Sudan Split: Faculty Weigh in on Conflict, Humanitarian Crisis

Local to Global
Abigail Flynn
May 16, 2023
Sudan flag with cracks depicting conflict in the country

Violence has erupted in Sudan as the two major militarized groups, the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), have gone head-to-head in civilian-populated areas. With casualties rising and no resolution in sight, News@AUC interviewed two faculty members from the Department of Sociology, Egyptology and Anthropology, Assistant Professor and Associate Researcher Amira Ahmed and Assistant Professor Manuel Schwab, to explain the conflict, its impact on Sudanese citizens and what the international community can do to help.

 Causes of Conflict

The current fighting is the culmination of decades of turmoil in Sudan, but its most recent causes can be traced to Sudan’s 2019 revolution, which toppled former President Omar al-Bashir and briefly replaced him with a civilian government.

 “The Sudanese people were aspiring to remove a military fascist regime that had governed the country for 30 years,” explains Ahmed, who is a daughter of Sudanese immigrants living in Egypt. “Al-Bashir originally legally recognized the RSF to suppress rebellions on his behalf, but the leader of the RSF turned against al-Bashir when the revolution began.”

The 2019 revolution was successful in deposing al-Bashir but left a power vacuum in its wake. A civilian government ruled briefly but was quickly sidelined by the RSF and the SAF. While the two groups had collaborated to bring down the former regime, governing the country afterward proved controversial.

“The RSF was supposed to be integrated into the SAF, which would have created a unified army. That was Omar al Bashir’s plan to maintain power,” says Schwab. “But the integration was not completed by the time he was removed, leaving two groups competing for control who eventually turned on one another.

This scramble for power has proven catastrophic for Sudan as violence rules in the capital, Khartoum, and fighting is spreading throughout the country. The death toll on May 9 had risen to 604  according to the UN health agency. However, an accurate number of casualties may be higher due to complications with reporting. The severity of the conflict reminds some of the  genocide in Darfur in 2003, during which the RSF killed between 80,000 and 400,000 people and displaced nearly 3 million at the orders of al-Bashir.

Power of the People

This echo of history raises the question: After the successful, civilian-led revolution in 2019, how has the country descended into levels of chaos that have not been witnessed since 2003?

“The revolution in 2019 showed the incredible organizing capacity, tenacity, commitment and grassroots solidarity of Sudan,” states Schwab. “I believe Sudan is a place where the power has always been with the people. Unfortunately, the force has always been with the militaries and these groups took over the revolution for their own goals.”

The citizens of Sudan are keenly aware of the role of these armed forces in destabilizing their country. “The Sudanese people are calling for the SAF to go back to the barracks and the RSF to be dissolved,” Ahmed explains. “The people want a democratic civilian government, but first they need the violence to stop.”

 Human Impact

According to the United Nations, there are currently 4.3 million people in South Sudan who need humanitarian assistance, but the raging violence is making it difficult for supplies to be distributed. Additionally, nearly 2.3 million refugees from South Sudan are currently displaced and 63% of these refugees are children.

“People are dying from more than just bullets and bombs,” says Ahmed. “They are dying from a lack of food, medicine and water. They are dying from preventable diseases or injuries because their hospitals have been destroyed or occupied by armed forces.”

Egypt is a major location for Sudanese refugees to flee to, but supporting them is a difficult task. Ahmed and Schwab attempted to create a GoFundMe campaign to generate funds for arriving refugees, but the campaign was suspended within 72 hours. According to Ahmed and Schwab, this Is symptomatic of the financial distrust that is directed at Sudan.

Sanctions Are Not a Solution

“I will never understand why the international community does not pay attention to the terrible effects of financial and goods-based sanctioning on the Sudanese people,” says Schwab. “There is no evidence that sanctions have any influence on the decisions of these gold-rich governing elites, but there is plenty of evidence that they do real harm to civilians.”

According to Schwab, there is a contradiction between two cornerstones of international relationships with Sudan since it gained independence. The international community executes harsh sanctions to pressure the regime by squeezing its citizens while simultaneously providing humanitarian aid that is meant to offer relief. Together, the two produce a situation in which scarcity and need can be manipulated by various actors, international or domestic, leaving the people of Sudan to pay the price.

This allows the international community to appear invested in solving the problem, without addressing the core issue: International policy regards Sudan as a security problem, not a human catastrophe.

“International powers all see Sudan as a security threat, so they are more interested in ensuring stability than creating long-lasting peace. They want to back the right warlord who will keep Sudan managed, not help the Sudanese people build a civilian democracy,” he says.

The Way Forward

“We have to rethink the way the international community treats Sudan and must listen to the voices of Sudanese people,” says Ahmed. “We need to find a way to stop the violence, but allowing either the SAF or the RSF to rule the country will only lead to a military dictatorship. That may answer the security problem, but it won’t help bring peace to the people.”

