JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq - In 2007, a Soldier in Talil came up with a simple idea to foster relations between the United States military and Iraq - provide desperately needed engineering textbooks to a local Iraqi university.
Working through connections with his alma mater, Oregon State University, then-Captain Joshua Mater, who was a Civil Affairs officer with the 98th Civil Affairs Battalion, coordinated a book donation that netted the Thi Qar University School of Engineering $30,000 in new engineering textbooks from OSU.
Not surprising for a guy who, as an undergraduate, organized an alumni fundraiser to benefit the Military Science Scholarship Endowment Fund for future cadets at OSU and Western Oregon University, raising more than $2,000.
What is surprising, however, is that Mater, now the deputy plans officer for the 402nd Army Field Support Brigade, at Joint Base Balad, Iraq, is the co-founder and CEO of an influential international non-profit organization.
In 2008, Mater and fellow Soldier Jesus Quispe, who coincidentally is the Redistribution Property Assistance Team logistics management specialist for 2nd Battalion, 402nd Army Field Support Brigade at JBB, co-founded the Michael Scott Mater Foundation in honor of Josh’s Father who passed away in 2002 after battling cancer. The MSMF seeks to create opportunities for individuals and communities by providing financial resources, work-force training, cross cultural exchanges and sustainable solutions to real world challenges. Quispe serves as the foundation’s chief operating officer.
“The decision to start MSMF wasn’t an easy one,” said Mater who hails from Corvallis, Ore., and now resides in Charlotte, N.C. “Building an organization from scratch takes hard work and dedication; doing it from Iraq was nearly impossible. However being a part of nation building and helping individuals in need is the most rewarding aspect of my life.”
The MSMF, which operates in several countries including Iraq and Peru, in addition to the United States, conducts programs to bolster international relations and economic growth.
The MSMF Green Micro-Loan Initiative provides business training, networking opportunities and loans, from $1,000 to $20,000, to entrepreneurs in order to help start or grow new or existing business with an emphasis on sustainability. The foundation’s World Empowerment Initiative develops job skills through vocational training in vulnerable communities.
MSMF partners with businesses, schools, and governments to provide individuals with the necessary skills to enter or re-enter the workforce.
The MSMF Sustainable Solutions Initiative is built on the concept of coalition development between members of academia, industry, government and communities in order to promote the development and implementation of green technologies and sustainable practices throughout the world. The foundation’s School4School Initiative focuses on international education strategies to help meet the twin challenges of preparing Americans for a global environment, while continuing to attract and educate future leaders from abroad.
“The Sustainable Solutions Initiative has allowed MSMF to meet and work with some of the most dedicated professionals in Iraq by building a sustainable higher education system from the ground up,” Mater said. “I am constantly amazed at their willingness to promote change in the face of such immediate danger.”
Since Mater returned to Iraq in Sept. 2008, he has focused much of his scant personal time to coordinating foundation initiatives. His current “big push” is the Coalition for Sustainable Engineering Education in Iraq.
The idea came up in August 2009, when MSMF and OSU hosted a delegation of 19 Iraqi engineering professors and Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research officials in Oregon. Invited by Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski and financed by the US Embassy in Baghdad, the delegation took part in a two-week conference focusing on sustainable engineering and construction management protocol in order to develop communication between the various institutions, develop an outline for student/faculty exchanges and brainstorm other initiatives.
“The four women of the Iraqi delegation were the architects of the CSEE,” Mater said. “They went out into the hotel lobby and an hour and-a-half later they had come up with the concept for this plan.”
The primary thrust of the CSEE is to build the capacity of the Iraqi university system by bringing state of the art testing laboratories to selected institutions to help the MoHESR develop and implement a national sustainability strategy which includes engineering, agriculture, and forestry among other areas. The testing laboratories will enable collaborative research between Iraqi and US academic institutions, serve as workforce training and implementation platforms for Iraq’s developing economy, and allow for an internal learning loop between CSEE member institutions that has never existed in Iraq.
Once the idea was conceptualized and presented at the conference, things started to move fast. Spearheaded by the MSMF, OSU and dedicated Iraqi professors, CSEE quickly gained the interest of the MoHESR.
After a flurry of activity to further develop the CSEE, another conference was held, this time in Baghdad. The May 12 -19 event was conducted to codify requirements among CSEE participating universities and the MoHESR in order to prepare for the official signing of the agreement. The event culminated with the MoHESR announcing the National Education Program for Sustainable Engineering Education led by Dr. Angham Alsaffar, who was selected by the MoHESR to spearhead this national effort. As guests of the Minister of Higher Education, MSMF and Catherine Mater, director of Sustainability for the OSU College of Engineering, spent seven days meeting with the 20 potential member institutions, the Ministers of Higher Education, Agriculture and Water Resources, and officials from the United States Embassy and United States Forces - Iraq.
During the conference, five key areas were identified as priorities: Water quality and conservation, including wastewater treatment and recycling; indoor and outdoor air quality; renewable energy including wind, solar and biomass technology; green built materials and construction; as well as ecosystem services and investment.
How are such lofty goals attained? One step at a time.
“The next step is to get the CSEE agreement signed by all parties; the universities, Iraqi ministries, OSU and MSMF,” Mater said. “This will take place in Baghdad in October 2010 during a week-long sustainability conference hosted by the Iraqi Minister of Higher Education, at which experts from OSU will discuss the integration of sustainability into the Iraqi higher education curriculum and how this will lead to economic development and job creation in Iraq.”
Oregon State University representatives will include President Ed Ray; College of Engineering Dean Dr. Ron Adams; College of Agriculture Dean Dr. Sony Ramaswamy, College of Forestry Dean Dr. Hal Salwasser, and College of Engineering Director of Sustainability Catherine Mater. Iraq will be represented by the ministers of higher education and agriculture, and presidents of the 20 CSEE member universities. Also on hand will be Mr. Aziz Alnassiri [Al Nassiri], chief executive officer of Ramin International Technology Solutions, who is the primary partner in developing the Information Technology capabilities within CSEE member universities - a critical component toward supporting CSEE objectives. Mater will represent the MSMF.
“OSU has an absolute commitment towards making this partnership work,” said Catherine Mater, who happens to be Josh’s mother. “Unlike normal university outreach programs which focus on student/faculty exchanges and online training, OSU’s partnership in the CSEE initiative is based on immediate capacity building within the country that will lead to economic development on the ground with an emphasis on sustainability.”
CSEE has become a component of the OSU Sustainable Energy and Infrastructure initiative which focuses on developing clean, renewable energy and energy efficiency for the State of Oregon and beyond. Unifying the research and expertise of OSU’s Colleges of Engineering, Agriculture, and Forestry, CSEE will utilize Oregon green build technologies and systems to promote economic development in Iraq.
“We are proud to have a guy like Josh on board here at the 402nd AFSB,” said Col. Lawrence W. Fuller, brigade commander. “Not only is he a valued employee, he is an inspiration to others. His efforts to build relations with our Iraqi partners are commendable. Our reason for being in Iraq is to help them rebuild their country and achieve stability and Josh does that both on and off duty.”
As USF-I and the Material Enterprise continue responsible drawdown operations and the development of Iraq’s minimum essential capability, the capacity produced by initiatives such as CSEE are critical to ensuring the Government of Iraq’s ability to become self-sustaining.
“As Iraq grows as a nation, the CSEE program can expand to meet emerging requirements. The Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research is to be commended for integrating sustainability into the Iraqi higher education system in order to meet the future needs of the nation,” Mater said.