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Four multidisciplinary research proposals spearheaded by AUC faculty members receive funding from the new Boundary Crossing and Community Integrative Initiative

New Research Initiative Creates Paths for Interdisciplinary Collaboration

March 15, 2016

Four research proposals have been awarded funding through AUC’s new Boundary Crossing and Community Integrative Initiative (BCCI), which focuses on supporting innovative research projects that take an interdisciplinary approach to solving the most pressing challenges facing Egypt today.

In academia, researchers are in danger of falling into a pattern of research for research’s sake, losing touch with communities they work in, explained Vice Provost Ehab Abdel-Rahman. He emphasized that BCCI is focused on projects with real and tangible outcomes that will bridge the gap between academics and the societies that they live and work in. “I hope that we can sustain this initiative for years to come and for those four projects to have sensible impact on the community,” said Abdel-Rahman.

A main criteria for the proposals was the involvement of faculty members from at least two different schools at AUC, encouraging cross-disciplinary collaboration that often leads to the most innovative and creative solutions. “The initiative builds on areas of present research strength by bringing together a critical mass of expertise from across the schools,” said Abdel-Rahman.

The four main strategic goals of the initiative are to address multidisciplinary research challenges, increase the University’s capacity to influence national and international research, strengthen internal cross-disciplinary research collaborations and provide a platform for industrial research partnerships. Below are synopses of some of the winning research proposals. 

Personalized Heart Care in Egypt and Beyond

Khalil El Khodary, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, and Neveen Ahmed, assistant professor in the Department of Management, received funding for a proposal that builds on the Memorandum of Understanding between AUC and the Magdi Yacoub Foundation to modernize heart care in Egypt. Together with the Aswan Heart Center, El Khodary and Ahmed will develop a Cardiac Electromechanical Modeling Tool that will aid in the treatment of the Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome (WPW), a disorder caused by an extra electrical pathway between the heart’s upper and lower chambers, which causes a rapid heartbeat.  

Ahmed and her team from the School of Business will assist El Khodary and the surgeons at the Aswan Heart Center in developing a sustainable protocol that will keep costs low, while ensuring high-quality treatment so it can be accessible to people all over the world. “As designed, the computational tool is not available anywhere in the world today," El Khodary explained. "Its success will not only be an important first step toward personalized medicine in Egypt, but also an invaluable contribution for Cardiac Resynchronization Therapy and WPW treatment internationally.”

With a cross-disciplinary approach and potential for important practical applications, the proposal from El Khodary and Ahmed was a natural match to the goals of the initiative. “We are happy the BCCI initiative deemed our objectives in alignment with their vision and extended us their vital support,” said El Khodary.

Diabetes Detection from the Source

The project headed by Ezzeldin Soliman, professor in the Department of Physics, proposes an improved method of diabetes detection using sensors that provide instantaneous results with the same accuracy as tests performed in laboratories.

“A large percentage of Egyptians are suffering from diabetes and its side effects,” said Soliman. “Early detection of diabetes will improve prognosis, disease management and will save the patients substantial pain and money.”

The project is interdisciplinary in nature, including Ayman Ismail, Abdul Latif Jameel Endowed Chair of Entrepreneurship in the School of Business; Mohamed Serry, assistant professor of  mechanical engineering; Rania Siam, chair and professor in the Department of Biology; and Mohamed Swillam, assistant professor and associate chair in the Department of Physics.  In addition, Pharco Corporation, a leading health care company, is already committed to developing the prototype into a marketable product.

The prototype will be able to measure glucose levels while fully immersed in the blood being tested. “The idea is to invent novel nano-antenna arrays very sensitive to the change in the properties of the blood surrounding it,” said Soliman. “The follow-up project will concentrate on implanting this sensor inside the human body in order to perform the diabetes test non-invasively.”

He added, “I would like to thank very much the provost and the vice provost for launching this BCCI initiative that will definitely encourage us to conduct interdisciplinary research cross-linked with the industry for the benefit of our University and our community”

Fear of Failure Helpful or Harmful for Entrepreneurs?

In the social sciences, Nellie El Enany, assistant professor of organization studies in the School of Business is heading research on the effect of fear on the success or failure of entrepreneurs in Egypt.  

“The entrepreneurship landscape in Egypt is awash with uncertainty and despite this, entrepreneurship is booming,” said El Enany. “Egyptian entrepreneurs are, therefore, ideal participants to shed light on how fear of failure can be used as a positive construct in entrepreneurial processes.”

The study will compare entrepreneurs who have participated in startup incubators, like the AUC Venture Lab, and those who start businesses on their own without institutional support. “By understanding the role of incubators in relation to entrepreneurs’ emotions, in particular fear of failing and failure, we will better be able to provide insights into how entrepreneurs can be further supported in Egypt,” said El Enany.

El Enany will also draw on the expertise of Ayman Ismail and Hani Henry, chair and associate professor of psychology. She believes they will “fuse together our respective subject disciplines and experiences from practice to build what we hope will be an interesting project that develops insights that can inform entrepreneurs, investors and incubators in practice, bridge the gap between academia and practice ... advancing research in our respective schools and also for the University as a whole.”

Reassessing Community Engagement

The proposal headed by Nagwa Megahed, associate professor in the Department of International and Comparative Education, will examine AUC's community-based learning (CBL) experience, which supplements student learning by serving and engaging with the communities they live in. Megahed will work alongside Ted Purinton, associate professor and dean of the Graduate School of Education; Pandeli Glavanis, professor of practice and director of Academic Community Engagement; Amani Elshimi, director of undergraduate research and senior instructor II; Jennifer Skaggs assistant professor in the Department of International and Comparative Education; and Mona Amer, associate professor of psychology. 

The researchers will begin by compiling information to understand how successful the program has been since its inception and also determine the extent to which CBL promotes citizenship values and civic-mindedness. The project will also depend on the involvement of the AUC community. "The study will engage AUC faculty from different programs and disciplines, as well as partner organizations, in group discussions and a campus conversation in order to contribute suggestions for CBL improvement across disciplines," said Megahed. 

With data-driven evidence and the critical consideration of the AUC community, the research team will develop "a multidisciplinary pedagogical framework for CBL at AUC that enhances both the learning and assessment of academic, personal and civic outcomes," explained Megahed.  

In addition to revamping the CBL program, Megahed and her colleagues will publish a guide on using CBL across disciplines, develop customized and culture-sensitive assessment tools, and propose an organically integrated multidisciplinary community program.