Additionally, humanitarian aid needs to be expanded and sanctions rescinded, Schwab recommends. “We need to open up more channels for humanitarian aid alongside corridors of mobility for people to escape. We also need to communicate to our home governments that we do not support sanctions as a solution,” he says.

“Don’t forget Sudan,” Ahmed concludes. “Sudanese people are some of the most politically engaged in the world, but they need the safety and opportunity to build a peaceful future."

AUC Students Craft Sustainable Fishing Nets to Revive Local Village Economy

Local to Global
Devon Murray
March 28, 2023
four women in the AUC gardens

Armed with fruit and a desire to help the small Egyptian village of El Bahtiny in Ismailia, seniors Yara Yousry, Heidi Mahmoud, Aliaa Moussa and Mariam El-Halabi are working to fashion biodegradable fishing nets out of locally sourced, cost-effective banana fibers in order to revive the village’s ailing economy.

The four AUC students will be setting sail in Norway this fall after being selected among 15 teams for the World Federation of United Nations Associations (WFUNA) program, Under the Starry Sky. The project also placed second in this year’s Student Union Real Life Competition at AUC.

The nine-month WFUNA program aims to empower young people who want to help promote the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by helping them implement an innovative and impactful project. 

“El Bahtiny village is beautiful but underprivileged. Our project aims to revive the village’s fishing community,” Mahmoud said.

Traditionally, fishing nets are made from nylon and silk — costly materials that recently, due in large part to the devaluation of the Egyptian pound, have become too expensive for the local community to purchase and use. “Sixty percent of the biomass of a banana tree goes to waste. It's locally available and a great solution to Egypt’s import and export issue,” said Moussa. 

Transforming a Village

Beyond developing the nets, the quartet is handling the logistics of sourcing banana fibers from the city of Sohag in Upper Egypt, as well as providing training for men and women alike in weaving the nets. “We especially want to incorporate women into our project,” Moussa said. “The village is very conservative, so teaching women how to make the nets at home will allow them to join the economy without breaking social norms.”

Down the road, the women hope that El Bahtiny will become an eco-tourism hotspot, similar to Fayoum’s Tunis Village. “We want it to become a place where people can spend the day fishing and getting to know the hospitable local community,” Moussa said.

With Mahmoud, Moussa and El-Halabi representing AUC’s mechanical engineering program and Yousry hailing from architecture, the group has received support from AUC faculty from both disciplines on the project, including Sherif Goubran, Momen El-Husseiny, Salah El Haggar and Hanadi Salem. Additionally, the program itself held an intensive four-day training in January to boost the team’s project management skills. 

“When I found out that we were selected, it felt like my future had just started – like this is what I'm gonna be doing for the rest of my life,” Moussa said.

Currently in the design and testing phase, the team will present the project at sea in Norway this September, with plans to create different types of nets for different fish down the line. 

“Working on this project has made me feel more ambitious in enacting change and impact within my community as an Egyptian,” Mahmoud added. “I am eager to seek more opportunities."


Women at AUC: Celebrating 95 Years

Local to Global
Abigail Flynn
March 2, 2023
Light brown box and black text at the top left hand side: “95 Years of Women at AUC.” On the right, a photo of Eva Habib El Masri ‘31, with the date 1928. Next, a black and white photo of two AUC women wearing black caps and gowns with the date 1953. Next, a black and white photo of a female student receiving an award, with the date 1978. Next,   a color photo of a woman graduating and wearing a cap and gown receiving her degree on stage with the date 2003. Last, a color photo of three women grads in 2023

AUC's first female student, Eva Habib El Masri '31, joined the University in 1928. 95 years later, AUC women have continued to raise the bar of excellence, from innovations in science and technology to shining successes in business and entrepreneurship. See the history of women at AUC, read about how women have #MadeAUCProud and learn more about the way AUC continues to encourage women's success. 


Infographic with a light brown box and black text at the top right hand side: “95 Years of Women at AUC.” On the top left, a photo of Eva Habib El Masri ‘31, with a light brown text box below it and the words “1 Female Student, 0 Female Faculty, 2 Female Staff.” Below on the right, a black and white photo of two AUC women wearing black caps and gowns, graduating in 1953,  with a light brown text box below it and the words, “147 Female Students, 1 Female Faculty, 11 Female Staff.” Below on the left, a black and white photo of a female student in 1978 receiving an award, with a light brown text box below it and the words “2,608 Female Students, 139 Female Faculty, 375 Female Staff.” Below it on the right, a color photo of a woman graduating and wearing a cap and gown receiving her degree on stage in 2003, with a light brown text box below it and the words “1,057 Female Students, 71 Female Faculty, 204 Female Staff.” Below it on the right, a color photo of three young women sitting at a graduation ceremony wearing caps and gowns in 2023,  with a light brown text box below it and the words “4,254 Female Students, 228 Female Faculty.”




