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Spring 2008 Vol. VI, No. 3

The Green Issue

IGESP: Finding Solutions for the Earth’s Problems

As awareness of environmental concerns rises worldwide, graduates of AUB’s Interfaculty Graduate Environmental Sciences Program (IGESP) are tackling some of the hardest—and yet often the most basic— environmental issues that communities are facing worldwide, most often with a particular focus on the challenges in Lebanon and the Middle East.

Looking back, Ibrahim Alameddine (BS ’96, MS ’99) remembers that he was attracted to the IGESP program by the opportunity to work on regional environmental problems “at a time when the environmental awareness of the general public as well as the government was still very low.” Alameddine, who graduated in 1999, is now a PhD student at the Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences at Duke University.

Since it was established in 1997, IGESP has graduated more than 70 students. There are currently 31 students enrolled in the program. In some cases, IGESP students came to AUB intending to pursue careers in other areas but changed their plans after learning about the program. Others were attracted to the University by the IGESP itself—the focus on environmental issues, the multidisciplinary approach, or the opportunity to work with a particular AUB professor.

In a 2004 article1 several members of the IGESP management team explained that an interdisciplinary educational approach in environmental engineering and sciences is required today because “environmental dilemmas cut across various disciplinary boundaries and thus cannot be resolved from a single perspective.” While graduate students certainly benefit from this interdisciplinary approach, they can still specialize in one of four areas: environmental technology, ecosystem management, environmental health, and environmental policy planning. The program also emphasizes critical and integrative thinking, communication and problem-solving skills, and the important role that attitudes, values, and commitments play in resolving environmental issues. IGESP alumni also speak appreciatively of the opportunities they had to engage in research and acquire hands-on work experience while they were still master’s degree students.

Given the broad scope of the program, it is not surprising that IGESP graduates have chosen to travel many different paths after leaving AUB. Alameddine is one of many IGESP alumni who have gone on to pursue a PhD degree.

Suha Al-Madbouh (MS ’06), who received a full three-year PhD scholarship, is a doctoral student at Bielefeld University in Germany and a research assistant for the Palestinian Hydrology Group in Palestine. After completing her MS thesis, which was an analysis of the impact of socioeconomic, health, and water-related factors on women’s willingness to connect to a new water network service in Bebnine, Lebanon, Al-Madbouh worked briefly for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). She says that, “being interdisciplinary, IGESP has enriched my knowledge and skills in different environmental fields, and has played a major role in my choice of my PhD topic.”

Alicia Mansour (BS ’00, ’02, MS ’04), who now lives and works for Veolia Environment in France, had the opportunity to do an internship at EARTH University in Costa Rica while an IGESP student. She has also been involved in a number of research projects in recent years: assessing different compost types and determining the effect of their humic substances on plant growth, using solar energy to treat water, and aerobic wastewater treatment. She credits the diversity of courses she took at AUB with preparing her for work in many different environmental areas.


Several IGESP graduates are currently at AUB, including May Massoud (MS ’00), who is an assistant professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS). She has done extensive research in the privatization of waste management services in Lebanon—specifically on municipal solid waste and wastewater—and speaks passionately about the “keen appreciation and lifetime love of research” that the program instilled in her.

Safa Hojeij (BS ’03, MS ’06) joined FHS as a research assistant after completing the IGESP to work on the project in a local community (Bebnine) that she describes as a wonderful opportunity to put into practice one of the most important lessons she learned during the program: “There are many factors that contribute to a problem or issue and that must be considered in finding solutions.” She and her colleagues at FHS are still investigating the links between people and all sources of water in Bebnine, assessing the impact of drinking water quality on the health of the community, and disseminating this information through workshops and awareness campaigns.

