An Alumnus, who makes its alma mater proud

He is one of the Arba Minch University Alumni, who has made its alma mater proud by making it big in the international arena. Sheer dexterity and the panache with which he carries himself in his domain speak volume about his professional attainment.

Dr Aschalew Debebe is a consummate Project Management Professional, who is presently based in Qatar on international assignment. He has had a brief two-year stint with Arba Minch Institute of Technology as a lecturer. He has played a stellar role in developing Hydro Geo-Analyst (HGA) - the all-in-one groundwater and environmental data management software with his Canadian office of his company Schlumberger.  Click here to see the picture

Dr Aschalew was invited by AMU’s Community Services Directorate office core process as an expert to orient AMiT and Natural Science College staff members and PG students on software and Ground Water Database Management and Modeling from 16th to 17th July, at CISCO Training Centre, Main Campus.

In a reveal-all personal audience, he has touched the whole range of subjects pertaining to his domain and following is the excerpt of his interview.

Informing about his current professional engagement, he said, ‘‘For the last 11 years, I am associated with Texas-based MNC – Schlumberger. My present assignment in Qatar as Regional Manager is to offer consulting services in Groundwater Projects with special emphasis on Aquifer Storage and Recovery. Our office undertakes hydro-geological characterizations for the purposes of utilizing groundwater Aquifers for strategic reserves; wherein, treated sea water and waste water are injected into aquifers that are not currently in use or have been depleted.’’

‘‘Soon after Graduating in Civil Engineering from Addis Ababa University in 1989, I had joined AMU as lecturer and after the completion of my 2-year stint, in 1991I left for Masters (MSc) in Hydrology from Free University, Brussels, Belgium followed by a doctorate in Water Resources Engineering and a second MSc in Applied Computer Sciences in 1999.’’

When asked as to what prompted him to go for this subject, ‘‘The topic of water resources has been, is and continues to be the most important one for Ethiopia and many countries in the world because water continues to be an essential resource that is under threat from various angles. The domain of water resources is one that requires focus and as such efforts by AMU to establish itself as a leading institute in Ethiopia and East Africa on this important topic are very commendable.”

Commenting on the prevailing scenario, he said, ‘‘There’s lot of knowledge concentrated with selected few experts, which is not made available to wider audience in the profession. The demerit is that a much needed data and hence knowledge is generally available in hardcopy which remain inaccessible to other professionals; to make situation better, one needs to make it available in a digital format and readily accessible to those in the profession.’’

Articulating the facts about his core area, he said, ‘‘Geology is the medium which tells the entire story; by studying and understanding the geology in a given area, is key to understanding the quantity and quality of groundwater that may be available in the area.

To understand the geology and hence hydrogeology, various methods and tools of collecting information including surface geophysics, drilling, borehole geophysics and others need to be employed. In many situations reports on such studies may be available with relevant government agencies. The challenge has been that information has not been stored digitally and in a way that it is accessible.”

Tools such as Hydro-Geo Analyst are useful in bringing together not only raw data that has been collected and available but also embed expert knowledge within them and hence providing the mechanism for a continuous and sustainable transfer of knowledge to the younger generation. The relevance of this for AMU as an educational institute is significant. “, he emphasized.

Ruing about Ethiopia’s footing with regard to the usage of advanced software, he said, ‘‘Ethiopia and even some of the developed nations are lagging far behind. If one desires to make the necessary progress and efficiently manage country’s water resources, the utilization of latest technology (software and hardware) is indispensable and ineluctable.’’

As an Alumnus, he has made the greatest gift to his alma mater by being instrumental in convincing his company Schlumberger to donate Software licenses for Hydro-Geo-Analyst, Aquachem, Aquifer Test Pro, Visual MODFLOW and UnsatSuite that will make a great difference in AMU’s efforts. ‘‘These Suite of Software, which have been in use around the world, have comprehensive provision which will aid AMU in achieving its vision of excelling in reaching and training many through the latest technology available,’’ he averred.

‘‘With HGA, AMU can expect the highest level of performance and a completely scalable solution to meet groundwater and environmental project demands.HGA allows for the storage and management of large set of diversified water resources and environmental data in a centralized, secure, and GIS based data management system.

It’s an all-in-one desktop solution that provides one-click access to many powerful features i.e. Data Transfer (import/export), data Querying, GIS Mapping, Cross-Section Editor, 3D-Explorer, Template Manager, Report Editor, and much more!’’. HGA will allow AMU to comply all water resources related data and information in one centralized database for consumption by its staff and students.

Similarly, AquaChem is a unique groundwater software package. Its analysis tools cover a wide range of functions and calculations used for analyzing, interpreting and comparing water quality data.

Visual MODFLOW® is the industry standard software for 3D groundwater flow, heat and contaminant transport modeling. It’s integrated Conceptual and Numerical Groundwater Modeling, powerful 2D and 3D visualization capabilities and it’s intuitive and easy-to-use.

AquiferTest Pro, with the integration of derivative analysis capabilities, trends corrections, and data contouring, it provides tools to analyze and report pumping test data like never before!

Unsat Suite, uses the latest techniques in software engineering to integrate the existing technologies in unsaturated zone modeling and to introduce many new methods for visualizing and managing projects, generating input data, presenting modeling results, and sharing data between models.

Putting things into their right perspective, he said, ‘‘In the past we used to talk about software applications, now data is important and applications are relevant only when you have reliable data. With this software in place, AMU primarily can make great difference in water resources by creating a compressive database for its researchers.’’

Making a remark on the available infrastructure at Arba Minch Institute of Technology, he said, ‘‘When I was here, it was a small team, now it has added other aspects of engineering. It has acquired the distinction as the Institute of Excellence in water engineering.’’

He further opined that in many institutes in various parts of the world, more stress is given on the theoretical aspect thus lacking practical exposure. Exposure to applied research is needed and although much progress has been made through the past few years, there are still rooms for improvement. After his discussions with AMU’s management in individual meetings, Dr Aschalew feels very confident that the institute is established on solid grounds and various arrangements have already been made and executions underway to achieve the vision that it has set out for itself.

Giving his piece of advice, he said, ‘‘Students and faculties need to be involved in practical aspect, even to the extent of students getting involved real world projects instead of going for pure academic research only. When I did my first degree, we rarely had the opportunity to visit project sites and learn in a practical way. Therefore, emphasis should be given to enhancing the practical aspects of learning.’’ Dr Aschalew is married and is blessed with four children.

By Philips Joseph