Amer Hamad Issa Abukhalaf

Studying risk management at AU helps MBA grad with hurricane, earthquake, other disaster studies

Published on Aug. 31, 2023
Ashland University

While working in safety design for a steel construction company, Amer Hamad Issa Abukhalaf wanted to learn more about risk management outside the context of structural design and construction.

“So, I started a master’s degree with an executive management major at Ashland University,” said Abukhalaf, who earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering at Hashemite University in Jordan. “During my masters, I learned how to identify, analyze, prioritize, treat and monitor different types of risk. I also learned about the different treatments and strategies of risk management.”

Gaining this new knowledge inspired his master’s capstone thesis topic, he said. It was titled “Revising Institutional Disasters Response Strategies in the U.S.: Hurricane Katrina Case Study.”

It also motivated Abukhalaf to begin pursuing his Ph.D in 2019 at the Design, Construction and Planning College at the University of Florida under the supervision of Jason von Meding, whose work in disaster studies and social justice has inspired him for years, Abukhalaf said.

“It has been a long and challenging journey,” said the Ph.D candidate, who has authored 24 peer-reviewed published papers in top journals. “And there were many moments where I doubted myself, but sometimes you only need one person to believe in you, and I was lucky because I found unmatched support from my supervisor, Jason von Meding, who has always given me the freedom to explore and learn.”

Abukhalaf also works in research at the Florida Institute for Built Environment Resilience; a member of the Disasters, Trust and Social Change Research Lab in Florida; and is a University of Florida registered hurricane expert, allowing him “the chance to work on many risk-related research projects that look into disasters from many different angles.”

“My research looks into explaining and predicting personal hurricane preparedness behaviors through understanding how housing conditions and structural details influence people’s risk perception,” Abukhalaf said. “This topic is novel and has never been done before. It is also very multidisciplinary and requires a deep understanding and expertise in structural safety design techniques, risk and disaster management strategies, and theories in human behavior and psychology.”

A better understanding of risk-management strategies started for Abukhalaf in 2016 when he selected Ashland University for a master’s degree.

His job at the time at AIC STEEL (The Arabian International Company) was to integrate hazard identification and risk assessment methods early in the design process to eliminate or minimize the risks of injury and structural damage throughout the life of a structure being designed, with a special focus on natural disasters such as earthquakes and storms, he said.

The flexibility of AU’s master’s programs and the opportunity to take two specializations without having to pay extra were two of the many things Abukhalaf said he liked about Ashland University.

“It was a great experience for me,” said Abukhalaf, who completed his MBA from AU in 2019 with specializations in project management and supply chain management, “and I think others will think the same.”