by Kate Kurtin
Dr. Reda Ammar, Head of the Computer Science & Engineering Department and UConn Director of International Academic Partnerships, recently began a new stage of his life project. On November 16, 2009 UConn was accepted by the Al-Bayan Foundation to establish a Saudi Arabian university adhering to UConn standards. The Prince Migrin University (PMU), named after Prince Migrin bin Abdul Aziz, will be located between Medina and Jeddah.
The project began in January 2009, when Dr. Ammar was appointed as the UConn Director of International Academic Partnerships and traveled to King Abdul Aziz University (KAAU) in Saudi Arabia to build relations with the institution. At the time, faculty members from KAAU were creating the advisory board for the nascent PMU. They were in the process of inviting top universities from across the globe, but specifically the U.S. and United Kingdom, to submit proposals for academically co-founding PMU, Dr. Ammar explained. When he returned to UConn, Dr. Ammar worked with UConn Provost Peter Nicholls, Vice Provost Veronica Makowsky, and Deans Mun Y. Choi (Engineering), Christopher Earley (Business) and Jeremy Teitelbaum (Liberal Arts & Sciences), along with their designated coordinators to develop the proposal. In November, the UConn team was notified that their proposal would be funded by the Al-Bayan Foundation, which will provide $1.664 million dollars for the first year and more than $400,000 annually in ensuing years (plus inflation adjustment).
According to Dr. Ammar, PMU is scheduled to open in fall 2010. Before then, however, UConn and the PMU leadership must hammer out a contract that will dictate the by-laws and administration structure of the future university. Another task involves the development of a school handbook containing course descriptions and syllabi for all classes. Dr. Ammar said PMU will offer coursework in engineering — to include civil, chemical, computer science, electrical and mechanical; liberal arts and sciences (including required general education requirements and economics); and business subjects including accounting, finance, management, and marketing. Dr. Ammar’s primary objectives are to increase UConn’s visibility in Saudi Arabia and Middle Eastern countries in order to more effectively recruit graduate students with governmental scholarships.
Bringing engineering graduate students to the United States, especially those with scholarships from their governments, is something that Dr. Ammar is very passionate about. “Since summer 2009, I have succeeded in recruiting 28 graduate students who are fully funded by different countries, including Saudi Arabia,” Dr. Ammar explained. Each of these students is guaranteed four years of graduate research funding from their host country. “We are talking about seven million dollars already at UConn,” Dr. Ammar said.
Saudi Arabia is not the only country providing financial support so its students may study abroad. In 2009, 78 Turkish students were enrolled at UConn, and of them, half were fully funded by their government. Other nations that fully fund graduate study for their students include Egypt, Libya, Kuwait, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Brazil, and China. Dr. Ammar has worked to develop academic partnerships with all of these countries in different fields. Underlying Dr. Ammar’s passion for graduate exchange programs is his own experience as an Egyptian citizen pursuing doctoral studies at UConn. “I got my degree in 1983, came back in 1985, and since then I have been a member of the faculty,” he explained.
“Since I was familiar with the Egyptian system, I have been helping the Egyptian students study here,” Dr. Ammar explained. Since 1985, Dr. Ammar has helped more students study abroad than he can remember.
“You have to open the doors,” Dr. Ammar exclaimed. “This is my mission — to make UConn known in the Middle East, at least (!) and also around the globe… and to make money for the university,” he continued. “My areas are graduate education, research partnership, and institution to institution partnership,” he explained. The project with PMU fulfills all of his goals, and he hopes that with the increased exposure for UConn at PMU, students will be more aware of the opportunities available to them at the graduate level and will take advantage of them.