fbpx Student’s Groundbreaking Research on COVID-19 Impact on Construction | University of Maryland Project Management

Hala Alkhalouf planned to spend only one semester as an exchange student in the United States and then return to her family in the Gulf.  Five years later, she has earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering at the University of Maryland and pioneered groundbreaking research investigating the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the supply chain and labor productivity.

She was half the way through her master’s thesis on a different topic when the pandemic began spreading, and the country began quarantining. “That’s when I decided to change my thesis, and because I have already spent some time on my first one, I almost didn’t have enough time to do it,” Alkhalouf said. “My new thesis is about the effects of COVID-19 on construction.”

Her research investigated and quantified the impacts of the virus on the duration and cost of construction projects, focusing specifically on two construction dimensions: supply chain and construction labor productivity. “Conclusions on the topic were reached using two methods, namely performing two case studies and using Primavera 6 and Schedule Analyzer software to evaluate schedule updates,” she said.  “Each of the case studies utilized a real-life construction project that was active when the impact of the pandemic was at its peak in April 2020.”

Alkhalouf indicated that the data her research yielded was surprising. “I think readers of my thesis wouldn’t expect that civil projects in the open air could be as heavily impacted as they were,” she said. “Everyone was talking about the effects of COVID-19 on retail and construction in confined spaces. However, my conclusions show that all active projects during the pandemic were impacted, especially if they did not already have their materials on site.”  View Hala’s final thesis: Impacts of COVID-19 on Construction.

She loved doing this research, mainly because it was new and there was very little existing data pertaining to COVID-19 and construction. “This was an opportunity to add to the literature,” she said. “The only research about COVID-19 is about contracts law. There is nothing out there that is investigative for real-life projects; I was the first one to do it. This is a brand new topic.”

For someone who hadn’t intended to stay this long, Alkhalouf said all the work and even the last-minute change of thesis topics has been worth it. “I came in 2015 from the United Arab Emirates to study at George Washington University, but then it expanded to another semester. Then I just decided to stay,” she said. “My parents were very supportive and encouraged me to get my doctorate. My father is a civil engineer and project manager as well, so I was always exposed to construction sites. I saw what I wanted to do and knew I needed more education.”

After deciding to stay, she transferred to University of Maryland and completed her BS in civil engineering.  She is now finishing her MS in Civil Engineering with a Major in Project Management and will graduate at the end of December 2020.

Hala Alkhalouf’s University of Maryland 2017 graduation with her B.S. in Civil Engineering.

She admitted she had an ulterior motive for wanting to complete her master’s degree. “I was very interested in project management, but the real reason I wanted my master’s degree was because I needed one to obtain my true goal—a Ph.D. in civil engineering,” she said.

That’s why she started her master’s degree in civil engineering with the project management track. “One of the main reasons I was so interested in the project management program was Professor John Cable,” she said. “I attended some of his lectures when I was an undergraduate and he got me so interested in the project management program at UMD, I just had to do it. He became one of my favorite professors and he has been a great mentor for me.”

“Hala is an exceptional student” stated John Cable, Director of UMD’s Project Management Center for Excellence.  “When I did a guest lecture for one of my faculty she was in the class and immediately stood out; she knew the material cold and expanded on it in her answers and comments. We are really excited that she is planning to pursue her Ph.D. with us and look forward to having her in the program.”

After she started her graduate program, she did two internships with O’Connell & Lawrence, Inc., in Olney. “They do surveying work and offer consulting services,” she explained. “I took classes in scheduling from Professor Ken O’Connell as an undergraduate and a graduate student and asked to intern with his company.  I’ve been working there ever since.”

At O’Connell & Lawrence, she works as a construction consultant, focusing on claims resolution, schedule review and delay analysis, and damage quantification in the Project Management department.

Alkhalouf, who was married in the United States in January 2020, will be starting a brand-new academic journey, next fall. “I plan to apply for the civil engineering doctoral program at UMD,” she said. “I definitely want to stay at UMD; I am all UMD! I will go here, my kids that I don’t even have yet will go here, and my grandkids will go here too,” she exclaimed.

“I’m so grateful to everyone that assisted me in my journey so far. I am so thankful I stayed, even though I was only supposed to be here only one semester,” she continued. “I have seen other universities and that’s why I am here at UMD. There is no place like the University of Maryland.”

If you would like to start your journey through the UMD Master of Science in Civil Engineering with a Major in Project Management or the Master of Engineering in Project Management, Apply Today!

Posted by Kathy Frankle on December 16, 2020