Pioneer Spotlight: Dr. Karim Iskandar

Dr. Karim Iskandar

Dr. Karim Iskandar, UW-Platteville assistant professor of construction management in the department of industrial studies, always knew he would be involved in the field after watching his father work in the construction industry. “He managed heavy construction and industrial projects including airports, power plants and cement manufacturing plants,” said Iskandar. “At a young age he showed me pictures of those projects being completed. It inspired me.”

To embark on his career path, Iskandar earned his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Ain Shams University in Cairo, Egypt, and became a project control engineer. It was during his time as an engineer Iskandar decided to further his education. He attended UW-Madison, where he received his master’s and doctorate degrees in civil engineering with an emphasis in construction management.

“During the time I was working, I felt I needed to study and learn more about the construction management field,” Iskandar said. “I always liked the university setting – the classroom, studying process and learning experience. I wished one day I could provide that to younger people and students. I decided to pursue my studies for that reason.”

Iskandar joined UW-Platteville in 2018. “UW-Platteville students are hard workers and serious about their college education,” he said. “They always go above and beyond what is required in the classroom.”

Your background is in civil engineering. How does your experience in engineering benefit your construction management courses?

It has exposed me to designing and building projects. For example, designing steel and concrete structures, bridges, roadways and foundations. I’m able to look at the plans and specifications and visualize how the project will look. In construction management, it’s very important to visualize the project, prepare presentations and use state-of-the-art technology in order to communicate how the final project will look like to clients.

My civil engineering background has benefited me a lot because I have a lot of technical skills that invade my teachings. 

What are your research areas and how have your research projects impacted the construction management industry?

I have been fortunate to gather substantial research and teaching experiences. I have authored/co-authored several technical research papers in refereed journals, including the “Journal of Construction Engineering and Management” and “The Journal of Construction Management and Economics.” The areas in which my research focused was on statistical and quantitative modeling to measure project productivity, assess the cumulative impact of change orders, enhance project delivery systems by integrating collaborative practices and lean, the use of prefabrication in electrical construction and modeling project manager competencies. My work in these diverse research fields informed and elevated my teaching.

Currently, I am working on several topics related to quantitative measurement of team collaboration and integration in different project delivery systems, such as design-bid-build, design-build and integrated project delivery. To be more specific, I am working on gauging how the level of team collaboration and integration affects project performance metrics in the healthcare construction sector, such as cost, time, quality metrics, etc. I am working on expanding my research to cover other construction sectors in the future.

One research I am proud of that I completed at UW-Madison during my doctoral journey is when I used my knowledge in statistics and data analysis in order to develop a regression model that can predict the cumulative impact of change orders on productivity. Change orders’ effects are complex and can be problematic to contractors because they have indirect and unforeseen effects on work areas that are distant from the changed work itself. A major issue in the industry is contractors frequently end up bearing extra costs resulting from consuming additional resources and spending extra work hours as a result of the cumulative impact of changes. Contractors encounter a lot of difficulties and resistance from owners in proving these extra costs and work hours, which often leads to unresolved disputes and lengthy litigations. My model serves as an industry tool that assists contractors in proving these extra costs associated with the cumulative impact of change orders.

What do you hope students take away from your courses?

First of all, I like to engage my students’ preconceptions and initial understanding about the class topics, and confront their misconceptions about fundamental ideas. I also empower innovation and continuous self-driven improvement in my teaching. Most importantly, I teach my students how to work as a team, how to communicate with one another to solve problems in a collaborative manner.

In one of my classes, students design a comprehensive model of a real-life project, where each student is responsible for modeling a specific construction discipline. During this process, a high level of coordination between the different construction trades is needed. They work together in detecting and solving clashes between conduits, ducts, structural beams, etc. Solving such complex project technical issues exposes them early on what they will face when they graduate, and makes them innovate and think critically to solve problems. I believe gaining critical thinking and problem-solving skills during the undergraduate learning process is key to preparing my students for their future careers.

What is one of your proudest accomplishments during your time at UW-Platteville?

My proudest accomplishment during my time at UW-Platteville is when I hear back from students who completed my classes and they have used what they learned in class at their internship or work. On time I had a student tell me in one of his internships, he was tasked to assist the project manager in developing the project schedule weekly progress report. Although not required in the progress report, the student used a technique he learned in my class called the earned value analysis in order to provide the project manager with some tangible metrics of how the project is performing in terms of time and cost. The student was able to pull percent complete data from the time schedule in Primavera, and perform the analysis and add it to the report. The project manager was able to fully understand the status of the project and act accordingly at that time. Stories like these make me certain that the UW-Platteville construction management students really stand out among their peers as they go out and work in the real world.

The first week of the spring semester is underway. What are you most looking forward to this semester?

Every semester is exciting as I get to teach and work with new students from different backgrounds. I look forward to another unique semester this spring as I incorporate new teaching styles into my courses to cope with the challenges imposed by COVID-19. Despite the current challenges, students have been very engaged and eager to learn. I look forward to having another group of enthusiastic students in this upcoming semester.