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College’s head of research wins international humanitarian award

Dorota Grejner-Brzezinska, associate dean for research at The Ohio State University College of Engineering, has been recognized by the Institute of International Education’s Scholar Rescue Fund (IIE-SRF) for her “extraordinary commitment … to preserving the life, voice, ideas and work of a persecuted scholar.”

The outstanding service award honors Grejner-Brzezinska for her role in securing a two-year fellowship—and safe haven—at the College of Engineering for Dr. Eblal Zakzok, a Syrian refugee and former professor at the University of Aleppo.

Dr. Eblal Zakzok and Associate Dean for Research Dorota Grejner-Brzezinka with the award she received from the Institute of International Education's Scholar Rescue Fund.Fearing for his well-being and that of his family, Zakzok fled his homeland and contacted the IIE-SRF to find a visiting appointment with a partnering academic institution in the United States to continue his work in civil engineering in a safe environment. IIE-SRF suggested he reach out to Grejner-Brzezinska, then chair of the Department of Civil, Environmental and Geodetic Engineering.

“It was a great coincidence because at that time I was looking for an instructor to teach our surveying classes, as well as geographic information systems and remote sensing, which are normally co-taught with City and Regional Planning,” said Grejner-Brzezinka. “Dr. Zakzok’s credentials were just the right fit for us, and after a conversation with him, I decided that we should not pass on this great opportunity.”

She partnered with college administration and the Knowlton School of Architecture to finance the matching fellowship, and Zakzok was welcomed to Ohio State in May 2015. Grejner-Brzezinka and colleagues worked quickly to bring him up to speed with surveying laws in the U.S. and in Ohio in particular.

“It’s been an amazing experience,” Zakzok said of his time at Ohio State. “Dorota put me in touch with all of her contacts and sent me to numerous conferences that added value to my experience.”

Two years after his arrival, he was offered a full-time lecturer position with the College of Engineering as well as a fellowship with the Franklin County Engineer’s Office, where he continues to gain familiarity with Ohio’s professional licensing processes and practices.

Grejner-Brzezinka said she’s humbled by the recognition from IIE-SRF, but that it was a true team effort.

“I think it speaks volumes about our commitment to diversity and inclusion across the college,” she said. “If you look at what we have done in recent years, we really are very in tune and focused on bringing diversity to the college. And it doesn’t just mean women or non-white men, but diversity in terms of racial and cultural backgrounds as well.”

“I think it’s a message to other units and colleges—and the world—that there is a database of scholars who are constantly looking for jobs,” she added. “They’re very well educated and there’s a lot of talent just waiting to be discovered.”

Zakzok’s wife and four of his children have followed him to Columbus. His eldest daughter remains in Turkey amid travel ban restrictions to the U.S.

The Scholar Rescue Fund was launched in 2002 by the Institute of International Education, which has participated in the rescue of persecuted scholars since its founding in 1919. The IIE is a US-based independent not-for-profit organization that works to build more peaceful and equitable societies by advancing scholarship, building economies and promoting access to opportunity.

by Meggie Biss, College of Engineering Communications | biss.11@osu.edu