LAU alumnus and Emirates Computers CEO Hani Harik is the catalyst behind the university’s ongoing Innovation Challenge. “Students need to venture beyond their books and experience the thrill of creating,” he says.
The challenge, which runs from February 8 to May 22, is being hosted by the School of Engineering and calls for up to 15 multidisciplinary teams to develop solutions to real–life problems by exploring their ability to prototype designs using a variety of tools, including among others 3D printing, embedded systems and software development.
“We want students to experience the deep satisfaction and confidence boost they gain from turning ideas into reality even if there are hurdles along the way.
Essentially, we want them to overcome the fear of failing because there is nothing worse than not trying,” explains Harik, who graduated from LAU in 1985 with a degree in computer science. “We also want to encourage students to build and work in multidisciplinary teams as a simulation of what they will experience in their professional lives,” he adds.
While the challenge is currently in its early stages, those involved say the projects look promising. “The quality and the number of submitted proposals proves that it will be tough for the oversight committee to select the top 15 projects to move to the next round,” says LAU Associate Professor and Assistant Dean Barbar Akle.
Commenting on his dream to bring such an initiative to his alma mater, Harik points out, “Societies are not built on individualism. Just as I was helped, I help. And just as today’s students are helped through this challenge, I hope that they someday soon will help others.” He adds, “Spreading and instilling this mentality to help others is key to building a tightly-knit, people-centric society.”
With LAU’s upcoming Strategic Plan centered around innovation, the university has embraced Harik’s idea for the Innovation Challenge and encourages other alumni and supporters to get involved in various ways to benefit students and foster their innovation skills. “Inspiring themes and worthwhile projects are potential means to help us achieve our educational mission,” says Nicole Barghoud, LAU director of development. “No doubt, this innovation competition will allow us to get closer to the needs of our students as well as build and maintain strong relationships with the community,” she adds.
Indeed, the university continues to work toward offering students greater innovation related activities and educational opportunities, recently establishing a taskforce composed of several LAU VPs to specifically address this area. “The world is moving at a very fast pace. LAU’s comprehensive innovative initiative will ensure the university’s long-term sustainability, well-being and leadership in the field of higher education in Lebanon and the region,” says Roy Majdalani, vice president of Human Resources and University Services at LAU and head of the innovation taskforce. “This innovation taskforce at LAU plays a role in this effort by examining resources within schools and at the university level that could further enhance opportunities for innovation, and ensure that student and faculty innovation is supported in the best manner possible,” he explains.
At present, the university provides several innovation-related programs and activities every year. This includes an Innovation Camp in partnership with INJAZ Lebanon Initiative and Citibank, which seeks to develop students’ time management, business planning and problem solving abilities among other entrepreneurial skills. The Shell Ecomarathon Workshop is another initiative that allows students to apply innovative ideas to the design, build and drive of energy-efficient vehicles.
On May 22, the Innovation Challenge participating teams will present their prototypes to industry experts and an academic jury for the chance to win substantial financial prizes.