With research focused on fundamental understanding of physiochemical cellular properties and interactions in environmental and biological systems, Dr. Nihal Abu Lail has published over 30 technical articles and presented her research in over 100 national meetings. Currently, she is teaching three courses at Jordan University of Science & Technology. She’s also the advisor of 7 Ph.D. students, co-advisor of 2 Ph.D. students, serves on the committees of 25 Ph.D. students and supervises 32 undergraduate researchers, all while spending her Fulbright fellowship and sabbatical at JUST.
OC: When and how did you decide to move back to Jordan? Do you regret your decision?
NAL: I am here at JUST as an associate professor visitor for just an academic year. I obtained a Fulbright fellowship as an American researcher and I decided to spend that in Jordan. My decision was mainly to pay back a little to my country and home institution, to spend time with my family, and to test how it is to work and live in Jordan. At this point in my career, I am not thinking about moving back to Jordan. Things may change later on.
OC: What was the biggest cultural difference you noticed between living here and living in the United States?
NAL: There are so many differences. If I have to select one, it will be the respect of time. In the US, people are prompt and respect their commitments. In Jordan, people are a lot more relaxed about meeting their schedules. This behavior largely affects productivity.
OC: What is the major difference between education systems here and in the United States?
NAL: The main difference is that Jordanian education is highly theoretical, while it is a lot more practical in the US. Students in the US have a lot of problem solving and hands-on skills. They are also oriented to solve real-world issues. Jordanian students, on the other hand, have a solid theoretical background.
OC: What is your teaching philosophy?
NAL: My long-term teaching goal is to improve learning of students by developing courses that enhance students’ ability to learn scientific and engineering concepts, providing mentored teaching and research experiences, too.
In addition to classroom teaching, I believe that various backgrounds, cultures and levels of understanding to work together as a research community on unified research goals is one of the most effective principles of student learning. Providing students with such team-oriented experiences is essential to nurturing their self-growth.
Also, I believe that we need to start at pre-college level to recruit our next generation of engineers. Finally, I strive to be an effective teacher. Towards that, I learned how to assess students’ knowledge and adapt course contents accordingly.
OC: Where do you see the Jordanian society heading in the next five years in terms of social development?
NAL: I see a lot of efforts focused at youth development, which is great. Efforts encouraging the young population to startup companies and to become entrepreneurs are increasing significantly. Empowerment of women is another aspect of social development that is on the rise in Jordan.
OC: What is your definition of diversity? How diverse is the JUST society?
NAL: To me, a diverse society is one that has breadth in all its characteristics. This means that the society represents different backgrounds, cultures, religions and disciplines, encouraging the celebration of differences to improve the society. JUST population is diverse to a certain extent. The majority of our students and faculty are Jordanians. However, different cultures, religions and disciplines are well represented.
OC: What is one thing you’d like to see change in Jordan that affects students directly?
NAL: This is really a difficult question. Maybe we can change the criteria by which students enter into higher education and choose their disciplines.
Name: Nehal Abu-Lail
Date of Birth:
April 24th, 1974
Teaches at: Washington State University, USA.
Started teaching in: August 16th, 2006
Degrees: B.Sc. from Jordan University of Science and Technology (JUST)
M.Sc. from JUST
Ph.D. from Worcester Polytechnic Institute, USA
Post-doctoral training at Duke University, USA.
Major: Chemical Engineering for all degrees
By, Zeina Abu Orabi