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Tibebu Ayalew: Accidental Engineer

Tibebu Ayalew hopes his graduate degree in engineering will allow him to contribute to society.

Tibebu Ayalew hopes his graduate degree in engineering will allow him to contribute to society.

“My choice to study engineering was accidental,” explains Tibebu Ayalew, a graduate student in civil and environmental engineering and a research assistant at the Iowa Flood Center at IIHR.

Initially, Ayalew sought to emulate a high school biology teacher in his native Ethiopia, who inspired his love of science. Like any good mentor, Ayalew’s teacher encouraged him not just to go for his dream, but also to take it further and reach his potential by studying engineering.

Ayalew followed his mentor’s advice and eventually received a master’s degree in hydro-informatics and water management from Newcastle University in the United Kingdom. Today, Ayalew has found another admirable teacher, Professor Witold Krajewski at IIHR. “He is an inspiration for me,” Ayalew says. Ayalew wanted to study water resources engineering because he has seen the damage both drought and floods can do.

Since January 2011, after a semester at Drexel University in Philadelphia, Ayalew has been living in Iowa City, dividing his days between coursework and research at the Iowa Flood Center. “I am studying how using reservoirs modifies flood frequency, or reduces floods,” Ayalew says. “Having big reservoirs is not an acceptable practice these days. So there is an idea in the flood center that instead of having one big reservoir, why don’t we have very small reservoirs, but distribute many of them across the river basin?”

Demanding coursework and research make for a busy schedule, but Ayalew finds a balance and makes it all work. “I play tennis with friends and spend time with my family and playing with my kid.” Ayalew is married and has a 10-month-old daughter. He and his family have taken a liking to Iowa City. Ayalew enjoys the welcoming atmosphere of the Midwest and the convenience of the area.

Upon graduation, Ayalew hopes to work as a researcher, either at a university or in the government sector. He hopes to stay in the United States. “[Here] I have the opportunity to contribute something to some of the unsolved problems that exist in hydrology.”

Warm, relaxed, and dedicated, Ayalew is motivated by his desire to serve the greater good, to find answers to some of the existing problems, and to contribute to society.

By Amy Dalkoff

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Last modified on June 25th, 2015
Posted on February 28th, 2012

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