Al Arab: Selma Limam Mansar reflects on CMU-Q’s Education Excellence Day Award success
Editor’s note: Al Arab newspaper interviewed Selma Limam Mansar, senior associate dean for education and teaching professor of information systems, about the achievement of CMU-Q alumni at the annual Education Excellence Day Awards. This year, six CMU-Q graduates will receive Education Excellence Day Awards, accounting for roughly one third of all undergraduate-level Education Excellence Day Awards in 2021. CMU-Q is a Qatar Foundation partner university.
How many CMU-Q students have received the Education Excellence Day Award ?
In the last five years, our graduates have been awarded three platinum and 12 gold Education Excellence Day Awards from His Highness the Amir, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani.
Tell us about the university.
For the academic year of 2020-2021, we have more than 400 students. Of these students, 40% are Qatari citizens. We offer four bachelor of science degrees: business administration (36% of students), information systems (27% of students), computer science (20% of students), and biological sciences (17% of students).
In 2004, CMU-Q and Qatar Foundation formed a partnership to provide a set of selected programs that contribute to Qatar’s long-term growth and development. To what extent has the university been able to achieve this goal?
Our first class completed their degrees in 2008, and as of 2020, more than 900 students have graduated from our campus. Most of our alumni stay in Qatar and continue to work in the country. They occupy positions in both the government and the private sector. Many have also started their own businesses, contributing to the ecosystem of startups and young companies in Qatar.
What factors enable your students to accomplish achievements like the Education Excellence Award?
If you look at CMU’s mission, we focus on deep disciplinary knowledge and on problem-solving. This is what the students learn in classes and through their curriculum of study. We also value leadership, communication and interpersonal skills, as well as personal health and well-being. For students to receive such a well-rounded education, we support their endeavors in creativity, innovation, research, and entrepreneurship. These take place through their courses, and the distinguished students will seek opportunities outside of the classroom.
Take research as an example. Most of the students who received the Education Excellence Award have a solid research portfolio for an undergraduate student. How do they achieve this? We have several outlets for the students to engage in research as early as their first year of study. Students can enroll in SURA (Student Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship program) where they spend the summer after their first year working with one professor on a research project. Later, they can apply for QSIURP (Qatar Students Initiated Undergraduate Research Program). It is a grant that allows them to also conduct more advanced research with a professor. Finally, all of our majors have a senior honors thesis program. This program prepares the students to conduct in-depth research in their area of specialty. The students are supervised by one or more professors, and conduct research for at least one year. They present their results at our senior honors presentation day where they receive feedback and evaluation by a panel of professors. For many students, these experiences lead to publications of research in prominent international conferences. For example, Fatima Mustafawi, one of the recipients of the award, conducted her honors thesis looking at ways in which technology could be used to improve the quality of life for low income migrant workers in Qatar. Haya Rashid Al Kaabi conducted a year-long project on breast cancer cell research.
Another way in which students excel is when they choose to take on additional minors and engage in a deeper exploration of learning to what their own majors offer. We support their intellectual curiosity by offering fourteen different minors. Almost all of the students who won the award this year completed an additional minor (in Arabic studies, economics, and ethics).
One final aspect is that we support our distinguished students when they participate in internal, regional, and international competitions. Some of these competitions have a research focus, some an entrepreneurial focus (startup competition, ideation), and some seek innovation such as Hackathons. We prepare the students and fund them to go and compete; they keep winning awards at all levels, and we believe that their engagement in such activities is a key factor to their intellectual and professional success.
To what extent does CMU-Q engage students with the Arabic language?
While the primary language of instruction at CMU-Q is English, we do offer a variety of advanced courses in Arabic. To name a few, we expose students to Arabic literature and linguistic, to readings in Islamic history, to the Arabic language and identity, and also to fundamentals of professional writing in Arabic. Two of the award winners this year in fact completed a minor in Arabic studies. The minor consists of a minimum of six courses that promote language proficiency, as well as a deeper understanding of Arabic culture.
How are faculty members at CMU-Q selected?
Faculty members are appointed by the dean of CMU-Q, and they join one of five colleges at Carnegie Mellon University’s main campus. The faculty go through the same selection criteria and appointment process as any faculty member at the main campus. The selection is usually conducted by a committee composed of professors from CMU in Pittsburgh as well as the Qatar campus. Not all faculty members are hired directly for CMU-Q; in fact, many of our faculty held a prior appointment at CMU and are currently spending time teaching and conducting research in Qatar. We also have professors who visit us from the main campus each semester for a week to offer micro courses. We typically hold twenty of such micro courses every year.
Tell us about CMU-Q’s research endeavors.
Research is at the core of Carnegie Mellon and touches nearly every corner of the university. Faculty members at the Qatar campus are actively engaged in projects that have local, regional and international significance. Most faculty members contribute to the CMU-Q body of work through studies funded by the Qatar National Research Fund (QNRF) and internal seed research grants.
Students are encouraged to participate in research projects during their undergraduate years. Many choose to undertake senior thesis projects, pursue independent studies guided by faculty mentors, initiate their own projects, or partake in summer research programs within Carnegie Mellon University and Education City.
Tell us about Carnegie Mellon’s international partnerships.
Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar signs Memoranda of Understanding with its partners in industry and government to promote learning and research and to provide opportunities for CMU-Q students and graduates. While these organizations all have strong links to Qatar, many of them are also international organizations that can open doors to opportunities for our students, both within the region and beyond.