The American University in Cairo (AUC) has appointed Hassan El-Fawal as the new dean of the School of Sciences and Engineering. El-Fawal brings with him not only a wealth of academic knowledge and administrative experience, but is also a living embodiment of the liberal arts philosophy. “We pride ourselves at AUC for having a liberal arts tradition that is a cornerstone of the university, and, to a great extent, I’ve been involved in that tradition in my own academic career. It’s central to my educational approach,” said El-Fawal. “I see in the individual programs and faculty interests new opportunities for the enrichment of students, as well as interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary study,” he said.He explained that the liberal arts education benefits students both personally and professionally. “Your own life becomes enriched, and you learn through those interactions,” he said. “But also, one of the things that industrial leaders will tell you is that they are not interested in simply the person who has the technical or research skills. They want the person with entrepreneurial and communication skills.”
El-Fawal’s focus for the School of Sciences and Engineering is finding a path for interdisciplinary collaboration for both students and faculty members and to create a pipeline for communication, interaction and collaboration between students, researchers and departments within the school and with the other schools.
El-Fawal sees AUC as being equally competitive as institutions in the mainland United States, “we have regional expertise and researchers who are internationally respected in their fields, and I want to facilitate communication among them. Then we can translate what we have into something with global impact.”
Originally born in Egypt, El-Fawal grew up in the United States, but moved back to Egypt to finish high school and attend university. At the University of Alexandria, El-Fawal studied in the Faculty of Agriculture and had nearly completed his degree when he encountered a new academic interest, “even though I majored in entomology and pesticide chemistry, it was in my senior year that I took a course in toxicology and discovered a love for neuroscience and toxicology,” he recalled.
After graduating, El-Fawal returned to the United States and spent close to two years at Cornell University taking many courses in pharmacology, toxicology and neuroscience.
El-Fawal worked for a pharmaceutical company but he couldn’t ignore his interest in toxicology, which examines the harmful effects of chemicals on living organisms, and pharmacology, which looks at the therapeutic effects of drugs on living systems. So El-Fawal moved to Canada to attend the University of Guelph earning a master’s degree in biomedical sciences, specifically pharmacology and more specifically neuropharmacology and immune pharmacology. “So I developed not only a love of the nervous system, but also a love of the immune system, which reflects upon some of the work I currently do.”
El-Fawal went on to do his PhD at Virginia Polytechnic Institute (Virginia Tech), examining neurodegenerative diseases, particularly those precipitated by environmental chemicals. After his PhD, he went to the New York University Medical Center Institute of Environmental Medicine and conducted research to understand how environmental factors can cause disease.
Because of the multidisciplinary nature of his research, El-Fawal has taught across a variety of topics over the years, including environmental ethics and biochemistry.
In 1994, he helped launch the first graduate program in Mercy College in New York University. In 1996, El-Fawal joined Mercy College full time as director of the Science and Technology Initiative, associate dean and then dean of Natural Sciences and Veterinary Technology and director of the Environmental Health and Safety Program.
El-Fawal was also the founding chair of the Department of Health Science as well as founding dean of the School of Health Science in Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Science. During his years at Albany, El-Fawal helped launch successful graduate programs in biotechnology, health outcomes research and informatics, and diagnostic sciences.
Today, El-Fawal hopes to build on the foundation that AUC has created as the top University in Egypt. “At AUC, we are an educational oasis,” El-Fawal observed. “One of the things an oasis provides you is not just a sanctuary, but a place to launch the next part of your journey. I see a great interest in environmental and health issues, so the questions that I will work with my colleagues in defining is, ‘What is our next trip? Where do we go from here?”