IGESP alumni are also well represented among governmental agencies such as the Executive Council of the Government of Dubai where Reem Fayyad (BS ’97, MS ’00) has been working since August 2006 as a project manager in the Policy and Strategy Department’s Sustainable Development Unit. Fayyad says that the exposure that the program provided “to a wide scope of matters in the environment field” enables her to “identify high level elements in the sector in an integrated way”—skills that were also useful in her prior position at the Lebanese Ministry of Environment. Amal Abou Hatab (MS ’03) is working on a project entitled “the integrated waste management for the olive oil pressing industries in Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan,” which is being managed by the UNDP and implemented by the Ministries of Environment in Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan.

Rania Maroun (BS ’00, MS ’04) is grateful for the opportunity she had during the IGESP to work on “real case studies, which exposed me to environmental consulting and taught me how to write professional reports.” She says, “By the time I graduated, I felt that I was equipped with the necessary tools and skills to pursue a career in academia or in consulting.” As director of ECODIT Liban, Karim El-Jisr (BS ’97, MS ’99) has been involved in a wide range of environmental projects including the establishment of the Lebanon Mountain Trail (see box) and several assessments to improve waste management services in Lebanon and the Arab region.

A number of IGESP alumni also work in the nonprofit sector in Lebanon and the Arab world. Wael Hmaidan (BS ’99) is the founder and executive director of IndyACT, a group of environmental, social, and cultural activists in the Arab World. Hmaidan, who was the Arab campaigner for Greenpeace for many years, has led several environmental campaigns including the Arab Climate Campaign and the Zero Waste in the Arab World Campaign. He is also the cohost and writer of a reality environmental show on the Future News satellite channel, which highlights different environmental issues in a proactive and hands-on way.

Although IGESP alumni are living and working around the world, many still feel a very strong bond to Lebanon and the region and look forward to returning some day to solve what Zurayk describes as “the diversity of environmental problems in our region that affect the integrity of our ecosystems and the health of our people.” There is now a growing recognition that the region faces enormous environmental challenges. The dozens of men and women who have graduated from AUB’s IGESP are among those who are working to meet these challenges.

1 L. Semerjian, M. El-Fadel, R. Zurayk, and I. Nuwayhid, “Interdisciplinary Approach to Environmental Education,” Journal of Professional Issues in Engineering Education and Practice, July 2004, pages 173–81.


The Lebanon Mountain Trail: the first long-distance hiking trail in Lebanon

One of the projects keeping IGESP graduate Karim El-Jisr (BS ’97, MS ’99) and a group of his colleagues at ECODIT busy in recent years is the establishment of the Lebanon Mountain Trail (LMT), the first long-distance hiking trail in Lebanon. The 440-kilometer trail extends from Qbaiyat in north Lebanon to Marjaayoun in the south and ranges in altitude between 600 and 1,800 meters. ECODIT launched the two-year LMT project in 2005 with funding from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and assistance from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy in the United States.

In addition to designing and establishing the trail, ECODIT trained 50 local guides on a wide range of skills including how to plan and coordinate trips, trail interpretation (providing information about the history, archaeology, and ecosystems of the areas that the trail traverses), and map-reading skills. ECODIT also refurbished 10 guesthouses in marginalized trail-side communities, upgraded two town squares, and set up several rest areas including picnic spots and campsites along the trail. It is currently producing the first English language guidebook for the LMT and maps for hikers, and has already launched a web site (http://www.lebanontrail.org). The LMT Association, a Lebanese non-profit organization, will be responsible for maintaining and protecting the trail in the future.

El-Jisr, the project’s deputy manager, explains, “One of the goals of the LMT initiative is to bring people together by linking villages and people from all backgrounds and affiliations.” ECODIT envisions that the trail will become a magnet for ecotourism and rural development along the route. Unfortunately, the ongoing political instability in Lebanon has hampered some of the efforts, but El-Jisr is quick to note that these efforts have been postponed, not cancelled.

The good news is that hikers can now walk the entire trail. The trail has been described in numerous articles and press stories as “breathtaking,” but getting there takes its toll: sections of the trail have also been described as “strenuous” and “knee-punishing.” Walking the entire length of the LMT is clearly not for the faint of heart.