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Professor Mohammed Basheer (CivMin) poses for a photo by the University of Toronto gates on his first visit to campus. He has moved from Germany to take a new role at U of T. (Photo: Phill Snel)

Mohammed Basheer joins the Department of Civil & Mineral Engineering as Assistant Professor in October.

“We wholeheartedly welcome our newest faculty member to the Department,” says CivMin Chair Marianne Hatzopoulou. “Students will benefit from the exciting new elements Professor Basheer brings to the Department in teaching and research. Join us in offering our newest professor a warm welcome to CivMin.”

Writer Phill Snel spoke with Basheer to learn more about his research direction, passion for teaching and what attracted him to Toronto from Germany.

Can you tell us a little about yourself?

I am Sudanese. I grew up and did my primary and secondary education in a town in central Sudan called Wad Medani. I moved to the capital of Sudan, Khartoum, to study civil engineering at the University of Khartoum, followed by two years of work in the private sector, where I contributed to water engineering projects in West Africa. Then I moved to Cologne, Germany, where I did a master’s degree in Integrated Water Resources Management at Cologne University of Applied  Sciences. After that, I worked at the same university as a research associate for about a year and a half, conducting research work on water management in East Africa.

Following that, I moved to Manchester, in the United Kingdom, where I did my PhD in Civil Engineering, focusing on water engineering and economics, at the University of Manchester and then worked as a research fellow at the university for one year. Then I moved back to Germany, but this time to Berlin, as a research fellow at Humboldt University of Berlin, funded by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.

I like watching and playing soccer, playing squash, hiking and experiencing different cultures and foods. My native language is Arabic. I speak English fluently and German at an intermediate level. I have been a Manchester United fan through and through since childhood.

Could you explain the focus of your research? 

Coupled human-natural systems, such as river basins, have supported civilization throughout history by providing critical services such as water, food and energy. But the pressure on these systems is mounting faster than ever due to population growth, economic development, urbanization and lifestyle changes. My research focuses on developing methods and tools that can help plan efficient human interventions in river basins, considering engineering, social, political, economic and environmental dimensions to provide essential water, energy and food services, help achieve sustainable development goals, and adapt to and mitigate climate change and other future uncertainties. Such interventions could include, for example, building or removing infrastructure such as dams or irrigation schemes, or changing the management policies of existing infrastructure. I spent several years creating methods and tools for designing infrastructure management and expansion plans for politically tense transboundary water resource systems — for example, the Nile Basin — integrating simulation methods, artificial intelligence techniques and stakeholder engagement.

Why did you choose the University of Toronto? 

Several reasons encouraged me to join the University of Toronto, from which I can mention a few. First and foremost, the University of Toronto has a longstanding reputation for academic excellence. It consistently ranks among the top universities globally and is renowned for its rigorous academic programs and distinguished faculty. Joining such a prestigious institution allows me to be part of a community committed to pushing the boundaries of knowledge and fostering intellectual growth.

Second, the University of Toronto has a diverse and inclusive environment. With vibrant multicultural campuses, the university fosters an enriching learning environment. This diversity of ideas and experiences enhances the educational experience for both students and faculty and prepares students to thrive in a globalized world. Third, the University of Toronto is known for its strong research. It houses world-class research facilities and provides ample opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration. As a professor, this research environment enables me to pursue my scholarly interests and make a meaningful impact on society.

Lastly, Toronto as a city offers a wealth of opportunities beyond academia. It is a multicultural hub with a thriving arts and cultural scene, diverse industries, and a strong sense of community. Being situated in such a cosmopolitan city provides an enriching experience for me, and offers valuable connections and collaborations that can benefit my research and my students’ professional development.

What do you hope to accomplish in your position at U of T Engineering? 

I hope to build a world-class interdisciplinary research group that studies river basins from engineering, social, political, economic and environmental angles and has a tangible impact on policymaking and societies. I hope to achieve this through accurate simulations of natural resources systems and their interactions with human systems, using artificial intelligence to facilitate planning future intervention decisions in natural resource systems, and actively engaging with stakeholders to ensure demand-driven research and co-production of outcomes.

I hope to contribute to educating the next generation of environmental engineers who will make a difference. I plan to tie research and teaching activities to ensure that students benefit from my research and are involved in research activities.

What one piece of advice would you give to new students? 

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell states, “It is not the brightest who succeed … Nor is success simply the sum of the decisions and efforts we make on our own behalf. It is, rather, a gift. Outliers are those who have been given opportunities — and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them.”

As a student at the University of Toronto, you have a fantastic opportunity before you. Make sure to have the strength and presence of mind to take full advantage of it, and be assured that your abilities and intelligence can develop through dedication, hard work and perseverance. Additionally, remember that the educational journey is as significant as the ultimate goal. So, embrace and relish the process along the way.

Finally, is there something fun about yourself that you’d like to share? 

I have an affinity for maps. From traditional paper maps to digital interactive maps, I appreciate their beauty and utility. I often spend hours creating maps using modern-day software and picking their colours. It gives me a great deal of relaxation!

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