Sara Sabry ‘16 became the first Egyptian Astronaut after flying to space on Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket in August 2022.

Sara Sabry '16 pictured smiling at the camera











Zainab Mahmoud ‘22, Fatma Elnefaly ‘22, Mayar Khairy ‘22 and Menna Soliman ‘22 were awarded the ministry shield by the Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research for their work on developing self-luminous concrete for their graduation theses. 

Four AUC students stand with the Minister of Higher Education, holding ministry of shield awards and smiling at the camera











Multiple AUC alumnae were honored on Forbes Middle East’s 100 Most Powerful Businesswomen for 2023, inlduing Elham Mahfouz '84, Nadia Al Saeed (MBA '92), Abir Leheta '94, Dalia El Baz '95, Abeer Saleh '96, Omnia Kelig '99, Yasmine Khamis '99 and Farida Khamis '00.

Eight AUC alumnae are pictured smiling at the camera, with the Forbes Middle East logo in the bottom right corner










Two alumnae, Dina Aly '04 and Fatma El Shenawy ‘14, were honored for their innovation, risk-taking and business savvy at the 2022 Egypt Entrepreneur Awards. 

On the left, a picture of Dina Aly '04 crossing her legs while sitting on a chair and smiling at the camera; on the right, Fatma El Shenawy ‘14 stands on a stage and looks away from the camera while smiling and holding an award
Dina Aly '04 (left) and Fatma El Shenawy ‘14 (right)











Student athlete Aya Abbas '23 set a new African record and won a bronze medal at the 100m freestyle event at the World Para Swimming Championship in Portugal.

Aya Abbas '23 sits in a wheel chair wearing a swimsuit, swim cap and goggles in front of the AUC pool with her arms crossed, looking determined








Student athlete and squash player, Hania El Hammamy, won the CIB Egyptian Open and won the Everbright Securities International Hong Kong Squash Open title in 2022.

Hania El Hammamy stands smiling on a court while holding a squash trophy


Anne Aly ‘90 became Australia’s first Muslim Woman minister.

Photo of Anne Aly smiling at the camera










Noor Naga’s dark romance novel about the gaps in American identity politics, If an Egyptian Cannot Speak English, was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize shortlist



Noor Naga smiles at the cameraCover of the novel "If an Egyptian Cannot Speak English," a shirtless man holding a shield and dagger on the front cover










May El-Ibrashy, Egyptian architectural historian and adjunct professor in the Department of Architecture, won the Prince Claus Fund’s Impact Award. 

May El-Ibrashy smiles at the camera









Media and the Arts

Marianne Khoury ‘80, producer, director, writer and mentor, was awarded the Legion of Honor by the French head of state for her position as a bridge between artists and industry in Egypt and Europe. 

Marianne Khoury '80 smiles at the camera













Eight AUC women took home 13 awards at the 2022 Broadcast Education Association (BEA)’s Festival of Media Arts.

BEA Award Winners, eight photos of AUCian women










Board of Trustees Meets on Campus - Discusses Strategy, Community Initiatives

Local to Global
March 1, 2023
The Board of Trustees, faculty and staff visit Eltoukhy Learning Factory, pose in a line in front of lab equipment
Board members and guests, men and women wearing suits and white hard hats visit construction site
Board members, man in suit cuts red ribbon at opening ceremony of Eltoukhy Learning Factory, with other men and women in suits behind him
Board members, faculty and staff pose in a line in the desert in Faiyum

Board of Trustees Meets on Campus 

At its February Cairo meeting last week, AUC’s Board of Trustees engaged in a wide range of discussions including the impact of the most recent devaluation on the University, AUC’s strategic priorities, and updates on academic and student affairs, admissions, institutional advancement, finance, IT and campus facilities. The trustees also attended presentations on the reintegration of the Tahrir Square campus into the life of the University and the Mental Health and Well-Being Initiative, which was launched last summer to create a healthier campus environment for the AUC community.

Making use of their time on campus to connect with members of the community, the trustees sat in on several undergraduate classes, had lunch with students, continued a long-running tradition of dinners with faculty members in their homes and attended an alumni and donor event. They also met with the University Senate and faculty working on climate action. 

The trustees visited the newly launched Eltoukhy Learning Factory for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in the School of Sciences and Engineering, an Open Studio Exhibition by graphic design and visual arts students and the opening of Piece of Mind, five original plays on mental health and well-being by AUC students and alumni. During their visit, the University launched the AUC Road to College program, the first-of-its-kind in Egypt providing free online English-language courses to prepare middle and high school students for university.

AUC’s Board of Trustees are volunteers from the United States, Egypt and around the world who contribute their time, expertise and financial resources to support the University, in addition to their fiduciary responsibilities. The trustees do not receive any compensation and come from a range of backgrounds. Meet members of AUC’s Board of Trustees.

