Maher Tadros, UNL’s Leslie D. Martin Professor of Civil Engineering, recalled the many times he wielded scissors to happily “cut ties” (literally) with his doctoral students, symbolizing the completion of their studies and their readiness for the real world. After they defended their dissertations, the students brought him their neckties (or scarves, from female students). The tradition’s resonance is figurative, as Tadros has kept one half of each tie in his office, and is in regular contact with most of his former students.
But when Tadros retires from UNL this spring, it’s hard to imagine Nebraska Engineering cutting ties with him. He plans to stay active in research that brings distinction for Nebraska’s highly regarded civil engineering programs in Lincoln and Omaha.
Educated in civil engineering structures, he holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Assiut University in Egypt, and earned his doctoral degree in 1975 at the University of Calgary. He then taught for the University of West Virginia, and in 1979 he arrived in Nebraska. Through research and teaching he shaped a career spanning four decades studded with awards and honors, including an unprecedented five T.Y. Lin Awards (1976, 1990, 1997, 2002, and 2011) from the American Society of Civil Engineers and the Industry Titan honor from the Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute, given in 2004 to recognize individuals with industry-altering contributions in PCI’s first 50 years. He was also principal author of the PCI Bridge Design Manual, an authoritative book on precast prestressed concrete bridges.
At Nebraska Engineering, he served as department chair of Construction Systems Technology and as director of the Center for Infrastructure Research (1990-95), when the center's external funding increased 3,000 percent to $3.2 million. Amid this activity, Tadros’ extensive knowledge and prolific research constantly generated innovations, including highly-regarded structural developments such as the NU girder, NU-deck and, most recently, the NU-tie.
Above all, Tadros said, his most valued contribution at UNL was helping to raise its visibility nationally as one of the lead institutions in the study of precast and prestressed concrete.
“People think of our university as among the top six institutions in this field,” said Tadros. “We’re always at the top in competitions—that’s the reputation we’ve established.”
Being busy has been his norm, working with higher-than-average numbers of graduate students each term and engaging them in vital, large-scale projects. At least two Tadros protégés are now civil engineering professors: Sameh Badie, at George Washington University, and John Ma, with the University of Tennessee. Both described Tadros’ level of energy extending to his students, with a typically ambitious trajectory for achievements that pushed students to their limits: presenting early in their careers at prestigious conferences, and demonstrating solid expertise as a foundation for further notable careers.
He also grew Omaha-based companies, including Tadros Associates (now Infrastructure) and more recently eConstruct. Former student—and current eConstruct colleague—Shane Hennessey said Tadros is “one of the best people I’ve ever seen at making you think out of the box,” and Nick Reiser, another a CIVE alumnus with eConstruct, agreed: “He pushes you to see what you can do, and think above what others are doing.”
“I am a bridge engineer, a structural engineer,” Tadros stated. “I research and design buildings and bridges, and I’m proud of that work. But I am most proud of the people I have trained.”
“Seeing students develop and succeed, become leaders and be unafraid to venture into the unknown—those are tremendous assets, and I believe I had a hand with instilling that in them,” he reflected. “A former student who’s now a cabinet member for his nation told me, ‘I got where I am because you made me believe in myself.’”
Tadros paused and concluded: “I think my most important work is more about the building of human beings.”