Skip to content Skip to main navigation Report an accessibility issue
Osama Abdulghafour stands in commencement regalia.

CEE Faculty Build a Bridge of Education for Syrian Father and Son

CEE master’s student Osama Abdulghafour is a Syrian who was born in Knoxville when his father Abdulrazak Abdulghafour (CEE/PhD ’98) was pursuing his doctorate at UT. His family eventually moved back to Syria, but growing up, the younger Abdulghafour would visit Knoxville every summer or at least every couple years to maintain a connection.

Rocky Top was home sweet home away from home.

“My love and passion for Knoxville are the main reason for bringing me to UT,” he said.

Now, he hopes to take his engineering degree to contributing to large projects in the US and worldwide. With a research grant under Assistant Professor Mark Denavit, he was able to concentrate on steel structures, which is one of his passions.

After Osama finished his undergraduate in civil engineering in Saudi Arabia, he decided to head to Tennessee after meeting with Professor Khalid Alshibli, who talked about the great the atmosphere of the department how people act like “one family.” Alshibli was in Saudi Arabia on sabbatical as a researcher at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in 2019, and he visited Umm Al-Qura University where Osama was an undergraduate student and talked to him about the department.

Another faculty member threading father and son’s journey through CEE is Professor Richard Bennett. Both took CE 576 Masonry Design.

“I would say it was one of the best classes of my life,” said Osama. “When I visited UT two years ago with my father, we saw Dr. Bennett, and he remembered my father.”

Abdulrazak Abdulghafour teaches a class.

Abdulrazak Abdulghafour

The senior Abdulghafour came to UT on the suggestion of one of his civil/architectural engineering professors in Budapest, Hungary, where he was a master’s student. His brother Mohammed Abdulghafour (EECS ‘92) had also attended UT and had high recommendations. It was the late Professor Edwin Burdette who helped the senior Abdulghafour with the admission process and obtaining a research position. Now Osama’s father is a professor at Umm Al-Qura University in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

“It was a pleasure to have both father and son in class,” said Bennett. “They were very engaged in their studies, asked good questions, and just a lot of fun. It was good to reconnect with Abdulrazak, and not surprising to see how successful he has been. I am sure Osama will also be very successful, and perhaps someday his child will be a CEE student.”

The success of international students like the Abdulghafours is possible because of the welcoming culture of the department that blends a quality education with the feeling of belonging to a family.