Faculty Film 'The Wedding' Looks Beyond the Altar

Local to Global
March 1, 2023
Emiko stock

What's in a wedding? Emiko Stock, assistant professor of anthropology, explores this question and more in her film, The Wedding, which is being screened at the UK Royal Anthropological Institute Film Festival and Conference this month. She will also be chairing and presenting at the festival a roundtable titled "Shadowing Meanings: the things we do (or not) with subtitles."

The festival can be attended online throughout March.

News@AUC caught up with Stock to learn more about the film and her research.

1. Tell us about your film, The Wedding.

The Wedding follows a day in a Cham Cambodian Muslim wedding. The film pays particular attention to the mundane gesturesThe wedding film poster

of turning a wedding into a "picture perfect" moment: a good prayer, a well-crafted meal, the well put together makeup-outfit-nails combo, the casual hanging outs, the laughs (or the boredom) and finally the ideal couple photograph.

2. What impact do you hope the film will have on viewers?

By layering gendered perspectives and breaking down the conventions of stability and singularity in camera movement and editing, the film aims to transcribe a partial experience: I hope viewers will leave the film thinking about how we all shape the peculiarity of any wedding, but also reflect on how all ethnographic and filmic endeavors are situated and textured.

3. Tell us about your research.

I work as a visual and historical anthropologist among Chams (a Muslim minority in Cambodia, which is a vastly Buddhist country). On one hand, I focus on how people think, use, and live with visual media (family photo albums, selfies, analog DIY practices, wedding videography...) but also how I, as an anthropologist doubling as photographer/filmmaker, can use the visual medium to tell alternative stories.

On the other hand, I also document Cham perspectives on a difficult history: one that requires silences, erasures and the refusal of archives. This is where visuals come to make even more sense: sometimes, when history is too hard to talk about, let alone inscribe, we need more than words. Images then, especially images considered as mundane, open a path through a history that can only be seen in its very absence.

4. What drew you to this topic?

My work in this community started very informally: I was first taken-in as a relative of sorts, but because I was always an amateur photographer/videographer, people would always ask me to come take pictures of their weddings. And since I always had an interest in history that was shared by many in the community, the two sides of the project sort of naturally merged together. 

The Wedding is an example of how this relationship materializes: it was first shot, edited and distributed for the families themselves. It's only later on that I started to look at the film in a different way, one that might be of interest to anthropologists and documentary filmmakers. For me this is an essential lesson of ethical grounding that anthropology brings to the world: how can we be with each other, in resonance and reciprocity, so that we can live a little better with ourselves?

5. Is your research related to the roundtable you are chairing? Can you talk a bit about this?

The roundtable that I am organizing and chairing titled "Shadowing Meanings: the things we do (or not) with subtitles" looks at how subtitles are used (and misused) in documentary filmmaking. We take a feminist and counter-colonial stand in our rationale: if subtitles often aim for accessibility, transparency and information, they also carry a certain violence. When we choose what to inscribe, we invariably also produce erasures. The roundtable aims to explore the various shapes and contexts of such erasures. 

What we ask ourselves is: what are the limits of subtitling? How can we embed documentary and ethnographic filmmaking in an opacity that is generative: one that relies on an active engagement with the medium rather than a passive consumption of clear-to-go meaning? The roundtable brings a wide range of case studies into discussion: from an analysis of classical Western ethnographic movies focusing on the audiences excluded by the subtitling process, to an examination of experimental media produced with refugee youth in Iran. Instead of aiming to produce content and information, we wonder if documentary could strive to bring viewers in the kind of attention and intentionality that brings us closer to life, and life's very own signature lack of clarity.

6. What are you teaching at AUC?

Next semester I will be teaching Film and Anthropology: Off-Screen Creativity in Cairo. The course aims to bring students of anthropology and film studies together to think through the idea of creation in the fields of film, video, and media making. I love teaching this course! For me it brings the best of both worlds: for students who have never taken a film class in their lives, it's a way to think about the medium and how it constructs our envisioning of the world. For students new to anthropology, it's a way to think about ethical avenues to document the world with constant wonder and generosity.

Sherif Kamel Talks Egypt's Top 3 Economic Challenges for 2023

Local to Global
February 28, 2023
A single Egyptian pound coin rolls on its side with the text "Where are headed" in the bottom left

With three currency devaluations in the last year and rising inflation, Egypt’s economic outlook for 2023 is riddled with uncertainty. News@AUC reached out to Sherif Kamel, dean of AUC’s School of Business, to identify the top three obstacles facing the economy at this time.

Here’s what he had to say:

  1. Global Recession, Rising Inflation

In 2023, Egypt’s economy will be challenging, given the expected repercussions of the global recession and the rising inflation, which has already crept in over the last several weeks. This will add more pressure on the government to take some structural reform actions and provide a more conducive environment for business and investments. Businesses will need to adapt to navigate these difficult times, while individuals must adjust and prioritize to absorb the impact on their lives and livelihoods.

