When Birchard Ohlinger supervised Maysoon Ishtar Tawfik in Iraq in 2004, he saw her both as someone who “let me see inside the Iraqi mind” and as an embodiment of the American “can-do” spirit, he recalls. They handled contracts for then-employer Parsons Corp. “She takes a lot on,” he says. “She’s constantly doing the right thing.”

Tawfik’s goal to help Iraqi engineers rebuild inspires colleagues.
Photo: MTA
Tawfik’s goal to help Iraqi engineers rebuild inspires colleagues.

So impressed was Ohlinger with the Iraqi-American engineer, who has an Assyrian Christian mother and an Arab Muslim father, that he is a main donor for Tree of Life Professional Development Inc., the nonprofit that he, Tawfik and industry colleagues Lonnie Coplen and Porie Saikia-Eapen founded to mentor Iraqi engineers. In October the organization brought two Iraqi engineers to New York City in conjunction with the U.S. Civilian Research & Development Foundation. Stephan Butler, who worked with CRDF and is now a TOL board member, calls Tawfik a skilled engineer “with the ability to crosscultures.”

Tawfik rallied industry groups around Tree of Life, which mentors Iraqi engineers to rebuild their nation.

Tawfik, director of Tree of Life, hopes to start a bridge program-management program in Iraq, after Iraqi elections. She is working with CRDF, the Construction Management Association of America, Columbia University, City University of New York and New York City agencies to mentor more Iraqi students and professors. “It’s just a question of funds,” she says.