By: Kyle Niblett
Sunday, September 24, 2023
Growing up in Shiraz, Iran, Abdol Chini heard more about the famous wine produced from his hometown than he ever did the University of Florida College of Design, Construction and Planning (DCP).
Then how, in the last four-plus decades, did Chini go from being a project manager for the Iranian Armed Forces (IAF) project to a legendary professor emeritus faculty member at DCP?
It all started with the Iranian Revolution.
After graduating from the University of Tehran in Iran with a degree in civil engineering, the start of Chini’s career was much like the wine in Shiraz: fruitfully overflowing. Having been promoted from project engineer to project manager, Chini found himself overseeing multi-million-dollar projects for the IAF, overseeing the construction of aircraft shelters and taxiways, multiple-story buildings, and roads countrywide. That all changed when the revolution took place in 1979.
“During that time period, most of the construction projects came to a screeching halt,” Chini explained when asked why he left his home country. “I decided to travel to the U.S. in 1982 and get my master’s degree and Ph.D., before coming back home. The situation in Iran was unstable at the time, and I ended up never moving back.”
After receiving his master’s degree in structural engineering from The George Washington University in D.C. and his Ph.D. from the University of Maryland (UM), the newly minted Dr. Chini couldn’t find an academic position. After helping build the Metro for the Washington Metropolitan Authority in the nation’s capital, he eventually found work in August 1990 as an assistant professor at the UM Eastern Shores campus. It was there in 1992 as the coach of the construction management competition team that he met current M.E. Rinker, Sr. School of Construction Management Director Dr. Robert F. Cox, who at the time was competing against Chini as the coach of Virginia Tech.
“Rinker was and still is one of the top construction management programs in the nation and famous due to its rigorous coursework and successful alumni,” Chini said. “It’s reputation, along with the initial impression I got from Robert who was a Rinker School faculty at the time, was the main reason I moved my family down to Gainesville.”
After serving as a tenured Associate Professor at Rinker from 1994 to 2003, Chini was promoted to full professor and became Director of the school in March 2003. For the next eight years, the Rinker School raised its reputation globally under his leadership, significantly increasing the size, diversity, and quality of its graduate program, establishing new student exchange programs with Hong Kong and Singapore and increased students’ awareness of the environment through participation in events such as the Solar Decathlon Europe competition.
While refusing to take credit, Rinker also saw several big-picture changes under Chini’s watch, such as completing fundraising for the construction and furnishing of Rinker Hall, which was the first LEED Gold-certified building on UF’s campus and the State of Florida. He also oversaw the construction of the Charles R. Perry Construction Yard, increased the volume of Rinker’s endowment funds from $11.7 million in 2003 to $25.0 million in 2011 and formed the eight inaugural BCN regional clubs in Florida and Georgia.
Ironically enough, Chini was excited to see Cox being named Rinker School Director in 2020 when Chini was an associate dean with DCP. In that role, the native Iranian served as the administrative officer of the college with regard to all aspects of its undergraduate programs, including recruitment, admissions, curriculum, advising, records management, and graduation. He also oversaw facilities, and with the new role came a new mindset, as Chini went from thinking only about a facility for the Rinker School to a facility for all DCP disciplines.
“I learned very quickly that the best way to make Rinker better was to make the whole college better,” Chini said. “Becoming Associate Dean completely changed my way of looking at things and helped me see the bigger picture. A rising tide lifts all boats.”
Now wanting one building that could accommodate everybody and wasn’t focused on one discipline, Chini worked with Dean Chimay Anumba to mobilize faculty and alumni. Of course, in Chini’s natural selflessness, he gives credit to Anumba for the vision of the college’s biggest facility undertaking yet: the upcoming $45 million, 50,000-square foot facility named the Bruno E. and Maritza F. Ramos Collaboratory. What he doesn’t mention, however, is he was on the search committee for the Dean’s opening and was the one who pushed for Anumba throughout the whole process.
“I am most proud of how our college has transitioned from everyone fighting for their own share to everyone distributing opportunities among all disciplines,” Chini said. “Our OneDCP mindset, collaboration between faculty and overall improved teamwork made it possible.”
Success for Chini is defined by the results of the team. It does not matter to him if he was the manager or leader of the team. What matters is everyone was willing to work under his watch and move the college forward.
Now retired, the DCP legend admittedly misses “everything about the college and the Rinker School.” This includes leading search committees, organizing the creation of the college’s first artificial intelligence course and laying the foundation for the most sought-after construction management career fair in the country. So, what is he doing now with all his free time?
“I am watching the NBA Finals and drinking some Shiraz wine,” Chini said laughing, having chased down his own dreams.
Much like his hometown wine, his legendary career was fruitful, well-received and remembered fondly by all those who interacted with it.