  1. Currency Uncertainty

Today, the U.S. dollar is valued at 30.68 Egyptian pounds compared to 15.71 on the same day last year, losing 50 percent of its value in one year. This value is one of many indicators of the economy, but the question is––is the pound still overvalued? Does the current value reflect a complete float? Or is there more to come? It is worth noting that the Central Bank’s objective is not devaluation itself but rather reaching the actual value of the Egyptian pound, which would have multiple implications on several other economic elements. 

  1. Towards Transformation

The overall economic indicators have put more pressure on society. Therefore, in 2023 and beyond, the government is expected to make some timely decisions, including:

  • Transforming its role in the economy into an enabler, regulator and supporter of the private sector, helping it to grow and become more competitive.
  • Expediting structural reform and optimizing efficiency levels across the board through multiple approaches, including but not limited to digital transformation.
  • Making the country more inviting as a business destination for international investors, which can yield foreign direct investments across different economic sectors — not only in oil and gas.
  • Rationalizing public spending and focusing on sectors such as education and health.
  • Transforming export revenues by investing in critical sectors and industries where Egypt has a competitive edge, such as tourism. 
  • Leveraging cross-border trade in addition to working on reducing national debt.

In Conclusion

The list is long, but it is doable, and it could be a game-changer for a large and growing society with limited purchasing power yet enormous potential that is mostly untapped. The government is already discussing these issues. It is time to take action supported by economic policies and an empowered private sector that will act as a catalyst for foreign direct investments and create a wide range of economic opportunities for different segments of society.

Read more from Kamel on Egypt’s economic outlook in the Nile View

ChatGPT: Danger to Learning or Opportunity for Efficiency?

Local to Global
Abigail Flynn
February 27, 2023
Photo of ChatGPT home page

Universities around the world are facing fresh concerns brought on by the use of artificial intelligence, as newly launched programs like ChatGPT and Chatsonic allow users to enter a question and receive a structured essay in response. Ethically, is using these programs cheating the system or does it merely optimize efficiency? Logistically, if a professor wanted to ban the use of ChatGPT, is there a way to check for AI usage in their students’ work? 

Keep an eye out for AI-generated content in this article and see if you can spot where it was used.

What is AI-generated content?

A robot says "Artificial Intelligence-generated content is created using artificial intelligence" and a person responds "That's incredibly unhelpful. Thanks!"AI generated content is created using Artificial Intelligence technology. This technology uses algorithms to analyze large sets of data and create content that is tailored to the specific requirements of a given project. AI technology is also capable of learning from past experiences, allowing it to continually improve its accuracy. 


Programs like ChatGPT and Chatsonic use this AI technology to create a bot that can respond to questions a user asks it. To generate the paragraph above, I asked Chatsonic: “How does AI-generated content work?” 


Take note: the paragraph uses incorrect capitalization, is quite vague and the first sentence is repetitive (“Artificial Intelligence-generated content is created using Artificial Intelligence technology”- not helpful). The effectiveness of the program, in addition to the ethics of students using it, are major concerns for instructors.


Are these programs allowed at AUC?

At the moment, AUC has not instituted any University-wide policy regarding the use of AI, instead allowing faculty to dictate its use on a case-by-case basis. While many of these programs are not accessible in Egypt, tech-savvy students can utilize virtual private networks (VPN) to work around this problem. 

The University’s Center for Learning and Teaching (CLT) has been hosting community circle conversations to introduce this technology to faculty members.

“The community circle conversations aim to empower faculty with enough knowledge of what is possible and all the options they have available to them, whether they eventually choose to ban it, use it with caution or attribution, or embrace it and encourage transparency,” explains Maha Bali ‘01, professor of practice in CLT.

Will AI-generated content hurt learning?

There are some major risks of using AI-generated content. It could lead to plagiarism if students do not take the time to understand the content generated by AI and rewrite it in their own words. Furthermore, if students rely too heavily on AI generated content, this could lead to a lack of originality in their work. AI-generated writing could make students become too reliant on the technology and make them less likely to think critically and creatively. 

Unfortunately, there are no programs currently on the market that can reliably detect AI-generated content. According to Bali, AI text detectors are inaccurate and produce both false negatives and false positives. This means that students could use AI assistance without their professors knowing, making it difficult to prevent.

“I don’t think going after detection is the way to go, to be honest,” says Bali. “I’d rather encourage students to be transparent about their process of how they may have used AI so they can reflect on the value of using AI and see where it helped or hindered them.”

It could be useful, with proper training…

AI generated content could also have some benefits. For instance, AI can help students to get ideas on how to structure their essays, as well as providing them with an understanding of the structure of a well written essay. Additionally, it can provide students with a better understanding of the topic and even provide them with helpful resources to further their knowledge. 

