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Staff Connection—Moe Kanaan

For Mohammad Kanaan, the path toward becoming a project engineer on a Manson construction site in South Carolina could most accurately be described as non-linear.

Born in Virginia, Moe, as he is best known to his friends and colleagues, spent his early years on the U.S. Eastern Seaboard. “Before we moved to Syria in the early 2000s, my family and I split time between Virginia and Boston, Massachusetts,” Moe explains. “I don’t remember much because I was so young, but one memory that has stayed with me is seeing heavy snow that covered all the neighborhood cars during winter.”

When he was still a small child, his family moved to Syria—where he gained dual citizenship—to care for his paternal grandfather. A few years later, they moved to Abu Dhabi. “At the time, the Middle East had better opportunities for those in the construction industry which prompted my dad, who is an engineer, to make the decision to move us to Abu Dhabi,” Moe explains.

Three men smile for a selfie.
Pictured (L-R): Moe Kanaan and Project Managers David French and Ryan Gielow

Moving from one country to the next might shock most people, but the transition was a smooth process for Moe. “At that time in my life, I wasn’t set in my ways, so I easily grew accustomed to living in the Middle East.” Surrounded by the rich history and culture of his new home, Moe came to appreciate the lifestyle. According to Moe, the city limits and travel time between neighborhoods in Abu Dhabi are unlike what you typically find in the U.S.—they are closer together and not spread so far out from each other. , Residents can travel the entire area from North to South in less than 25 minutes. “There’s a saying in Abu Dhabi that if you meet any person on the street, you can be sure that they either know you or they know someone you know,” Moe explains. “It’s a very tight-knit and friendly community.”

As a teen, Moe spent his days playing soccer, hanging out with friends at the Marina Mall, and spending time on the water that surrounds the island capital of the United Arab Emirates. “The make-up of the area I lived in was surrounded by water so there were many summers spent fishing on my mom’s boat,” Moe explains.

By the time Moe entered his senior year of high school, he was torn between choosing to study law or engineering in college. Understanding that both career paths would require hard work and focus, Moe decided to pursue engineering. “I realized that my academic strengths were in math and physics and not literature,” Moe explains. After making his decision, Moe began the application process to attend college in the U.S. with an interest in several schools on both sides of the coast. He applied and received acceptance to several universities, but ultimately chose Penn State. “I knew that Penn State would provide me with a solid education in engineering, and it also helped that a few of my friends were already going to school there,” Moe says. “So, my decision was easy.”

The first year at Penn State was challenging but taught Moe the art of self-reflection, allowing him to learn about himself when facing life milestones. “I spent a lot of time by myself reflecting on my first year at Penn State and being far away from home,” Moe says. “I think it was the first step of maturity for me.” Despite being 7,000 miles away from home, Moe would fly back to Abu Dhabi each summer to visit family and friends.

Entering his junior year, Moe set his mind on studying engineering and design, but it was a Materials Science Course that changed everything. “We were working on testing the compressive strength of concrete for one of our labs, and it was very interesting,” Moe says. “At the end of the labs, my team had the highest compressive strength out of the whole class. It was right there that I started thinking about construction and the opportunities for fieldwork.” After seeking advice from his professors, Moe took on several internships to gain more experience in the construction industry, including some that took place during his summer visits to Abu Dhabi.

Motivated by his newfound interest in construction and eagerness to start his career, Moe attended Penn State’s Spring Career Fair in 2019 to explore employment as he neared graduation. There he met Manson’s Vice President & Chief Engineer of Dredging Mike Warwick and Dredging Engineering Manager Kyle Dickens.

A project team attending a meeting.
The project staff at Manson's 18th Ave. North Myrtle Beach Ocean Outfall work trailer. Pictured left to right: Moe Kanaan, David French, Cole Reardon, Laura Patterson, Ilias Sgourides, Ryan Gielow, and Doug Lowe.

“I had heard of Manson before, so I knew a little bit about the work they did, which prepared me enough to make a good 30-second impression with Mike and Kyle,” Moe says. “Mike invited me to a 30-minute interview the next day, which ended up lasting a little over an hour.” Moe had left a solid impression, and after the interview, Mike said that he would be in contact. A few weeks later, Moe received a call from Mike inviting him to fly to Manson’s Jacksonville office for a second interview and to meet the Jax team. Not long after, Moe received a full-time job offer as a field engineer after graduation.

When Moe started working in the Jacksonville office in August 2019, Manson had just won the Marine Corps Support Facility, Blount Island, Concrete Sill Removal project for the USACE Jacksonville District. He was assigned to the project under the guidance of Vice President and Gulf and East Coast Civil Area Manager Mark Openshaw and Senior Estimator Tim Daniels “I assisted with pre-construction planning, submittals, finalizing engineering work, building client relationships, and logistics,” Moe recalls.

After the pre-construction phase was complete, Moe remained on the project for the construction phase where he got to work with Project Manager David French, a seasoned 32-year construction professional who he credits as an important mentor in the early stages of his career.

“Moe and I started at Manson at the same time, and I could tell right out of the gate he was going to be a valuable member of the project team,” David says. “Extremely talented, hardworking, and it was easy for me to bring him into the fold.”

After completing the award-winning Concrete Sill Removal project, Moe has had the opportunity to work on a variety of projects at Manson, including the BIMT Wharf Rehabilitation Phase 2 project in Jacksonville, FL, Port of Port Arthur Berth 5 Replacement in Port Arthur, TX, P-443 Pier 6 Replacement project in San Diego, CA, and his current assignment, the 18th Ave. North Myrtle Beach Ocean Outfall project in South Carolina.

Moe says that he is proud of the work that he has done so far at Manson. “What I love most about Manson is the projects that we get to work on,” he says. “I’ve learned a lot in my four years here, and I take pride in bringing value to the organization.”

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