The Islamic Azad University of Iran will seek to boost cooperation with the neighboring countries and allies, a senior official at the 35-year-old organization said, unveiling plans for opening new branches in Iraq and Lebanon.
Head of the Founding Council and Board of Trustees of the Islamic Azad University Ali Akbar Velayati said on Tuesday that his organization has focused on supporting the neighboring and friendly countries as part of its international plans.
The IAU is going to open universities and academic centers in the Iraqi cities of Baghdad and Basra and in the Arab country’s Kurdish regions, he added.
Velayati further pointed to a shortage of scientific centers for those interested in receiving higher education in Lebanon, saying the IAU has been in correspondence with Secretary General of the Lebanese Hezbollah Hassan Nasrallah in order to open offices in Lebanon and to promote cooperation with the Lebanese academic centers.
Founded in 1982, the Islamic Azad University is a private network of academic centers. It has more than 30 state university branches with 400 campuses and research centers across the country. The IAU has several overseas branches as well.
The United States government pledged to provide $11.4 million worth of higher education scholarships to American-affiliated Lebanese universities for the next academic year, U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Elizabeth Richard announced Tuesday. Richard made the announcement for funding through the University Support Program during a meeting with American University of Beirut president Fadlo Khuri and Lebanese American University president Joseph Jabbra. The ambassador underscored the U.S. government’s continued support for education, “as the critical building block of a prosperous, secure and tolerant society.”
The funds donated will support at least 104 scholarships.
“While Lebanese youth are mastering the core elements of their substantive areas of interest, they are also learning life skills of critical thinking, community service and succeeding in a globalized economy,” with the help of the U.S. Agency for International Development, a statement from the American Embassy read.
Malek Tabbal, AUB’s director of the USP, told The Daily Star that the positive impact of the program on Lebanon would continue to show for decades to come. “These scholars are top academic achievers coming from modest backgrounds and public high schools from all over Lebanon and are given the opportunity to join one of the top universities in the Middle East.”
“In addition to the academic requirements, the USP scholars are heavily involved with the community and in leadership activities and community based projects,” he said.
The USP is a comprehensive undergraduate scholarship program enabling academically meritorious but economically disadvantaged public school graduates to attend AUB and LAU. The U.S. government has invested nearly $100 million in the program since its inception in 2010.
The American University of Beirut announced the passing of prominent trustee and alumnus Maroun Semaan Tuesday. Faculty and students from the Maroun Semaan Faculty of Engineering and Architecture gathered on the campus to pay tribute to Semaan’s memory.
“Maroun was a genuinely great and humble man, whose work and whose impact will resonate through the ages,” AUB President Fadlo Khuri said at the short ceremony.
Semaan also served as a trustee for the American University of Sharjah (AUS), who said on Wednesday that it was mourning the death of their long-time supporter and former trustee, who they described as a great friend of the AUS since its inception.
“He was inducted as a member of the AUS Board of Trustees in 2005 and, for a decade, contributed greatly in charting out the course that helped the university grow from strength to strength over the years,” said Dr Bjorn Kjerfve, AUS chancellor, in a message sent to the AUS community on behalf of the AUS Board of Trustees.
“For many of us whose lives he touched so deeply with his kindness, intelligence, modesty and generosity of spirit, he leaves behind a void well-nigh impossible to fill,” chancellor Kjerfve said. He also prayed that the Almighty grant Semaan’s soul eternal peace and give his family the strength to bear this irreparable loss.
In 2017, Mr. Semaan was behind the largest single financial donation in AUB's history, given to the Faculty of Engineering and Architecture, which was subsequently renamed after him.
Semaan, who graduated from AUB in 1977 with a Bachelor’s Degree of Mechanical Engineering, was elected a trustee of his alma mater in 2013. After graduating, Semaan moved to the Gulf where he held several positions within the energy, infrastructure and civic works sectors. In 1991, he joined Petrofac, a small company that he helped to transform into an international oil and gas powerhouse.
Semaan retired from Petrofac in 2013 to focus on entrepreneurial endeavors in renewable energy, telecommunications and real estate.
“The university today mourns the loss of its student, alumnus, trustee, role model and philanthropist Maroun Semaan,” AUB Board Chair Philip Khoury said in the AUB statement Tuesday. “Fittingly, his legacy will endure through the ages, as generations of engineers and architects will graduate from the school that he did, and which now most fittingly bears his name.”
He established the Semaan Foundation in 2011 to provide support in the fields of education, hospitalization and social welfare throughout the Middle East. His foundation also donated a large sum to the AUB Medical Center. The Outpatient Surgery Center was renamed after Semaan’s parents.
Earlier this year, during the launch of “Boldly AUB: The Campaign to Lead, Innovate and Serve,” Semaan’s daughter Nour spoke on her father’s behalf.
“He always wondered how someone with means could rest his head on his pillow while a neighbor of his, near or far, is unable to make ends meet,” she said.
“His primary objective is providing a suitable environment for students and seekers of knowledge,” Nour continued. “His ambition is to ensure the availability of medical care, and to encourage development projects wherever there is need, as his contribution in lighting a candle in the darkness of the Middle East.”
The American University of Beirut conferred four honorary doctorate degrees and 514 graduate diplomas at the University’s 148th commencement ceremony held on Friday, June 2. A total of 16 doctoral, 403 master’s, and 95 medical degrees were awarded to the graduate class of 2017.
