Computer science, engineering attract Fulbrights


Three of MSU's international Fulbright scholars include Ibrahim Abdoulahi of Niger (at rear), Muhammad Nadeem of Pakistan (seated), and Zadia Codabux of Mauritius. Each chose to study at the university because of its reputation in the fields of computer science and engineering. PHOTO: Megan Bean | University Relations

Since arriving at Mississippi State as a graduate student, Ibrahim Abdoulahi typically runs about 10 miles for exercise each Saturday morning.

But the distance he travels with a local running club pales compared to the thousands of miles he traveled from his African home in the Republic of Niger to study as a Fulbright Scholar in the United States.

Abdoulahi is among three international graduate students who met a year ago as fellow Fulbright students at MSU's department of computer science and engineering in the Bagley College of Engineering.

Zadia Codabux, a native of Republic of Mauritius--an Indian Ocean island nation--and Pakistan native Muhammad Nadeem also came to MSU's department of computer science and engineering through the Fulbright program. Abdoulahi is pursuing a master's degree; Codabux and Nadeem, doctorates.

Each successfully completed the highly competitive J. Fulbright Scholars application process in their respective countries.

"In Pakistan, this is considered the most prestigious academic honor," Nadeem said. "This is a dream for everyone."

Since they're from different parts of the world and bring unique life experiences, the three have different interests and perspectives in the university's academic community. Still, they share a few strong common threads: a desire to broaden and improve their worlds and a keen interest in computer science and engineering. As Fulbrights, each also exhibited tenacity, leadership, and dedication, even before visiting MSU.

The Fulbright program--which includes graduate students, faculty and professionals--is the federal government's flagship international education exchange program. Launched in 1946 and named for the former U.S. senator from Arkansas who proposed it, the program is designed to increase mutual understanding among people in the United States and other countries. To date, more than 310,000 people from about 150 countries have held the prestigious title of Fulbright Scholar.

MSU was recently recognized as a Fulbright Honor Institution for the four faculty members currently participating in the program by teaching in another country for some period during the academic school year.

Fulbright awards involve a highly competitive process that requires top academic qualifications and demonstrated leadership abilities, along with the availability of grant funds. Typically, the application process takes about a year to complete.

While not uncommon in the Fulbright program to have more than one student in the same department at a university, having three of MSU's five Fulbright students currently studying in computer science and engineering is something noticed by the students and others on campus.

MSU's other Fulbright Scholars are doctoral student Hok Roth of Cambodia and master's student Suha Gharrawi of Iraq, studying public policy and administration and English.

Nadeem, Abdoulahi and Codabux each chose the land-grant institution based on the Bagley College of Engineering's reputation in computer science and engineering, along with the department's research focus in their interest areas.

Associate professor Edward B. Allen, the department's graduate coordinator, said all three had contacted him via e-mail during their application process to inquire about the program.

"Topics that they're interested in fit research going on here," he said. "We feel honored that they chose us."

Those research interests included artificial intelligence, empirical software engineering and the development and design of secure software. Department faculty members have ongoing collaborations with numerous other institutions and with government agencies, including the Department of Defense, NASA and Carnegie-Mellon University in these areas.

Department head Donna S. Reese taught all three Fulbright Scholars during a graduate seminar course in the fall semester. She said having international students with diverse world perspectives always helps add a special dynamic to class.

"It's really good to have international students to help broaden the discussion," she said.

Reece also mentioned long-lasting benefits associated with the university and the Fulbright program. When students graduate, they may continue collaborations with university faculty and recommend the program to others, she explained.

Karin Lee, Office of the Graduate School's graduate programs manager, works with international students to help them find their niche on campus. She said the Fulbright Scholars often join with other internationals for a weekly potluck social, and many participate in the Starkville Multi-culture Lions Club, which also coordinates many volunteer projects in the community.

"Since we see each other regularly, we build bonds and friendships," Lee said. "The new students very soon become the ones who show newcomers around."

Discussing their experiences in the South, in general, and MSU, in particular, the Fulbright Scholars agree on the politeness of people they have met in the community. Smiling, Abdoulahi said a newfound Southern accent is something he may take back to Niger.

Each also agreed that, following graduation, they plan to take their acquired research skills, partnerships and other insights gained from the academic and cultural experiences back home to help improve life in their countries. Codabux said she wants to help her home country of Mauritius to develop a reputation as a "cyber island" while teaching and researching at the University of Mauritius.

"My Fulbright experience is a dream come true," Codabux said. "It certainly has broadened my world view."

Nadeem said differences in research styles and activities would have created challenges to overcome, had he not spent time in U.S. university research environments.

"From now on, I can have online collaborations because I know how things work and expectations others have," he added.

Robbie S. Ward | University Relations

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