"Similar to Wikipedia, AI tools can also provide students with a general overview about many different topics that may be unfamiliar to them, but then condense these topics into a distilled version for the common reader in a real-time response format," explains Meredith Saba, instructor in the Department of Libraries and Learning Technologies. "AI tools can cut writing and project time, generate notes faster and it can also help students improve their English reading, writing and communication abilities by modeling sentences and structures well."

However, reaping the benefits of AI-generated content requires proper training, according to Saba and other instructors. “For something like ChatGPT to be useful, someone needs to already have a lot of good knowledge about the subject because ChatGPT often makes up inaccurate information,” says Bali. “They also must already be a good enough writer, or else the writing will be generic and disjointed. I think students can learn how to harness ChatGPT by refining their writing prompts so that it produces better quality content.”

In the future, bosses may expect their employees to know how to use AI-generated content. “As a university we may want to consider where in the curriculum we consider this program to be especially useful as a marketable skill,” says Hoda Mostafa, professor of practice and director of CLT. “We must also aim to incorporate it without jeopardizing fundamental learning and intellectual skills.”

But will efficiency sacrifice learning? 

If students are trained to use AI correctly, it could substantially improve their efficiency. However, some argue that students in university should be learning how to write well without assistance. In the same way that students must learn the basics of mathematics by hand before using a calculator, critics of AI-generated content say college is the time to learn the basics through trial and error instead of using a crutch. 

“Students do not write an essay because the professor has a hobby of collecting essays; students write an essay because they need to become better writers and engage with the content of the lessons,” argues Mario Hubert, assistant professor in the Department of Philosophy, in an op-ed he wrote for CLT. “A university is not a place to find the easiest route to submitting an assignment; rather, a university is a place for mindbuilders.”

In Hubert’s perspective, students are meant to learn how to become good writers by themselves during university. Perhaps AI assistance can be used after they’ve built this skill on their own. 

Maybe the answer is simply “time and place”

Other instructors have expressed that AI-generated content has an appropriate time and place for use. A student in an introductory writing and rhetoric class should not be using the bot, for instance, since the point of the course is to build the skill set. However, it may be permissible in other courses. 

“I think it might be appropriate to use AI in advanced courses where ‘writing’ is not the main learning outcome, and the AI can help students write faster — when they’ve already done the hard work itself of doing an experiment in the lab or researching a topic, and they’re just using the AI to help them put it together,” says Bali.

But wait… is AI-generated content problematic?

In addition to problems with inaccurate information, disjointed writing and removing a student’s authorial voice, AI-generated content also may end up regurgitating problematic perspectives from the data it uses.

“Much of this data is skewed toward Anglo/Western culture and ways of thinking and can therefore reproduce hegemonic knowledge structures in the world,” states Bali. “It is important to remember that ChatGPT is only building on data it has already seen before and synthesizing it into new content based on the prompt. So it will not produce anything extremely creative — just a synthesis of the creativity of other humans over time.”

If AI-generated content is utilizing skewed data, users will have to be careful to ensure they are conveying thoughtful and nuanced perspectives when being assisted by these bots. 

Did you spot the AI? 

Personally, I found the AI-generated content to be bland, disjointed and inconsistent in voice. I often felt like I was editing a freelance writer’s first draft, a writer who I probably would not hire again. You’ll find that I only used the bot’s writing for three paragraphs; I did try to use it more, but I could not get the bot to produce interesting content. 

To be fair, as Bali and Mostafa point out, I have never been trained to use these programs. Perhaps a more experienced individual would be able to coax more impressive content from the bots. The following paragraphs were lifted from Chatsonic with no editing or revision, did you pick them up?

AI generated content is created using Artificial Intelligence technology. This technology uses algorithms to analyze large sets of data and create content that is tailored to the specific requirements of a given project. AI technology is also capable of learning from past experiences, allowing it to continually improve its accuracy. 

There are some major risks of using AI-generated content. It could lead to plagiarism if students do not take the time to understand the content generated by AI and rewrite it in their own words. Furthermore, if students rely too heavily on AI generated content, this could lead to a lack of originality in their work. AI-generated writing could make students become too reliant on the technology and make them less likely to think critically and creatively. 

AI generated content could also have some benefits. For instance, AI can help students to get ideas on how to structure their essays, as well as providing them with an understanding of the structure of a well written essay. Additionally, it can provide students with a better understanding of the topic and even provide them with helpful resources to further their knowledge.

AUC Road to College Provides Free, Online English Courses for High School Students

Local to Global
Abigail Flynn and Dalia Al Nimr
February 21, 2023
A photo of campus with the text "A path to success for Egyptian high school students"

AUC is the first educational institution in the Middle East to offer free, English-language online courses designed specifically for high school students in Egypt.