In his opening speech, AUB President Fadlo R. Khuri spoke about the power of inevitable doubt and introspection in effecting meaningful change and service for the common good.
This year’s recipients of AUB’s honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters include scientist Huda Akil; philanthropist and former first lady Mouna Haraoui; music composer, producer, and performer Simon Shaheen; and best-selling author and activist Ahdaf Soueif.
Mouna Haraoui expressed in her acceptance speech how she felt further empowered by the recently bestowed honorary degree to persevere in her contributions to Lebanon’s wellbeing.
Simon Shaheen captivated the audience with a special violin performance after he encouraged the students to use their “unique talent and education to build their own bridges” between cultures as he has done through his music.
Witness to social movements seeking a decent life for all, Ahdaf Soueif said that AUB graduates are “excellently equipped” to make a difference in a world facing “a battle between those who want a decent life for everyone… and those who can only comprehend narrow interests.”
In her keynote speech at the ceremony, world-renowned expert on the neurobiology of emotions, Dr. Huda Akil, defined what she calls “active resilience” as “the art of fighting the odds and emerging not only whole, but triumphant and joyful,” the result of internal resources to cope with stress and become stronger.
Akil argued that three factors harness this positive remodeling of the brain: social support; “emotional algebra” or balancing positive and negative emotions so the positive predominates; and reaching beyond oneself to help others.
By Prof. Elie Badr |Vice President for Academic Affairs, Notre Dame University-Louaize, Lebanon
Faculty members and academic administrators have long contemplated whether undergraduate research is useful for advancing student knowledge at this stage of their academic career or not, and also whether the benefits are significantly geared toward the professor or not.
There is no doubt that attaining research experience early on and more often greatly enriches the undergraduate experience. Recently, this learning tool has been demonstrated empirically and discussed at length in a variety of disciplines.
While the benefits of undergraduate research are numerous and far reaching, however, academicians are often torn between balancing the benefits of undergraduate research and those pertaining to applied skills, such as design, laboratory work, hands-on projects, and the like. In some cases, accreditation associations, specifically those pertaining to professional fields, would opt for the latter rather than the former.
How does undergraduate researcher experience benefit the student?
First, a direct benefit of research starts in the classroom. It is one thing to describe a phenomena and lecture about it, but it is another to formulate hypotheses and start investigating solutions, underlying theorems and constraints, data, and other prerequisite information to tackle the problem. While performing these activities, the student breadth and width of knowledge is immensely expanding. Not only that, performing research activities at the undergraduate level is the first training exercise toward equipping the student with lifelong learning skills. On that note, lifelong learning can instill creativity, initiative, and responsiveness in students; thereby, enabling them to show adaptability in post-tertiary education demands related to the industry and careers. Additionally, undergraduate research can provide students with a continuing source of one-on-one mentorship, which is otherwise occasional in the undergraduate curriculum.
Undergraduate research will enhance the student’s critical and independent thinking, communication skills, creativity, and problem-solving skills. In addition, undergraduate research helps students engage in the creation of new knowledge on the cutting edge of an academic discipline and apply that knowledge to real-world problems. Through exposure to research as undergraduates, many students discover their passion for research and continue on to graduate studies and faculty positions.
Another great benefit of undergraduate research is introducing the student to collaborative learning and teamwork, which is often more difficult to teach in the undergraduate curriculum. Research is often performed in teams, and one must learn how to interact and collaborate with team members to yield results. The benefits of teamwork experience amplify if the research topic is interdisciplinary in nature. The nature of research today is such that interdisciplinary teams are becoming the norm, and gaining firsthand experience in teamwork should be promoted in the undergraduate education.
Does undergraduate research benefit the professor?
Definitely! In fact, when I was preparing for my promotions in rank and tenure, I can safely say that I produced a number of publications based on work done with undergraduate students. This was partly out of necessity since my department did not have a graduate program at the time when I joined nor did it have a faculty in my area of expertise, so I had to work with the available “human resources”. I also did it because I actually enjoyed working with undergrads as much as I did with more senior researchers and faculty colleagues. Producing quality research and publishing with undergraduates is more challenging than doing so with graduate students and faculty colleagues. Undergraduate students require closer supervision and more follow up than their graduate counterparts. In many instances, the time to produce results took much longer than it should have, but the rewards were extravagant!
When faculty members use the term “research” with undergraduates, they often mean two distinct things: mundane, “blue color” work, which is often translated into "build me a code” or “run this test for me;” and actual research, as in work on a topic, investigate and produce credible results (in my case theoretical and experiential solid mechanics and fatigue of metals subject matters).
When I speak of undergraduate research, I mean the latter: the kind where novelty transpires, papers get published, etc. I can safely say that working with undergraduate students on research gave me the personal satisfaction of helping students to grow and develop professionally. I also experienced professional and intellectual growth as a result of supervising undergraduate researchers. Although working with undergrads yields slower rates of progress, undergraduate students bring vigor and passion to the research process. Showcasing my students’ research at conferences brought me even greater satisfaction than the publishing my own single-author papers; journal papers! In addition, engaging undergraduate students in research made me a better professor since the results and findings of these types of research often found their way into my classroom lectures.