'A mission for learning' at eighth Academic Convocation

Samah Mohamed, a Ph.D. student in chemical engineering, speaks at the University's 2017 academic Convocation on August 22. Photo by Lilit Hovhannisyan.

The University welcomed new master’s degree and Ph.D. students to the start of the academic year at the eighth academic Convocation ceremony on August 22. Faculty speaker Jeff Shamma, professor of electrical engineering, and student speaker Samah Mohamed, a Ph.D. student in chemical engineering, spoke to the audience of KAUST faculty, students and staff about their own educational journeys and shared inspiring words at the event.

Finding a place at KAUST

“I first applied to KAUST as a master’s degree student,” said Mohamed, noting that she was not accepted to the program—but that did not deter her. “I can be a bit stubborn, so I applied again to KAUST after completing my master’s degree. This time I was accepted for the Ph.D. program, and I thought I finally knew where I belonged.”

However, just before departing for KAUST, she received an offer from her former university to continue her studies there.

“I was confused for a moment—maybe your journey has also been filled with self-doubt and second-guessing your decisions,” she said. “But for me, the decision to come to KAUST came quite easily. I looked at the research opportunities at both universities and then let my passion make the decision.”

Mohamed found she could follow her passion at the University’s Clean Combustion Research Center (CCRC), where she is supervised by Associate Professor Mani Sarathy.

“I envisioned that working at the CCRC…would be an exciting journey. The research there is what I am passionate about, so I chose to join KAUST,” she said.

A mission for learning

In his remarks, Shamma noted that despite the University’s young age, “KAUST has developed a reputation of research excellence and research impact. You as graduate students are the next group to contribute to that reputation.”

“We’re all on a learning mission here,” he said. “At KAUST, you will interact with a distinguished group of faculty who have received recommendations and awards. They direct their energy towards accompanying you on your mission. As new students, you’re in a position to take advantage of that resource, and I hope that you do.”

(From left to right): Mootaz Elnozahy, dean of the University's Computer, Electrical and Mathematical Science and Engineering Division; Jeff Shamma, KAUST professor and Convocation faculty speaker; Nadhmi Al-Nasr, KAUST executive vice president for administration and finance and the University's interim president; Samah Mohamed, KAUST Ph.D. student and Convocation student speaker; and Brian Moran, dean of Graduate Affairs, stand together after the 2017 academic Convocation event. Photo by Lilit Hovhannisyan. ​

‘Let your passion be your guide’

“KAUST is about quality, not quantity,” Mohamed said. “Ask yourself what skills or talents you want to develop; what weaknesses you want to overcome; and what strengths you want to continue polishing. Everyone at KAUST works hard to make sure you get the knowledge and skills required for the next step in your career. I encourage you to let your passion be your guide and help you keep going.”

The University is not just a research institution, she added, but a place where students are enriched holistically through the University’s self-directed groupsGraduate Student CouncilEnrichment Programs, activities at the Student Center and other events.

“Take advantage of what KAUST offers you,” she told the students. “I believe that you’ll graduate not just with a degree but with a developed set of skills and an accumulation of experiences that will change the way you see the world.”

‘Be impactful’

Over her time at the University, Mohamed noted, “I began to feel that KAUST belongs to me, and I continue to grow and be shaped by every experience. Moreover, I am also helping to shape and grow our community and our University. This should motivate you to make the most of your time at KAUST—don’t just be here—be impactful.”

If she had let her “moment of self-doubt” from three years before guide her choice, Mohamed said she wouldn’t have had the honor of speaking at the 2017 Convocation and so much else.

“When I chose to follow my passion, that leap forward helped bring me to this moment with you today,” she said. “As I do, you also belong at KAUST, and KAUST belongs to you. Cherish it; respect it; and embrace it.”

- By Caitlin Clark, KAUST News