organizations."

“Co-op is both an investment by the company and a commitment by the student,” added Adams. “The depth of experience pays dividends in that co-op students are ready to contribute immediately at an organization after graduation.”


“I have been part of teams in which we have drawn and developed state of the art dental surgery kits that are slated to hit the market this year; I have managed drafting and conducting test plans to research the durability of implant designs; and, most importantly, I have been able to teach incoming co-ops the ins and outs of the company and guide them as they grow from a college student into true engineers.”
—Benjamin Pody, mechanical engineering student and 2nd-year co-op


Homegrown Talent

Lewis says the co-op program historically has drawn from several area universities, but he admits UAB students have one obvious advantage. “Since they are local, they already have living arrangements,” he said. “After completing the three co-op terms, students return to school to finish up and graduate.  With UAB being in town, when the opportunity was available several UAB students have stayed on and worked part-time until graduation.  The company knowledge they have has allowed them to be productive even on a part-time basis.”

While the growth of BioHorizons’ co-op program is exciting for current and future engineering students, UAB School of Engineering Dean Jeff Holmes, M.D., Ph.D., says that is just one of the reasons UAB engineers should look at the BioHorizons story with pride.

“It’s not unusual for a promising startup to spin off from university research—in this case, arising from research in the UAB Schools of Engineering and Dentistry,” said Holmes. “We often comment that these startups have the potential to revolutionize an industry. But in the case of BioHorizons, it has actually done that, and it continues to innovate and to grow. I am tremendously excited that our students are able to be a part of that continuing UAB success story.”

“At BioHorizons, we look forward to continuing our work with UAB in the future,” agreed Lewis. “We appreciate the relationship we have developed with the university that has served us well over the years.”


BioHorizons Senior Leadership

A glance at the BioHorizons team shows a number of UAB graduates among the senior leadership.

R. Steve Boggan, President and CEO

  •   M.S. in Biomedical Engineering from UAB

J. Todd Strong, Executive VP and COO

  •   M.S. in Biomedical Engineering from UAB

Mike Mills, Executive VP and CFO

  •   B.S. from UAB Collat School of Business

Andrew Baroody, VP of Sales Operations

  •   B.A. in English from UAB

Juan Jaramillo, VP of Global Business Support

  •   UAB Graduate

Fred J. Molz, IV, VP of Research and Development

  •   M.S. and Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering from UAB

Elbert Jenkins II, VP of Information Technology

  •   MEng in Information Engineering Management from UAB
  •   MBA from the UAB Collat School of Business

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