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Lebanon 2016 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Mohamed Harajli, Provost of the American University of Beirut (AUB), on his upcoming plans for the university, the key role played by the AUB alumni, and fostering an entrepreneurial spirit among students.

Mohamed Harajli
BIOGRAPHY
Mohamed Harajli was appointed Provost of the American University of Beirut (AUB) in 2015. He received his BE degree in civil engineering from AUB, an MS degree in structural engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and a PhD in structural engineering from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. Earlier, he was professor of structural and earthquake engineering at the department of civil and environmental engineering (CEE) at AUB. He has also held several administrative appointments at AUB, including Acting Dean and Associate Dean of the faculty of engineering and architecture, and Chair of the CEE department.

2016 marks AUB's 150th anniversary. How has the university's strategy changed over time, and what are your new endeavors for the years to come?

We try to improve at all levels and want to improve our services to students and build new infrastructure. The university has grown and we are preparing a new strategic plan as well as a campus master plan that will be implemented over the coming years. The most important goal in the strategic plan is to move AUB from being a teaching-centered research institution toward being a premier research institution in the region. AUB has reinstated tenure this year by a decision of the Board of Trustees. When tenure is implemented, hopefully in a year or so, the university will be able to attract and retain qualified faculty who are excellent researchers and at the same time great educators. In the last 15 years, AUB has grown considerably, from about 5,000 students to more than 8,600 students, including graduate and undergraduate students. Because of this, we need more space on campus to accommodate students, faculty, and staff.

With the current boom in the knowledge-based economy, how does AUB prepare its students to embrace entrepreneurial activities?

We graduate around 1,500 undergraduate and 500 graduate students annually who go out to work in around 100 countries around the world. Most of them open their own businesses and go out on their own; they become CEOs, managers, and entrepreneurs. Creating leaders is embedded in our university's psyche; we foster critical thinkers and free-minded people. Our style of education, which is based on the American model, allows graduates of AUB to excel and to launch their own businesses and become entrepreneurs. Regarding the projects that AUB currently supports, we embarked on an important project that involves the launching of an innovation park to create and accelerate new ideas and invest in certain projects that have the component of innovation. We expect this project to be fully operational in the next couple of years.

How do you reconnect with your alumni abroad to encourage them to give back to the university?

Our alumni are an indispensable source for AUB. We have around 55,000 alumni spread around the world; therefore, we stay in regular contact with them to invite them to give back to the university and to the country in general. Some contribute to scholarship programs, mentoring programs, or to the networking events we organize. The alumni have been extremely generous in their support of AUB at all levels and they are truly the lung through which AUB breathes.

What are some of the projects that AUB is involved in in terms of community development and equal opportunities for students?

This is important and one of the strategic goals of our new administration is to promote civic engagement and community service works. We have a Center for Civic Engagement and Community Service (CCECS) that reaches out to students to contribute to the community. Our students are often involved in community development programs that widen their minds and move them to help others, which is one of AUB's ultimate missions. We also have scholarship programs that support needy but academically qualified students from Lebanon and from the region. Under these programs, students are required to be civically engaged and to participate in the service of the community so as to enhance their leadership skills. They do that with the help of CCECS. Such programs include the USP/USAID scholarship program, the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), and the MasterCard Foundation. We recently started another program (or phase II) of MasterCard Foundation for supporting underprivileged students, particularly from sub-Saharan Africa. The number of students supported by the scholarship programs will soon reach about 500. Recently we also got involved through CCECS with some international agencies contributing to relieve the effects of the Syrian refugee crisis by building schools or sending our faculty members to teach at schools built by NGOs.