In the first presentation by colleagues at the King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, Dr. Nasser Aqeeli, Dean of Scientific Research, was quite pleased to hear that he shared a first name with our chancellor. A few minutes later, when Chancellor Paydar mentioned that he was a mechanical engineer, Dr. Aqeeli laughed out loud and said he too was a mechanical engineer. I venture to say it seemed like two brothers separated at birth reunited to find that they had lived parallel lives.
The same might be said of KFUPM and IUPUI in certain respects. Both of us focus on student success. Both of us feature a strong commitment to service, engagement, and volunteering as part of our curricula. Both of us consider study abroad experience vital for our students’ futures. Both of us have very long names.
One major difference between KFUPM and IUPUI, however, is that the former has only admitted men until very recently. That policy is beginning to change thanks to a program launched by The Fund Raising School and the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy in partnership with the Al Fozan Academy at KFUPM. The program offers a Certificate in Fund Raising Management to a select group of development professionals—both men and women—from a number of different countries in the Gulf region.
Friday, March 15, 2018, marked the commencement of this first co-ed class at KFUPM. Whether this signals the beginning of a larger change is hard to tell, but major changes always begin with a first step, and we are proud that IUPUI partnered with KFUPM on this first step.
We greatly look forward to building on that partnership. In fact, in a meeting lasting only 30 minutes, His Excellency Rector Khaled S. Al-Sultan mentioned three different areas we could develop, including offering a workshop on endowment planning, a systematic program to fight poverty that includes careful attention to the impact of environmental factors, and an innovative program to train new faculty.
Another natural area of partnership might be with our School of Engineering and Technology, especially our programs in power engineering and our Lugar Center for Renewable Energy. In addition, a tour of the Entrepreneurship Institute at the KFUPM Dhahran Techno Valley suggested that entrepreneurship specifically and business more generally might another possible collaborative area.
We had the opportunity to visit the Saudi ARAMCO Energy Science Center and King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, also known as Ithra, both part of Saudi ARAMCO. I mentioned Saudi ARAMCO in yesterday’s post.
The surprise I saved for today is Indiana University’s connection to that company and a bit more history of our partnership in the region. Dating back as early as the 1970s, Indiana University sponsored a series of overseas projects managed by Professor of Education Willis Porter. That series very likely included what was termed the Saudi Arabia Project, which involved several dozen men studying through the IU School of Education.
It’s hard to tell from archival records—and trust me, our archivists worked hard on this—but this early project may have evolved into the full-scale degree program that IU later offered to ARAMCO employees. According to a memo distributed by the IU Office of the Dean of Continuing Studies, “In what might be an unprecedented partnership between industry and a public postsecondary institution, the School of Continuing Studies is cooperating with the Arabian American Oil Company (ARAMCO) to develop an employee education program leading to the completion of the Bachelor of General Studies Degree at Indiana University.” IU faculty offered the program through independent study and sixteen on-site courses each year.
According to this same memo, the first such project was offered by the School of Nursing for 250 nurses working in ARAMCO hospitals.
I get excited about such history, but let’s return to 2018. At a cost of around $400 million, construction on Ithra was completed last year with an official inauguration by the Custodian of The Two Holy Mosques, King Salman bin Abdulaziz, on December 1, 2017.
Designed by Norwegian architects Snøhetta, the center consists of five buildings meant to resemble pebbles in the desert with uniquely curved, asymmetric exteriors that necessitated pathbreaking design and construction techniques since no two pieces of the building skeleton and exterior were alike.
Ithra’s Knowledge Tower is 18 stories tall and will host 2,000 annual workshops in STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—in addition to arts, multimedia, and skill-building programs. Open to the public, the complex also includes a performance space lined with perforated copper that will naturally patina. The acoustics in that very large room were astounding such that even a whisper seemed naturally well amplified.
One of my favorite areas was the public library, which included over 200,000 items available for the general public to check out and scanning technology throughout the space for a snapshot about the book before you check it out. A second favorite: the cinema with seats that made me very happy.
I should mention that cinemas have not been common in Saudi Arabia since a 1979 denunciation of Western movies by Saudi clerics that was part of a general turn towards an increasingly conservative form of Islam. In their December 11, 2017, New York Times article, Alan Cowell and David D. Kirkpatrick of the New York Times write about the campaign by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to loosen some of the strictures on Saudi society, including allowing women to drive and attend soccer games, and permitting concerts and other forms of public entertainment.
For much of the delegation, this will be our last day in Saudi Arabia. The time has gone by quickly due in part to the intensity of our schedule but also due to what I would term a certain form of experiential relativity. That is, the more enjoyable the situation, the more quickly time seems to pass. An example: when I am talking with a good friend, time passes much too quickly. When I am eating liver, however, that takes forever. So, too, on business trips.
For me, Saudi Arabia is that good friend, and I would like the conversation to continue.
Before I close the book on this trip blog, I would like to share a special word of thanks to Mandy Bray, Hayley Powell, and Ian McIntosh in the Office of International Affairs for all that they did to plan for this trip and help make it a success.
I would also like to thank Roy Hooper and the IU Alumni Association for arranging our IUPUI and IU Alumni Receptions that brought old friends and new together and reminded us of the many different ways that a higher education changes lives for the better.
Finally, thanks to Dina Kellams and her team at University Archives for all the work they did to help us along the way. Conversations on this trip led us to discover that our first graduate from Saudi Arabia identified by Archives, Dr. Hisham Abdul-Ghaffar, later played a central role in the founding of the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Health. These are the stories hidden in our Archives, and I am proud that our delegation could add yet another chapter.
Thanks for following the IUPUI Delegation’s journey to Saudi Arabia. Follow @Paydar and @IUPUI and visit news.iupui.edu to learn more as we take steps to further enhance our partnership with institutions in the Kingdom and around the world.