Sharing memories at 2016 Alumni Reunion Weekend

KAUST alumni participated in a beach cleaning volunteering activity in the University's neighboring town of Thuwal as part of the Alumni Reunion Weekend on November 18 and 19, 2016.

“Everything started for me at KAUST,” said alumnus Ahmad Showail​ (Ph.D. ’16, M.S. ’10), who spoke on an alumni panel at the University’s 2016 Alumni Reunion Weekend on November 18 to 19. Over 100 alumni and their families and friends returned to KAUST for the event, which revolved around the themes of connecting the University’s 1,500 alumni through updates on achievements and career outcomes, volunteering opportunities and support for alumni innovation and entrepreneurial ideas.

‘Begin innovating’

Showail came to KAUST after working for the Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (SABIC)  as a system engineer, and found that at first he “didn’t know what entrepreneurship meant. At KAUST, along with my degree studies in computer science, I was able to take courses and attend evening sessions with the University’s Innovation & Economic Development. When I graduated from KAUST, I knew it was the right moment to begin innovating, and I launched my startup in September of 2016.”

Although Showail’s startup does not involve science, the startup—, a tourist guide for Madinah—does make use of Showail’s computer science skills. He continues his computer science work at Taibah University in Madinah, where he is an assistant professor of computer science.

KAUST alumnus Ahmad Showail (Ph.D. ’16, M.S. ’10) speaks as part of an alumni panel and outlines his startup at the University’s 2016 Alumni Reunion Weekend.​

“I am fortunate enough to have tried both academia and industry,” Showail said. “Each one has its own pluses and minuses, but I find it very rewarding to see undergraduates learning and growing. If you have a good job in industry, try to sign up to teach some classes at local universities in your free time to contribute as much as you can.”

Entrepreneurship’s critical role

Noura Shehab (Ph.D. ’14, M.S. ’11), who was also a speaker on the panel, noted, “At KAUST, I realized you can’t just do fundamentals of science forever—you also have to learn how to apply science, and you have to show what works in reality. Now is the time to engage industry with academia for more development of the country.”

Gordon McConnell, manager of the University’s Entrepreneurship Center and a keynote speaker at the event, echoed her remarks to the alumni.

“Entrepreneurship plays a critical role in any country you might end up in,” he said. “At the end of the day, you will all need to be entrepreneurial and innovative. We want you to think beyond the things you are researching, because this has a huge impact. We want to allow the latent entrepreneurs to tap into this innovative spirit here at KAUST. Everything that we do here is about eventual impact—for the country, the region and the world.”

Gordon McConnell, manager of the University’s Entrepreneurship Center, was a keynote speaker at the Alumni Reunion Weekend on November 18 to 19, 2016.​

“We are very keen to see what you alumni are working on,” added Nicola Bettio​, manager of the KAUST Innovation Fund and another keynote speaker. “We work to support innovation and we think that you alumni are the real value produced by this university. We want to talk to you about your business plans and your ideas.”

Gratitude for KAUST

Speakers at the event also included Damian San Roman (Ph.D. ’14, M.S. ’10), the current president of the KAUST Saudi Arabian Alumni Chapter and an employee of Saudi Aramco; Ana Sofia Manjua Viegas, a community engagement specialist from KAUST Social Responsibility who led the alumni in a beach cleaning volunteering activity in the neighboring town of Thuwal as part of the reunion weekend; and Nouf Al Jabri (M.S. ’11), a current KAUST Ph.D. student who recently won third place in the Falling Walls Young Innovators of the Year 2016 awards in Berlin.

2016 Alumni Reunion Weekend
“The 2016 reunion was an opportunity for KAUST to recognize and celebrate the global achievements of alumni, including those who presented during the event on career highlights in research, academia, innovation and entrepreneurship,” noted Lea Sublett​, manager of alumni affairs.

“The reunion was unforgettable thanks to alumni who shared their memories of their time at KAUST—there was a lot of love for the University and much gratitude from the alumni for the opportunities they were provided here. Our community of alumni and students has a spirit and feeling of great warmth for KAUST,” she concluded.

-By Caitlin Clark, KAUST News​