One year after losing its president to a high position in the Libyan government, Rochester Institute of Technology's Dubai campus has selected a leader expected to see the campus through a period of change and growth.
RIT Dubai last week named Yousef Al-Assaf, a professor of engineering and dean of the college of engineering at the American University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates, as its next leader. He starts in the position Feb. 1.
Al-Assaf takes over for Mustafa Abushagur, who was the founding president of RIT Dubai in 2008. Abushagur stepped down in 2011 to become deputy prime minister of his homeland after having been exiled from Libya during the regime of Moammar Gadhafi.
Al-Assaf said he is excited to lead RIT Dubai to become one of the leading institutions in the United Arab Emirates.
"This will be accomplished by revolutionizing the higher education offerings in UAE and the region through giving students career-oriented education while building a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship that would support the rapid development towards knowledge-based economy," Al-Assaf wrote in an email. "Students will have the chance to be part of a global university campus that should prepare them to succeed and contribute globally."
The university, at Dubai Silicon Oasis in the United Arab Emirates, offers a slate of undergraduate and graduate programs concentrating on engineering, computing, business and leadership.
RIT provost Jeremy Haefner said an international search for Abushagur's successor turned up a strong field of candidates. Some were sitting presidents at international campuses; they were from the Gulf region, Europe and the United States.
Al-Assaf stood out because of his strong affinity for the programs featured at RIT Dubai and his background in engineering and research, Haefner said.
"Yousef also has rich experience leading the college of engineering at the American University of Sharjah," he said. "He grew that college in enrollment and led new programs that went through the accreditation process. That's almost a complete set of experiences we need in a president."
As the chairman of the industrial engineering department at the University of Jordan, Al-Assaf was seen as a pioneer in establishing the engineering outreach program, RIT officials said.
What sealed Al-Assaf's candidacy for the search committee was his passion to transform the region and offer students a unique learning experience, Haefner added.
"He really captured in his answer why we're in the educational business, why it's a noble enterprise and why it's so important in that regard," he said.
Al-Assaf's leadership and experience in developing programs will be needed as RIT Dubai enters its next phase of growth, Haefner said. The new president is expected to take a major role in increasing the campus' recruiting efforts, working closely with enrollment management officials there on a strategy.
The campus has roughly 300 students enrolled this year, but Haefner said it should reach 500 within the next couple of years and up to 1,000 students within five years.
"We're looking at adding to our portfolio of programs, and there are some unique programs in queue in international business and network security," Haefner said. "Those will be exciting new frontiers for us and will be big attractors for students."
The campus will be making a push to enroll more students from the United Arab Emirates and the greater Gulf region, but Haefner noted there is potential for major student growth from India.
"There are a lot of potential students there who are looking for an American education but don't want to come all the way to the United States," Haefner said.
Al-Assaf explained there are many universities in the United Arab Emirates, and RIT Dubai must position itself well to attract the brightest students. The local industry is evolving toward research and development efforts, and RIT Dubai can play a major role in developing the culture and mindset.
"Finding ways to encourage faculty from RIT in New York to join in the various teaching, development and research activities of RIT Dubai is critical," he noted.
Al-Assaf also will have to work closely with industry in Dubai to set up co-op opportunities for students. He will work with Dubai Silicon Oasis, the setting for the RIT Dubai campus, to expand the partnership, Haefner added.
Al-Assaf sees many opportunities to partner with local businesses.
"Through a proper outreach program, RIT Dubai would be involved in supporting the local and regional community by conducting various R&D projects," Al-Assaf said. "It would be a part of the RIT global network (main and other RIT global campuses) that would allow faculty and students to exemplify a new model in higher education for an interconnected world."
Though he has been on the campus for a short time, Al-Assaf has gotten a great reaction from faculty and staff at RIT Dubai, Haefner said.
"We're excited about the opportunities that Dr. Al-Assaf brings," Haefner said. "The faculty there are very energized to bring in his leadership, and the leadership here at RIT from the president down to deans have found an affinity to him, and I think that's going to lend itself well for success in the region."
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