Saudi Arabia program finds success in first year
Six weeks is approximately 11.5 percent of an entire year and the University of Missouri College of Engineering and King Abdulaziz University (KAU) in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia made their time together at MU this summer count. For six weeks, they worked to build stronger ties through the work of 22 Saudi students and the efforts of members of MU’s faculty and student body.
MU Engineering’s inaugural King Abdulaziz University Internship for Engineering Students took place from June 18 through July 25. The program’s primary goal was to train its Saudi Arabian visitors in Engineering Systems Design using a case-based Learning Approach (CBLA) to improve proficiency in several areas — the engineering design process, quality by design, computer-aided engineering, characterization of engineering materials’ performance, high precision measurements, digital control and automation, computer numerical control manufacturing and direct digital manufacturing.
All cases addressed in the internship program were multidisciplinary in nature. In other words, every case had different facets of engineering areas such as mechanical, aeronautical, electrical, computer, industrial, chemical and materials engineering. Civil and nuclear engineering were not included in this year’s program because of the need for special permission to allow foreign students to work in the laboratories of these two areas. At KAU, they already have started addressing this problem for next summer’s internship.
Qualifying for the inaugural program wasn’t easy. A total of 150 people applied; 24 were selected and 22 earned the required travel visas. Applicants were among the top echelon of Saudi engineering students in terms of grade-point average, and to be selected, those students had to pass an English proficiency test. Many of the students recently finished the fourth year of what typically is a five-year (155 credit hours) program to earn the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree in engineering.
“We had to work on the process for three months to be selected,” KAU student Faisal Al Hareeki said. “This is a great opportunity for us to be here at one of the best universities in America.”
Once here, students took part in one of a variety of projects — developing a smart fluid distribution system, studying and evaluating the performance of ejector pumps, designing a small unmanned aerial vehicle for short-range surveillance and developing a robotic arm for a high-risk industrial environment.
Bilal Hussain, a senior mechanical and aerospace engineering major, was one of MU’s eight teaching assistants for the internship program. He said he was impressed by the visiting students’ drive and eagerness to learn, including their ability to continue working at the same space through Ramadan, which is a month of fasting on the Islamic calendar in which Muslims avoid food and drink during daylight hours. The schedule of lectures and labs for the internship was shifted during this religious period, which began June 28 and ran until July 28.
“They are very committed to finishing what they came for,” he said. “You feel that they have the responsibility on their shoulders to make King Abdulaziz University look good, so they came in here with that goal in mind, and I think they’re doing pretty good to achieve it.”
One reason the program was founded was to introduce not only the Saudi students to the U.S. engineering education system and U.S. culture, but also expose MU students to Saudi Arabian culture and education. It was one of the goals Ahmed Sherif El-Gizawy, professor in the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department and the lead professor and designer of the program, had in mind when the possibility of the program came up on one of his visits to KAU.
Those discussions began after El-Gizawy spoke at a seminar at KAU, an appearance facilitated by KAU Dean of Engineering and MU alumnus Abdul Raheem Abdul Rahman Kinsara, who earned both his Nuclear Engineering master’s and doctorate from MU in 1987 and 1991, respectively.
“Their problem was that they needed to send Saudi students, particularly the good ones, to an advanced industrial country [for a graded internship],” El-Gizawy said.
The projects for the program were designed to include students and teaching assistants from varied walks of engineering in order to illustrate the interdisciplinary nature of projects in the engineering industry at large. Everyone in the instruction team for this internship including Professor El-Gizawy were impressed at how quickly the students picked up the introduced concepts in lectures and applied them to to their assigned projects and picked up English.
“The level of focus on English at KAU is pretty important for that university. When we communicated with them, they had no problem understanding, talking back and giving feedback,” Hussain said. “The level of education is really good.”
One of the biggest goals in Year One was to lay the groundwork for future programs and collaborations with KAU and perhaps other Saudi Arabian institutions. With that seemingly accomplished, El-Gizawy turned an eye toward the future. And he wasn’t alone.
“There was a professor (Amjad Hajjar) from KAU, he came here in the first week,” El-Gizawy said. “After he saw what we were doing, he recommended to his school and to us that they need to have a new three-year contract to come in order to secure seats for Saudi Interns for years to come . That tells you about the success of the program so far.”