Dr. Abraham Tsehayae and Cassandra Ommerli: Facilitating IRC Research, Connections, and Vision

Cassandra Ommerli & Dr. Abraham Tsehayae - 30 July 2016

Under the guidance of Dr. Robinson Fayek, the IRC research team is made up of a tight-knit group of student researchers, postdoctoral fellows, and staff members, all of whom play a vital role in bringing IRC projects to fruition. While partner organizations and other industry stakeholders routinely work alongside Dr. Robinson Fayek and her graduate students to plan and implement research, there are many more individuals who provide crucial strategic support to Dr. Robinson Fayek in a range of areas including student supervision, communications, and stakeholder engagement. In this article, we take a moment to profile two key IRC research team members, postdoctoral fellow Dr. Abraham Tsehayae and technical writer Cassandra Ommerli.

In October 2015, Dr. Abraham Tsehayae transitioned into his new role as postdoctoral fellow after successfully completing his PhD at the University of Alberta. Dr. Tsehayae first joined Dr. Robinson Fayek's team as a PhD student in January 2011, bringing with him a diverse background of both industry and academic experience. Prior to moving to Edmonton, Abraham worked for over six years as a lecturer at Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia and as a consultant in planning and contract administration for several building, real estate development, and international hotel construction projects. "Given the international esteem of the construction engineering program at the University of Alberta and the number of high-profile projects being undertaken in the province, I was quite excited about the prospect of moving to Edmonton," remarks Dr. Tsehayae.

Now, five years later, Dr. Tsehayae has built an extensive portfolio of research during his time studying under Dr. Robinson Fayek, including having worked as the primary student researcher on one of the IRC's longest-running and most successful projects on construction labour productivity, which examined the factors and practices influencing labour productivity on several Alberta construction projects. This past June, Dr. Tsehayae led a session on this study at the IRC Key Results and Recommendations Workshop (see page 4). He notes that, "The IRC offers an exceptional research opportunity for students that would not be accessible without the contributions of participating organizations." Throughout the course of his PhD, Dr. Tsehayae has produced numerous academic articles and more than 20 industrial reports; in addition, many of the methodologies and findings developed through his work with the IRC are currently being implemented by partner organizations. Dr. Tsehayae has been recognized for his research and academic excellence with a number of honours and awards including the 2015 Canadian Society for Civil Engineering Stephen G. Revay Award for best journal paper published in the Canadian Journal of Civil Engineering in areas of construction engineering, construction management, or project management; the Queen Elizabeth II Graduate Scholarship; the Ledcor Scholarship in Construction Engineering and Management; and the Robert Stollery/ USF and G Insurance Company of Canada Award in Construction Engineering and Management.

With the 2017-2021 IRC renewal term secured, Dr. Tsehayae has been hard at work with Dr. Robinson Fayek and PhD students Nima Gerami Seresht, Mohammad Raoufi, and Selam Ayele to help develop a new multilevel study on productivity (see page 1) that will expand upon the scope of the IRC's existing work on labour productivity. As a postdoctoral fellow, Dr. Tsehayae has the opportunity to take on a more advanced role in facilitating connections with members of industry and in ensuring that the IRC's research objectives are being met: "While my work as a PhD student afforded me an in-depth look at key challenges in modeling and improving labour productivity, the postdoctoral position is providing me with a broader view of construction research in areas such as the evaluation of construction R&D programs, capital project productivity, and individual and crew motivation."

Moreover, Dr. Tsehayae works in supporting Dr. Robinson Fayek with the supervision and mentorship of graduate students, where he is able to share his expertise in framing construction research problems, developing data collection metrics, working with advanced hybrid artificial intelligence-based techniques, and effectively presenting research findings. For Dr. Tsehayae, a continuous investment in knowledge and a receptiveness to learning new methods and concepts is essential for success as both a researcher and instructor. Dr. Tsehayae brings creativity and pragmatism to his work, challenging graduate students to push themselves further to investigate new techniques and helping them to develop strategies to work effectively within the practical limitations of their projects. Having been involved with the IRC since the beginning of the 2012-2016 term and having worked closely with so many individuals on both the industry and academic sides of the partnership, Dr. Tsehayae possesses a unique insight that will enrich the work done by the IRC research team.

Over the past year, IRC technical writer, Cassandra Ommerli, has played an integral role in helping to create a competitive renewal application for the 2017-2021 term. Shortly after joining the IRC research team in June 2015, Cassandra began working closely with Dr. Robinson Fayek to edit proposal content and coordinate efforts with industry partners and university administration to complete the program application, all of which culminated in the renewal of the IRC this past June. More recently, Cassandra made major contributions in planning and administering the June 2016 Key Results and Recommendations Workshop.

As a member of the IRC team, Cassandra wears many hats, supporting the scholarly work of Dr. Robinson Fayek and her students through contributing her expertise as a writer and editor, and acting as an industry liaison and program manager on initiatives related to IRC communications, public relations, and knowledge and technology transfer. Cassandra is also the lead writer, editor, and designer for IRC KeyNotes. With a diverse academic background in areas including sociology, philosophy, technical writing, and web development, Cassandra is committed to building a multidisciplinary knowledge base that allows her to work with content that is technically complex and translate it into forms that are accessible to a wide range of audience types. This sentiment rings true in the context of Dr. Robinson Fayek's research, which combines concepts from a number of disciplines including mathematics, business, and social sciences.

As a writer and editor, Cassandra uses her skills to help Dr. Robinson Fayek and the IRC academic team achieve a consistent voice and vision in their work both individually and as a group. "I see myself as something of a content strategist," explains Cassandra, "I help to develop and optimize content, be it material for our website, awards and grant applications, presentations, and posters, in order to maximize its impact and help the IRC achieve its objectives." Cassandra notes that she is grateful to have been brought on board with the IRC during such a critical period and to have had the opportunity to be involved in the renewal application, "This whole experience has really allowed me to gain a more comprehensive understanding of IRC research as well as a new appreciation for its short- and long-term goals." Looking ahead, Cassandra will be working with Dr. Robinson Fayek and Dr. Abraham Tsehayae to develop new strategies to make findings from IRC research more accessible to industry stakeholders.

This piece originally appeared in IRC KeyNotes Issue 6 (July 2016).