Third-Generation Iraqi Engineer: ‘I’m Helping my Country Get Better and Better’
With so much hard work required in the years ahead to rebuild and expand Iraq’s power infrastructure, it’s essential to have people like GE engineer Ameer Al-Dafaie on the job. Ameer is an Iraqi who, like so many of his fellow compatriots, has shown unyielding determination, hard work, and high achievement in pursuit of his education. Overcoming obstacles and pushing ahead, he earned his university degrees and gained other specialized training, throughout the country’s tumultuous recent history.
A third-generation engineer who was surrounded by books as a child, Ameer was in primary school when his family — including his mother, father and two brothers — left their home in Baghdad for Amman, Jordan in 1997, before moving two years later to Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates. It was in Al Ain, in his third school in three countries, that he finished high school.
‘I always look to the future’
In 2003, Ameer returned by himself to Iraq to pursue a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at Baghdad University. However, with only his senior year remaining, the sectarian violence forced him to leave the country and return to his family in the UAE. He spent 15 months looking for the right university to continue his studies before he chose the Al-Balqa’ Applied University in Jordan. The new country and university meant he couldn’t continue from where he left off, and instead, had to retake a number of courses. “That was the toughest part, but I always look to the future, not the past.”
So, he put his efforts into his studies, focused on thermal and hydraulic machine engineering, and graduated in 2011 first in his class with a bachelor of science degree and a passion for power plants and gas turbines. He then applied and was accepted into graduate school at the highly competitive Jordan University of Science and Technology.
He completed his master’s degree in July 2014, with the second highest GPA in his class and a published scientific paper in the Elsevier journal “Energy.” Ameer was married while in graduate school, so that after graduation, he, his wife and their daughter – who now is five years old – returned to Baghdad.
While in university, he’d not only won a prize for best renewable energy research in Jordan, but was also recognized as an honor student by the Iraqi embassy in Amman.
He then applied and was accepted into the prestigious Regional Center for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency based in Cairo. “I was the first Iraqi and one of only eight people accepted in that cohort.” He learned a tremendous amount about energy systems, both conventional and renewable, building on the expertise he’d gained in university.
Soon after returning home to Iraq and posting his resume on various job portals, he was contacted by GE. Recalling that phone call, Ameer says, “I was so proud that GE reached out to me!”
Today he is a regional customer application engineer, serving GE customers not only in Iraq, but across the Middle East and Pakistan. In this role, he develops the technical engineering solution to fit customer requests in areas such as power plant upgrades and retrofits.
But this role isn’t his first with GE. He was initially hired as a Graduate Management Program trainee, but after only a couple months, was asked to join GE’s most prestigious engineering program, the Edison Engineering Development Program. During a series of local and international six-month rotations in business-critical assignments, accompanied by advanced engineering coursework and leadership training, participants accelerate their professional development.
Ameer, who was the first Iraqi to complete the program, spent one year in Iraq, one year in the United States, and six months in South Africa. He completed the program in July 2018.
The program gave Ameer experience and travel opportunities that “in my wildest dreams would not have imagined.”
‘Investment in me’
It reflects what Ameer says is “GE’s investment in me. They believe in Iraqis doing right for Iraq. GE has the potential to address Iraq’s energy challenges and they are investing in local talent so we Iraqis can be equipped with the skills to build up our own country.”
“Ultimately, it’s about people. They believe in people and invest in them. I’ve always received all the support I need.”
GE also has given Ameer a unique opportunity to practice his passion.
“I’m an engineer before anything else. I’m always looking at the world, thinking of how to make something happen or work better. I’m always curious, always looking to learn.” That’s why he loves his current role, where he gets to work with, and learn about, all the different aspects of a power plant.
He’s also incredibly proud to work at GE because “I get to help my own country get better and better every day. When I’m doing a job for GE, I’m also the end consumer. I’m the one who is benefitting from this electricity. I’m touching my own life – my family’s life – by doing this big job.”