Essam Abdel-Aziz Sharaf

Professor of Highway Engineering
Cairo University
MSCE ’80, PhD ’84 (Civil Engineering)

For his outstanding contributions to the transportation infrastructure of Egypt and the education of civil engineers.

Solving Puzzles, Dreaming Dreams

As a kid growing up in Egypt, Essam Sharaf was fascinated with puzzles: assembling the pieces to form the whole. And that, for him, is the essence of engineering. “It’s not a science,” he says. “Rather, it is a profession that is based on assembling, or using, facts and basic sciences—math, physics, chemistry, etc.—to get a product usable by living beings.”

Civil engineering in particular intrigued Sharaf since his teens. “I used to be amazed every time I saw all these astonishing civil works and projects: roads, bridges, houses, high-rise buildings, hospitals, schools, shopping centers,” he says. “How were these products made? Slowly I recognized that they are not simply the work of contractors but that they start with an extensive effort by the designers. Sitting in front of a blank paper—we had no computers at that time—and converting that paper into a design that tells the details and functions of every small piece of a man-made product was always a dream for me.”

On to Purdue

In 1975 Sharaf completed his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering at Cairo University, where he studied under Abdel-Monem Osman, the Middle East’s founder of highway engineering. Sharaf had clearly made his mark.

“I was selected by the College of Engineering to be a graduate instructor and continue my career as a faculty member,” he recalls. “At that time, Dr. Osman had three graduate instructors working with him, and it was impossible for him to add another graduate instructor according to the department and college rules. Dr. Osman, in the department council, announced that he decided to replace the three graduate instructors with Essam Sharaf. I will never forget that. Then he encouraged me and helped me to get an assistantship from Purdue!”

Working with Professors E. J. Yoder and K. C. Sinha to complete a master’s and doctoral degree in West Lafayette, Sharaf devoted himself to a new research area: highway maintenance and highway maintenance management. “Up to the mid-’70s, most highway research was geared toward the design of new infrastructure,” he says. “Then, with the aging network and limited budget allocated to maintain the network at an appropriate and usable level, it was necessary to develop tools and methods that maximize the effect of the available budget.”

Professor and Public Servant

Purdue degrees in hand, Sharaf began a rewarding career in academia. It’s a profession that runs in his veins. His father was a professor of veterinary medicine, and four of his brothers and sisters work or have worked as professors. Joining the Cairo University faculty in 1985 as an assistant professor of highway and traffic engineering, Sharaf devoted his research over the next two decades to maintenance management, pavement management, highway management, safety management, and transport asset management. (His academic posts included six years at the King Saud University in Saudi Arabia, as well as promotion to full professor in 1996, when he returned to Cairo University.) “I’ve always felt,” he says, “that we do not suffer from [the lack of] technical capabilities. Rather, we suffer from management problems.”

Sharaf was able to test that belief on a grand scale when he entered public life in Egypt’s Ministry of Transport. Named minister of transport by President Hosni Mubarak in 2004, he had become a major force in transportation education, research, and public policy. During his service as transport minister, which concluded in early 2006, Sharaf undertook unprecedented initiatives to modernize Egypt’s transportation infrastructure system, consisting of 46,000 kilometers of highways, 9,400 kilometers of railroads, 36 river ports, 3,000 kilometers of canals, 80 seaports and special-purpose ports, many tunnels and transfer terminals, and the Cairo subway system. His program included improving transportation security and tourism services, expanding the highway system to encourage a balanced distribution of population and land use, constructing new links for improved transportation to neighboring countries, and providing employment opportunities on the order of hundreds of thousands of jobs. “The improvement plan for Alexandria’s seaport alone will generate about 70,000 jobs over four to five years,” he says.

Returning to academia in 2006 as a professor at Cairo University, Sharaf remembers his special tie to Purdue. “I have to thank the great people I dealt with during my stay there,” he says. “The special one for me is Professor K. C. Sinha, who was co-advisor of my master’s thesis and the advisor of my PhD. Every time I get an award, I send an e-mail to Professor Sinha to congratulate him and tell him that he is my partner in winning it.”

2006 Professor, Cairo University
2004 Minister of Transport (Egypt)
2003 Senior Technical Advisor,_Al Ain Municipality
2000–02 Distinguished Professor Award, Cairo University
1999 Senior Advisor, Egyptian Minister of Transport
1998 Certificate of Merit, Cairo University, Celebration of Scientists Day
1997 National Award in Engineering Sciences, Egyptian Academy for Scientific Research and Technology
Cairo University Award for Excellence in Engineering
1996 Professor of Highway Engineering, Cairo University
1995 First Class Medal of Excellence from the President of Egypt
1991 Associate Professor, Cairo University
1990 Assistant Professor, Civil Engineering, King Saud University (Saudi Arabia)
1988 Certificate of Merit, Cairo University, Celebration of Scientists Day
1987 Soliman Abdul-Hai Award, Egyptian Academy for Scientific Research and Technology
1985 Assistant Professor of Highway and Traffic Engineering, Cairo University (Egypt)
1984 Visiting Assistant Professor, Purdue

BSc ’75, Cairo University
MSCE ’80, PhD ’84, Purdue University