Published: Mon Nov 5, 2007After a six-month visit as a Fulbright scholar in Qatar, a country only about three times as big as Putnam County, Mohamed Abdelrahman returned with insight into the a land where oil and gas have made it one of the world's faster growing and higher per-capita income countries.
Abdelrahman, a electrical and computer engineering professor, traveled with his family to the peninsula bordering the Persian Gulf and Saudi Arabia, to teach two courses at the University of Qatar, establish research collaborations and learn about multidisciplinary education. He achieved all that, plus came home with a better understanding of the incredible wealth and growth in a country that now has the third largest natural gas reserves in the world.
Doha, the capital city of about 1 million, serves as home to several American university branch campuses including Texas A&M, Carnegie Mellon and Cornell.
"Education is evolving quickly in Qatar with the government allowing independent schools to take over from those run by the ministry of education," explained Abdelrahman.
"Qatar University is a melting pot for faculty and staff from many nationalities and educational backgrounds," he said. "This puts it in a great position to offer education unparalleled in the region. If well utilized, these opportunities could create a great culture of research."
Qatar has established its equivalent of the National Science Foundation, called the Qatar National Research Fund, to support original, competitively selected research.
Abdelrahman responded to the QNRF's first call for proposals with a project to tie intelligence systems to the gas industry.
"There's been a trend in industrial plants to use intelligent alarm management in distributed control systems to alert operators when there is a problem," explained Abdelrahman.
"However, alarm management has become a problem because there are so many alarms that operators may be interrupted by as many as 100 alarms per hour," he said. "Everyone's complaining at the same time. There's a real need for research in this area."
One of the first challenges Abdelrahman faced was that the automatic control class was packed with content; their one course covered the equivalent of two courses and a lab at TTU. He responded by creating a fully integrated lab and looking for the positive results.
"Where we separate analysis and design into two different classes, the Qatari students are able to keep everything fresh on their minds, which makes it easier to relate the two," he said. "It really forces you to focus."
Abdelrahman is currently supervising four Qatari female students in an Undergraduate Research Experience program. He says although male and female students attend segregated classes, the women have a reputation for being smart, energetic and aggressive in the classroom.
"It was a great experience to show my daughter that women in the Arab world are leaders and modesty and following Islamic traditions does not impede their ability to be effective leaders and innovators," he said.
"I was happily surprised by the percentage of women choosing engineering as a career in Qatar," Abdelrahman said. "I compared this to the struggle we have in the U.S. to recruit women into engineering, and I think this is something that is worth a careful look."
During his trip, Abdelrahman also visited Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Egypt to give talks on his areas of expertise, including undergraduate research programs, multidisciplinary approaches and high-tech research in low-tech industries.