Expertise that gets lost in translation

Immigrant engineers plunge into special review course
EAST COUNTY — In Iraq, Laith Al Any was a telecommunications engineer working as a project manager for Lucent Technologies. When he immigrated to Santee in 2010 with his wife and three children, he couldn’t find work in his field and had to pick up tutoring jobs.

May Farhan’s story is similar. When she came with her husband and two children to Santee, the civil engineer who had worked for more than 10 years on projects in Baghdad and Dubai could only find work as a cashier at a Cajun restaurant.

Al Any helped create the Fundamentals of Engineering Review Course sponsored by the San Diego Welcome Back Center and held at Cuyamaca College for foreign-trained engineers like himself and Farhan. The intense 10-week pilot program leads up to to the state licensing exam in April.

Seventeen engineers, mostly Muslim and Chaldean men living in East County, are enrolled in the course that meets every weekend. In 2010, the Welcome Back Center received a $50,000 federal grant, half of which went to a program to acclimate refugee doctors and nurses, the other half dedicated to engineers.

Language, trust and cultural barriers are all explored, as are the basics of job seeking.

“We are teaching how to write a good resume, how to build networking and how to build relationships and a good attitude,” said Al Any.

Depending on funding, the Welcome Back Center hopes to offer the course twice a year before the state engineering exams.

“At the end of the day, these guys have families,” said Al Any. “They should take care of them, make their kids proud of them as engineers, not as another thing.

“Because, if they can find their way here, they are going to help build this country.”