Its newly launched AUC Road to College program provides free, online, self-paced courses with no minimum level of English required. The courses, which are academically and culturally tailored, will enable Egyptian high school students to compete for admission to English-language universities, including AUC and other institutions in Egypt or abroad. 

“Service is a key pillar for AUC,” says AUC President Ahmad Dallal. “Since English-language proficiency is a critical ability that is often an obstacle for otherwise talented students and since supplementary English training can be expensive, the program helps close this gap. It is part of our social responsibility toward the community at large.”

AUC Road to College is a fully online, 12-course, leveled English-language program that allows middle and high school students across Egypt to further develop their fluency outside of the classroom. “This initiative is part of a larger University strategy to increase access for the most talented students, regardless of their financial ability, to quality higher institutions like AUC,” says Provost Ehab Abdel-Rahman. “By taking these courses, participating students will have higher chances of getting accepted into English-language universities they apply and can better integrate into university life.”  

Anytime, Anywhere

The courses are designed by AUC’s English instructors and include six modules, each of which requires an average of three to four hours of learning. However, students can self-pace their progress, allowing them to move at a speed that best suits their learning abilities and personal schedules. “If students find difficulty finishing in four hours, they can revisit and replay the course material at their own pace,” says Hoda Mostafa, professor of practice and director of AUC’s Center for Learning and Teaching, which developed the program online and collaborated with AUC's IT team to develop the digital platform. “Learners can access the courses multiple times, anytime, anywhere.”

The program helps students improve their writing, listening, reading and speaking skills — key components of attending English-language universities — through relevant topics and contexts. “The courses incorporate articles, videos, audio material, activities and peer-to-peer discussions that provide students with the most effective and engaging learning experience,” explains Ghada Elshimi (MA '93), dean of undergraduate studies and The Academy of Liberal Arts, which designed courses for the program. “Higher levels and new courses will continually be added to better serve and empower students with the skills needed for the market.”

Now in its second pilot cohort, the program has been performing well. Students from the first cohort provided positive feedback, ranging from good course organization and engaging activities to accessibility and flexibility.

“We exceeded the expected number of students in our pilot, which had more than 48,000 learners create accounts and more than 12, 500 learners enrolled in the courses from various backgrounds. Interest is growing exponentially, and we will continue incorporating student feedback for continuous regular improvement,” says Mostafa.

In the future, the program aims to expand to include public speaking, communication skills, emotional intelligence, design thinking and creative problem solving. “We want to expose students to liberal arts pedagogies that will equip them with transferable task-based, project-based and experiential learning skills, as well as enhance their independent learning abilities and digital literacy necessary for success at university,” says Elshimi.

“We want young students to be assured they can do anything they set their minds to,” says Dallal. “Learning English may open the door for them to achieve their goals, study at an esteemed university, land their dream jobs or travel, and AUC is excited to help them access more opportunities.”

AUC Department of Construction Uses Virtual Reality to Teach Site Safety

Local to Global
February 22, 2023
Man stands wearing a virtual reality headset and controllers while a screen behind him shows what he is seeing through the equipment

Faculty members and graduate students from AUC’s Department of Construction Engineering are using virtual reality (VR) to develop and deploy training models that will improve safety at construction sites. These training models allow students to navigate construction sites of bridges and high-rise buildings using VR headsets to visualize hazards, including falls, struck-by injuries, slips and general construction site safety.

“Recent studies show that around 60,000 fatalities occur annually worldwide due to construction accidents,” said Ossama Hosny, professor and graduate program director in the Department of Construction. “It is not just about time, cost and quality but also about safety in the workplace.”

Traditionally, students and construction workers learn about site safety through lectures and textbooks. The new VR models offer a hands-on, innovative way to encourage safe practices. “We have developed new VR-based safety training programs that address the potential hazards associated with some of the riskiest projects in the construction world,” said Ibrahim Abotaleb, assistant professor of construction engineering. “It has been found that lack of proper training is the main cause of on-site construction fatalities.”

Virtual Reality: A New Solution?

Construction VR training programs are becoming increasingly present in the industry worldwide, prompting new research on the effectiveness of VR training compared to traditional training.

Experimental testing of AUC’s models indicated that VR training significantly improved students’ understanding and visualization of safety procedures. 

Research on the safety training models was presented in the Construction Research Congress by the American Society of Civil Engineers in Virginia, USA, and in the Canadian Society for Civil Engineering Conference in British Columbia, Canada. It was also published in the Journal of Computer Applications in Engineering Education.

“Based on the results of our studies, the models we developed performed better in terms of visualization, immersion, realism and ability to enhance the desired hazard identification and mitigation skills compared to traditional training programs,” Abotaleb stated. “The developed models are the first in the world to integrate adult learning theories abstracted from psychology into full training modules specialized in high-rise buildings and bridges.”

