Dear friends and colleagues of the AUB community,
New tool empowering research impact
One of our major challenges as an academic community is establishing how to capture and measure the complex interface that exists between scientific research and the societies that we serve. To this end, the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs (IFI), led by Dr. Tarek Mitri, has launched a digital platform designed to benchmark the whole life cycle of social impact research, including knowledge transfer and public or policy-oriented research activities. Dr. Sari Hanafi, professor of sociology in the Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Media Studies (SOAM) has led the initiative to create the Portal for Social Impact of Scientific Research Targeting Research in/on the Arab World, or PSISR for short, with a grant from Carnegie Foundation.
This searchable database will be a vital tool for a wide range of stakeholders, including researchers at AUB and other institutions, institutional beneficiaries, policy makers, funding agencies and the general public. It will rely on data introduced by the researchers themselves, consisting of description of their research projects, outputs, and their social impact. The initiative envisions the term “social impact" in the broadest sense, encompassing the social sciences, economic and political impact, and cultural issues. Drs. Hanafi and Mitri and the IFI team encourage all scholars conducting research with social impact to enter their project details on the portal (either completed projects or those in progress with partial results). Each entry will take about 15-20 minutes to complete and to make it as comprehensive as possible projects can be recorded in Arabic, English, or French.
Our hope is that that the PSISR initiates a wider process of making the knowledge we create ever more impactful and accessible. This initiative is backed by a distinguished advisory board that includes members of the research community across multiple Arab countries, a process that will give visibility to research produced by AUB and our peers across the Arab world. We are genuinely proud that such a transformative research tool is being initiated at AUB.
Studying and fighting disease
While the social sciences have a long and distinguished history at AUB, there are some disciplines that are as old as the university itself. One of these is pathology, and it is fitting to celebrate the present-day Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine (PLM) which received its seventh reaccreditation by the College of American Pathologists (CAP) last month. PLM was the first department at any AUB medical or health faculty to be certified by an international accrediting body in 2004, and it remains the country's top facility of its kind for education and in attending to the needs of patients and physicians, whether at AUBMC or other healthcare facilities in the country and region. The reaccreditation was granted following a rigorous inspection by a team of 10 CAP members on April 11-12 covering all aspects of the lab's operations.
Laboratory medicine is an essential activity—as the saying goes, “without labs, physicians are just guessing." Indeed the department offers a wide range of services—bacteriology to combat infectious diseases, the first blood bank in the region, clinical chemistry using state-of-the-art analytical technology, cytogenetics (studying genetic inheritance of diseases), hematology, immunohistochemistry, molecular and neuromuscular diagnosis, parasitology, and serology. Most of these services were developed at AUBMC before they became available anywhere else in the region, and certainly before they were available elsewhere in Lebanon.
The former departments of pathology and laboratory medicine were amalgamated in 1996 and PLM, as it became, has been under the leadership of its outstanding chair, Dr. Ghazi Zaatari, ever since. Dr. Zaatari is that rare individual who is well known for the generosity of his support and wisdom of his counsel to anyone who seeks his help, always with an eye towards the greater good rather than personal advancement. His many roles include chair of the Study Group on Tobacco Product Regulation at the WHO, executive committee member of its Tobacco Laboratory Network, and director of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control knowledge hub for waterpipe tobacco smoking. He is vice-president for Asia of the International Academy of Pathology, president of the Arab Board of Pathology, and secretary of the Arab division of the International Academy of Pathology. It is hard to think of a more distinguished CV, one that also includes authorship of 119 peer-reviewed articles, a pathology textbook, and numerous book chapters. Hearty congratulations to Dr. Zaatari and the remarkable PLM team for their latest accreditation success, and (speaking as a physician) I look forward to much more expert help from them in our “guesswork!"
Celebration of conservation
After 35 President's Perspectives, it is high time I turned my attention to the extraordinarily important work of the Nature Conservation Center (NCC), founded under the administration of Dr. John Waterbury, the 14th AUB president, in 2001 to promote conservation and sustainability of biodiversity. Under the prescient leadership of Dr. Najat Saliba, director, Dr. Salma Talhouk, community development program director, and Dr. Majdi Abou Najem, solid waste management program director, the NCC is making great strides in the challenging sphere of strengthening people's relationship with their natural environment and protecting and regenerating it by means of education, community outreach, and knowledge dissemination.
NCC is behind the annual International Biodiversity Day at AUB (IBDAA), in which undergraduates from all disciplines compete by presenting innovative ideas for sustainable and green projects. This year it has pushed the envelope by including not just AUB students in the poster competition, but those of six other Lebanese universities. IBDAA 2019 will go on the road and be held at another university campus for the first time as a national event. Other impactful ongoing initiatives include the creation of a mobile application that will make Lebanon's hidden natural and cultural treasures more accessible to eco-tourism, to the advantage of local communities and conservationists alike. The app is called Daskara—Arabic for a “small township"—a word which, if you are unfamiliar with it now, will doubtless enter your vocabulary soon with the success of the project.
Another pilot intervention, Btifruz, has transformed the environmental health and sustainability of the Beqaa town of Bar Elias, near Zahle, implementing a sorting/recycling scheme that has become one of the most successful waste management campaigns Lebanon has ever seen. At least 80% of the town of 40,000 inhabitants (and 120,000 Syrian refugees) are now separating recyclable waste at source, taking one ton per day of that waste out of the system that would have gone to open dump-and-burn disposal, and creating more than 10 jobs paid for by the sale of recyclables. In collaboration with the Neighborhood Initiative the next target is to persuade the inhabitants of Ras Beirut, including AUB dormitories and residences, to sign up to their own Btifruz project.
Dr. Talhouk is the founding director of AUB's Botanic Garden initiative (aka AUBotanic) whose role is to reaffirm our responsibility as custodians of a unique natural environment in the heart of urban Ras Beirut. This year's annual AUBotanic spring event focused on the native and migrating bird species who add so much to the visual and acoustic backdrop of our campus. It was a great honor to host President Waterbury in person at the event, fresh from his richly deserved Randa Bdeir Award in Recognition of Outstanding Leadership in Supporting the Careers of Women, which was conferred on him earlier in the day. It was John—an expert ornithologist and committed conservationist—who designated our campus as a bird sanctuary in 2003, one of the keys to which is that the AUB cat population is “well fed", as he explained during the event. I strongly endorse the informal experiential learning opportunities that are available in our green areas and encourage all our community to engage with them, either by volunteering as an AUBotanic docent, signing up for a tour that the docents will lead, or simply looking around and engaging with the fascinating plants and creatures with whom we are all so lucky to be able to share this beautiful campus.
Fadlo R. Khuri, MD