Abdeldjelil “DJ” Belarbi will return to his roots in December when he takes over as chair of the University of Houston Cullen College of Engineering’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.
Belarbi—currently a distinguished professor in the Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering at the Missouri University of Science and Technology—earned both his master’s and doctoral degrees in civil and structural engineering from UH. He will succeed Dennis Clifford who has served as interim chair since August.
"Beyond his obvious academic and professional accomplishments, DJ is a graduate of the university and we are proud of that fact," said Joseph W. Tedesco, Elizabeth D. Rockwell Endowed Chair and dean. "He holds a great vision for civil and environmental engineering at UH, a program that is very close to his heart."
For Belarbi, the appointment is bringing him back to an institution he has been an ambassador for since graduating with his Ph.D. in 1991.
“Returning to UH is like coming back home after almost 19 years,” said Belarbi. “Though the city of Houston and UH have changed significantly over the last two decades, I do not feel lost. I am very familiar with the place, the culture that surrounds the university and the city, and the quality of the people at the university. I feel so lucky to be back, not only to work with the fine people of UH, but to lead the CEE department.”
Belarbi credits his time at UH, which included studying under internationally recognized structural engineering researcher Thomas T.C. Hsu, with preparing him for a career in academia.
He has spent his professional career as a faculty member at the University of Missouri-Rolla—now Missouri University of Science and Technology— where he has served as assistant chair for both distance education and graduate programs as well as led research activities for the Intelligent Systems Center, Center for Infrastructure Engineering Studies and Materials Research Graduate Center. Amid the rigors of these leadership roles, he has further demonstrated his abilities as a professional—earning the title of full professor in 2003 and distinguished professor two years later in 2005.
Upon officially beginning his new leadership role at UH in December, he plans to launch efforts to help the department, which enrolls more than 350 undergraduate and graduate students, to become among the country’s most sought after civil and environmental programs.
“My vision is to see the CEE department at UH become an exemplary place of choice for students and professionals to begin or advance their career in civil and environmental engineering,” he said. “The world is changing rapidly and civil and environmental engineers must deal with some of the most critical issues facing society such as infrastructure preservation, climate change, environmental quality, energy and natural resources protection, natural hazard mitigation and the sustainable functioning of engineered and natural systems. The city of Houston is faced with all of these issues and the CEE department at UH should be positioned to serve the Greater Houston community, the State of Texas and the nation by educating engineers who not only possess the requisite technical skills, but would serve as tomorrow’s leaders.”
To do this, and help the university meet its goal of becoming a Tier One institution, Belarbi plans to double the department’s current faculty—adding talent in the areas of infrastructure, hydro-system, geo-sensing and nanomaterials, among others. This is in addition to updating both graduate and undergraduate curriculum to better respond to these future challenges.
“These are all pre-requisites and attributes that will empower me to lead the CEE department,” he said of his education at UH and his professional career with the Missouri University of Science and Technology. “I have learned that individuals are story makers, but success belongs to the team. I have taken this position and I am ready to work with UH’s very talented faculty and staff members, students and alumni to build a stronger, internationally recognized department.”