Student Engagement with Virtual Reality

Working on a full safety model for high-rise building construction as part of her thesis research, construction engineering graduate student Sahar Bader focused on the behavioral aspect of training. She incorporated learning theories to develop a sound methodology that includes motivation, reputation and  problem-solving. 

As part of his master’s thesis, Mohamed Sherif, a graduate student and research assistant, has combined VR and augmented reality to create an immersive safety training model for the construction of bridges and highways, a significant feat due to their importance in Egyptian national projects.

This is not the first time the construction engineering department has introduced VR in their teaching. During the COVID-19 lockdown, Abotaleb managed to provide his students with virtual field trips to construction sites from the safety of their own homes. Using VR, he captured construction sites with a 360-degree camera, recording surroundings, interviewing on-site workers and delivering lectures as if the students were there with him. 

Hosny also has incorporated VR in one of his courses to allow students to better identify and mitigate risks associated with high-rise construction.

AUC Welcomes Veerle De Laet as New Executive Director of AUC Press

Local to Global
Devon Murray
February 13, 2023
Photo of Veerle De Laet standing and smiling next to book shelves

Veerle De Laet has been named executive director of AUC Press, the leading English-language publisher in the Middle East. 

Before coming to AUC, De Laet served as managing director and publisher at Leuven University Press in Leuven, Belgium. “AUC Press is a great publishing house with a long history, excellent reputation and appealing international setting,” De Laet said. “Joining was a clear next step in my publishing career.”

Arriving in Cairo less than a month ago, De Laet, Belgium native is optimistic about living and working in the heart of Egypt’s capital. “Coming here is a huge adventure,” she said. This is my first time in Egypt and in the Middle East. I trust that I will find my way here and that it will be a very positive experience.”

News@AUC sat down with De Laet to learn more about her background and interests.

Tell us about your career experience before joining AUC Press.

I have a background as a cultural historian and started my professional career as a researcher. After that, I entered the world of academic publishing, first as an acquisitions editor then as a managing director and publisher. 

What do you enjoy most about working in academic publishing?

As a former researcher who is now advancing the research of others, it is fulfilling to publish new insights and knowledge to a larger audience. I also enjoy the teamwork aspect of academic publishing; it’s something you don't do on your own, but rather together with a lot of people.

The work is also intellectually fulfilling. Personally, I couldn't work in a publishing house in which decisions, for instance, are mainly made on commercial motives or arguments. For me, as a former academic scholar, the content really matters. The mission-driven aspect of the publishing program is very dear to me.

What will your day-to-day look like at AUC Press?

My role is to oversee all operations at the press. I am also, of course, involved in advancing its publishing program, distribution, regional and global reach and impact. Navigating the constantly evolving world of academic publishing is also an essential part of my work.

It is not, however, a one-woman show. Publishing always is a joint effort. The ties may come together in my role, but of course, it is thanks to the many departments within the press staffed with qualified experts.

What are your priorities in the coming year?

My very first priority is getting acquainted. Then I will work to expand collections lists; add new fields of research, book series and publishing programs; and explore different formats like digital publishing and open-access publishing. This is something I’m quite experienced with, and I think it will be a relevant addition to what AUC Press is already doing.

On a more personal level, I am looking forward to reading Middle Eastern authors. I recently bought a collection of short stories by Yusuf Idris. I also saw a book review on AUC Instructor Noor Naga’s If an Egyptian Cannot Speak English. I would love to read it. 

How have you found Egypt so far?

The Egyptians I’ve met so far are very generous and warm. I’ve found everyone eager to communicate, which I very much like. In a sense I feel almost at home. I trust that I will find my way here and that it will be a very positive experience.

What food have you enjoyed the most since coming here?

I still have to explore Egyptian cuisine. But in terms of drinks, I love sahlab. It’s like a dessert and a drink.

Do you have a favorite book?

Too many to mention. I can instead share with you the top three books I’ve read lately: The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste, Afterlives by Abdulrazak Gurnah and Circe by Madeline Miller.

I think that many of us are biased toward Western literature, so I very much love to read works of fiction and nonfiction from other regions of the world. 

What else do you enjoy doing?

I sing and play the violin. I would like to try to learn singing with the ornamentation or style found in Arabic music.

I also love listening to music. I’m a jazz lover. There are some excellent musicians with a Middle Eastern background that I’d like to mention here: Ghalia Benali, a Tunisian singer living in Belgium; Dhafer Youssef, a Tunisian composer who comes from a family of muezzins; and finally Tamino, a Belgian-Egyptian singer.

What is a fun fact about yourself?

I have exactly the same blue beanie as Charles Lloyd, the jazz musician. I realized this when I saw him performing last fall in London. It was cold that day, and I was wearing my beanie. And when he got on stage, he was wearing the same beanie. I’m really proud of it because I’m a big fan