American University of Beirut

IDEAS 2018: A new platform from MSFEA that dissolves disciplinary boundaries

​​Jennifer Muller, Office of Communications,

This year, the Maroun Semaan Faculty of Engineering and Architecture (MSFEA) reimagined its traditional student and alumni conference as IDEAS 2018: a platform to showcase the richness and diversity of engineering, architecture, and design as academic disciplines, creative endeavors, and drivers of innovation.

Building on the 16-year tradition of the MSFEA Student and Alumni Conference, the event was completely restructured in order to break down disciplinary boundaries and connect with a broader audience. The new, flexible structure was composed of modules that can evolve over the years based on changing needs and changing interests. At the opening ceremony, MSFEA Dean Alan Shihadeh explained the concept behind the event:

“IDEAS is a new approach and framework to make our annual gathering more relevant to our world and more consonant with what we do every day at MSFEA. It should never become an annual chore,” said Shihadeh. “It is emblematic of the larger changes that are happening at MSFEA, all brought together by our central concern with human well-being.”


One of the new elements of IDEAS was a maker faire, allowing students from all disciplines to share their projects and concepts; some completed, some in progress, and others made during the faire itself. For example, students of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) teamed up with the AUB Automotive Club and presented models of an engine and a car differential. 

“Most of the visitors enjoyed the booth, stating that they had always been wondering what happens inside the car engine,” said Jana Farhat of ASME. “Other booths were dedicated to final year projects for students in their ultimate year who showed their high creativity and hard work. Some projects worth mentioning are: an artificial CPR machine, a sound rocket, a race car, and a plane manufactured with carbon fiber.”

In another break from tradition, the Dean’s Creative Achievement Awards that were previously given out at the end of the year were moved to IDEAS and given a new spin. Instead of departments nominating one student for the award, they nominated three students who then presented their research and projects to a jury to choose a winner. Awards were presented to the students during the closing ceremony of IDEAS. 


Creating a lot of buzz and capturing the attention of outside investors was another new element: IDEAS Startups, sponsored by Touch, with cash prizes totaling $20,000. The Touch-MSFEA Startup Award grew out of the innovat@FEA initiative that aims at positioning MSFEA as a powerhouse of innovation and at preparing MSFEA students to establish their own startups by the time they graduate.

Fourth-year engineering students who have been participating in the new Innovation and Entrepreneurship Track within MSFEA and the final year project (FYP) accelerator course, pitched their startups to a high-profile panel of experts. The winning team—IoB, which is about energy monitoring and optimization in buildings—walked away with $15,000 to help bring their concept to reality, with the second-place team, SkanMD, taking $5,000.

Student research was also front-and-center at IDEAS, with research sessions for both undergraduates and graduates. But instead of clumping these students by area there were mixed-disciplinary sessions where, for example, a chemical engineering student was paired with an architecture student as well as a biomedical engineer.  This allowed students who—although in the same faculty—might never cross paths, to learn about each other’s work and get to know what is going on in other departments.

At the beginning of the conference, the Distinguished Alumni Awards were given out, as in past years. This year’s crop of stellar alumni included those with well-established, prolific careers and others just beginning their rise but already showing great promise. Each alumni awardee gave a short talk during the ceremony, providing inspiration and words of wisdom to their younger colleagues.

Throughout the two days of IDEAS, there were also Ted-style talks on timely topics in engineering and design, given by experts on the faculty and from outside, geared toward a general audience.


Finally, you might ask, what does IDEAS stand for?  As Dean Shihadeh explained, “IDEAS is an acronym that means a lot. Literally.”

I—innovate, integrate, inform, inspire, imagine, impress
D—demonstrate, design, develop, discuss, dare, do
E—express, engage, experience, energize, excel, explore, encourage
A—aspire, advise, achieve, acquire, accelerate, award
S—start, share, show, sustain, spark, shine

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