On January 15, the American University of Beirut (AUB), the Lebanese American University (LAU), and the American University of Cairo (AUC), in partnership with the Georgia Institute of Technology (GT), held a retreat to reflect on the Tomorrow's Leaders College-to-Work Pipeline Project (TLP), funded by the U.S. Department of State, U.S.-Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI). Fourteen months after TLP's initiation, the retreat targeted two objectives:
- To reflect on what went well and what could be improved in the pilot.
- To synthesize a new formula for Phase Two (contingent upon the availability of funds) and eventually instill TLP permanently into the curriculum.
The retreat began with several short interventions, which highlighted the importance of TLP in addressing Middle East and North Africa(MENA) youth employment challenges . Associate Provost DeJong stressed how the program could not be more timely with the increasing levels of youth unemployment and the limited absorption of the formal sector for college graduates. She singled out the uniqueness of the TLP program in working with current scholarship students in facilitating their transition into the labor force.
Dean of the Maroun Semaan Faculty of Engineering and Architecture (MSFEA) , Professor Alan Shihadeh, outlined three challenges that the project tackles: 1) barriers to access to higher education given exponential increases in university tuition fees and high-quality education; availability ofa sufficient number of jobs, where the ratio of university graduates to the number of jobs created in Lebanon is 40:1. (In response, the Create-X project encourages students to actively participate in an innovation-based economy.); and 3) an outdated learning system that the VIP project aims to improve by prompting students to take charge of their learning.
Dean Lina Karam from the LAU School of Engineering focused on the program's core values, including innovation, diversity, user-inspired R&D, and advanced knowledge & leadership. She shared the notion of Educate to Innovate and how the program has enabled this notion to come to life, especially with the collaboration of the three partner universities.
The U.S. Embassy representative Mr. David Lewis reiterated the importance of funding programs such as TLP that actively address youth unemployment and push young adults to become valuable members of the economy.
TLP Program Director, Professor Riad Chedid, was the final speaker for the introductory presentations. He highlighted AUB and LAU's milestones, namely the number of Create-X and VIP projects introduced over the past fourteen months, as well as the faculty members, industry partners, and students who participated. Dr. Riad concluded by welcoming the addition of TLP's new partner, AUC.
Following the introductory presentations, faculty, students, administrators and staff were divided into three breakout sessions where they collaborated to assess the work done during Phase One and suggested a plan for Phase Two (contingent on the availability of funds) and beyond. The first working group was mediated by Dr. Shadi Najjar and tackled the topic “Towards More Effective Project Management". It involved discussion of project identification, selection, and implementation. In parallel, Dr. Daniel Asmar led the second working group on “Institutional Engagement". This working group focused on the logistics of the program in terms of registration, courses, and projects. Lastly, Dr. Riad Chedid mediated the third working group titled “Impact of MEPI-TLP in the Community" to explore how the project can be communicated on a wider scale.
Key findings and recommendations of the discussions were reported during the final stage of the retreat. Working Group One found that the project identification can be done during the pre-application stage through a three-way interaction between students, faculty, and industry partners. Faculty members should spearhead the projects and match students and industry partners accordingly. Moreover, discussions highlighted the benefits of having students attract students to the program as a means of motivation. Working Group Two recommended that course registration be more inclusive and comprehensive. The courses could be more flexible to accommodate student degree requirements. Working Group Three reported on advancing university-industry partnerships and encouraged having in-depth research in the region. Additionally, an entrepreneurship ecosystem can be developed to support students in their entrepreneurial journeys locally and abroad. Overall, the participants learned about various perspectives and the way forward for the TLP pilot.