Dear friends and colleagues of the AUB community,
Strategy for Innovation
I want to begin by sharing the exciting news that after nearly two years of painstaking groundwork our distinguished Board of Trustees has approved the setting up of an Innovation Park (to be known as the AUB-iPark) under our mission to contribute to the development of entrepreneurship in Lebanon and the region. The AUB-iPark will serve as a comprehensive solution for developing innovative ideas and converting them into profitable and scalable start-ups; it will be an experiential educational platform, a much-needed research window, and a means of sourcing venture capital to fund entrepreneurial projects.
We have long been concerned about the drain of qualified talent from our societies as many of our best and brightest graduates go abroad to work or continue their studies. The entrepreneurial ecosystem here holds out hope for different outcomes and it has been successful in fostering the emergence of an eager cadre of Lebanese innovators filled with the spirit of entrepreneurship. But much more needs to be done.
At AUB, we already have a thriving culture of entrepreneurship-focused competition—think of the Samir & Claude Abillama Eco-Entrepreneurship Award, the Darwazah Competition, the Center For Research and Innovation, the Robotics Club Build It Weekend, AUB Goes Hult, the AUB-Wamda Hackathon, and more. What we lack is a hub to pull all these together and make no mistake, the business community, the banking sector, and the entrepreneurship networks can hardly wait for a premier seat of learning like AUB to join the ecosystem in the comprehensive and active way we are planning.
The AUB-iPark will be that hub, a space that is conducive to collaborative innovation, with a technology lab for hardware, and a pool of AUB faculty members on hand to pass on their expertise to the next generation. In addition to nurturing the next Instabeat, Moodfit, or Little Bits (yes, all successful start-ups developed by AUB alumni outside their alma mater), the key to success of the AUB-iPark, as outlined by Dr. Salim Chahine (from the innovation strategy working group that also included Me. Randa Baladi, Dean Steve Harvey, and Drs. Zaher Dawy, Assaad Eid, Imad Elhajj, Fadia Homeidan, and Ayman Kayssi) will be collaboration. In other words, we would like to see all our outstanding faculties and schools joining the entrepreneurial initiative with their own competitions and by encouraging their students to apply to work in the AUB-iPark whatever their discipline.
In an era where universities are frequently and accurately in some cases, accused of corporatization, I must assure you that we at AUB are very well aware of this risk. If we do not ground ourselves in the fundamental values of humanism, service to society, and embracing diversity we might be guilty of corporatization of AUB. But look no further than the two schools which most embody the spirit of entrepreneurship which we foster here, the Maroun Semaan Faculty of Engineering and Architecture (MSFEA) and the Suliman S. Olayan School of Business (OSB), both of which are models for socially responsible and progressive education and research to find sustainable solutions to today’s challenges. And think of the students engaged in Light Up a Village, or the team that helped create the GHATA project. These are models of the kind of entrepreneurship that we hope and expect to see in the future.
Fouad Maksoud – Star of Scientific Innovation
Many of you will have been following the success of our alumnus, Fouad Maksoud (ME ’16), who stormed to victory in the highly competitive Stars of Science competition broadcast on MBC last Saturday. Since graduation, Fouad has developed a groundbreaking electrospinning machine that has been hailed as an impressive advancement in the field of nanotechnology and its diverse scientific applications.
His patented invention is an industrial-scale device that precisely deposits nanofibers from hundreds of nozzles simultaneously, massively reducing production times from many hours to a few minutes. The machine is capable of transforming clothes into a waterproof drug delivery system that heals wounds, burns, diabetes ulcers, and muscle strains. As Fouad has been first to acknowledge, his work would not have been possible without the support and expertise of the extraordinary team at MSFEA and the cutting-edge research it has been doing in the areas of electrospinning led by Dr. Ali Tehrani and advanced textiles led by Drs. Kamel Ghali and Nesreen Ghaddar.
Apart from Fouad as a competitor, this ninth SoS season featured as mentors Drs. Danny Asmar, Rami Mhanna, and Elie Shammas, and the show itself is hosted by our former colleague Dr. Fouad Mrad, who has had a long interest in promoting tech innovation in the Arab region. Not that this gave our alumnus an unfair advantage! His triumph was secured with the highest grades throughout (scoring a record 96/100 in the prototyping phase) and a surge of public support in the final popular vote. Congratulations Fouad, you are a fine role model for AUB undergraduate and graduate students alike!
Strategic Growth of our Graduate Programs
Changes to financial support for graduate students have been a major focus for our community in the past two weeks. But significantly obscured have been facts about why the Office of the Provost embarked on this challenging modification and the strategy we wish to implement.
The graduate assistantship (GA) system in force until this term was designed approximately 25 years ago, when AUB faced the monumental task of reviving masters programs in the wake of the civil war. It was a different world—the number of graduate students was minuscule and we had no PhD programs. The solution in the 1990s was a one-size-fits-all combination of tuition waiver and a stipend to cover part of the living expenses. As time passed the tuition waiver came to represent more than 90% of the benefit, while the stipend slipped in real terms to something well short of subsistence. What we had therefore was an unwelcome reality that assumed GA students could or must rely on external income if they were to study at AUB.
Convinced that this situation could continue no longer, this administration resolved to introduce an innovative and holistic reform of the GA system that would sustain four main principles: 1) attract a diverse group of the most highly qualified students, 2) contribute more effectively to educational programs and research ascendency, 3) provide appropriate financial support to students, not needs based, and 4) enrich graduate student engagement with faculty and undergraduates, and enhance their professional development. The initiative is being led by Associate Provost Dawy, who has been working with all stakeholders in a highly collaborative process since the beginning of the fall term. While it is premature to disclose details of the new system that is emerging, it certainly addresses those challenges in ways the former system had no chance of doing.
What I can share are details of the steps we have already taken to invest more into research which directly feed into supporting the growth of our faculty and graduate programs. The University Research Board (URB) disbursement has grown from $1 million to $1.6 million per academic year, and we are on course to double it to $2 million over five years, in addition to about $1.5 million going into biomedical research support at the Faculty of Medicine. Our new Collaborative Research Stimulus (CRS) initiative gave out $400,000 last year for interdisciplinary grants to generate innovative, impactful research, and the figure will rise to $500,000 this year. Our collaboration with the National Council for Scientific Research (CNRS-L) has seen another $1.6 million invested in scientific research grants this year. To match this dramatic expansion of funding for research, it is imperative to develop PhD and masters degrees that are fit to tackle current and future challenges in our region.
We are not claiming to have all the answers yet, but we do have clear goals to grow graduate education, and a firm resolve to realize those goals in alignment with our faculty, staff, students, trustees, and the broader community. We are even more committed today to studying our decisions carefully, to course correct if we need to, and to adhere to transparency and integrity in the face of challenges. Along this arduous path, every decision we make will be guided by our determination to serve AUB, its core values, and unique academic mission.
Fadlo R. Khuri, MD