The Mesquite Online News - Texas A&M University-San Antonio

New provost hopes to engineer a bright future for A&M-San Antonio

New provost hopes to engineer a bright future for A&M-San Antonio - The Mesquite Online News - Texas A&M University-San Antonio

Dr. Mohamed Abdelrahman, Texas A&M University-San Antonio's provost, addresses the Faculty Senate at a meeting on Sept. 2, 2022. Photo by Amber Esparza

Higher education has always been a part of Dr. Mohamed Abdelrahman’s DNA. Abdelrahman, who took on the role of provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Texas A&M University-San Antonio in July, is proud to be the second in his family to find a calling in higher learning.

Abdelrahman’s father is an economics professor in Egypt, still teaching full time at age 85. 

“He was not just the first generation from his family … he was probably one of the very first that went to college from his whole village,” Abdelrahman said.

Even attending high school required Abdelrahman’s father to take two separate trips to get to the school in the closest large city.

“This is something that was always inspiring to me when I think about it, how much he made my life a lot easier by doing this,” Abdelrahman said.

Abdelrahman’s father (center, green check coat) with his graduate students in Egypt, sometime during the 1990s. Photo caption updated at 1:15 p.m. Oct. 18, 2022. Photo courtesy of Dr. Mohamed Abdelrahman.

With a professor for a father, it wasn’t a question of whether Abdelrahman would go to college, but where he would get his Ph.D. It ended up being from Idaho State University, in nuclear science and engineering.

Abdelrahman came to the United States and Idaho after completing a bachelor’s degree in electronics and telecommunications engineering and a master’s in engineering physics, faculty of engineering at Cairo University.

After growing up watching American movies and television shows like “Bewitched,” “The Six Million Dollar Man,” “Bionic Woman” and “Dallas,” Abdelrahman always aspired to come to the United States for his Ph.D. Luckily, he had a strong educational foundation to lean on.

“I think my education in Egypt was strong enough that that transition felt very, very smooth coming here,” Abdelrahman said.

Abdelrahman didn’t have much time to fully process the transition from a city of 20 million people to one of just 100,000 when he first came to the U.S. to study in Pocatello, Idaho. In addition to his demanding engineering studies, his family was also growing.

“We had two kids during that period,” Abdelrahman said. “So those four years, I had two degrees and two kids. It was a very busy time.” 

After achieving a second master’s degree in measurements and controls engineering in addition to the Ph.D., Abdelrahman taught for several years in the electrical engineering department at Tennessee Tech University.

While he would eventually move over to the administrative side of higher education, Abdelrahman got a lot of satisfaction from teaching.

“One of the things I enjoy the most is when a student from the past reaches out to me … and thanks me for some knowledge that they gained in a class,” Abdelrahman said. “The humans you produce, their success becomes part of your success, your legacy. So it’s like a living legacy.”

Abdelrahman’s ability to connect with students is one of the traits that A&M-San Antonio President Dr. Cynthia Teniente-Matson admires in him.

“He has a clarity of understanding of the research agenda, the academic portfolio that we’re building and the needs of our students. I see him being a real champion for equity and student success,” Matson said in an Oct. 5 interview. 

Engineering change

From a young age, Abdelrahman enjoyed building electric circuits and fixing electric items around the house. Combining that love with a talent for mathematics, it’s no surprise engineering became his chosen field of study. 

Abdelrahman’s engineering background is something he has drawn on throughout his career in higher education. He sees problems from an engineer’s perspective, a valuable skill to have as an administrator.

“You’re kind of distilling a lot of facts and a lot of figures into just ‘OK, here are the things that are relevant to the problem at hand’ and then finding a solution,” Abdelrahman said. 

It’s this penchant for problem solving that initially attracted Abdelrahman to administration. 

Abdelrahman said as a professor he began enjoying organizing teams and solving problems more and more.

“The administrative platform gives you that ability,” Abdelrahman said. “Administration gives you a platform from which you can reach out and help others learn how to solve problems.”

As the provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at Colorado State University-Pueblo, Abdelrahman led efforts to restructure the university’s academic affairs. 

Despite his success on the project, Abdelrahman won’t take all of the credit.

“Not all the ideas that were part of that restructuring are my ideas,” Abdelrahman said. “It’s just allowing others to think big and then you help them implement that idea.” 

It’s these philosophies that Abdelrahman hopes to bring to A&M-San Antonio.

Abdelrahman developed a connection to South Texas during his time at Texas A&M University-Kingsville, where he served first as associate dean of engineering, then as associate vice president for research and dean of graduate students 2010-2016. 

Coming back to South Texas and to A&M-San Antonio is giving Abdelrahman a chance to shape the future of a university and help it grow into its name.

“Everyone knows the Texas A&M system, everybody loves San Antonio … Together, the two is a very powerful combination,” Abdelrahman said. “I think we are going to grow into that name.”

Abdelrahman played a major role in restructuring at CSU-Pueblo, but he said that with a university more established, changes have to be made more incrementally. With A&M-San Antonio being significantly younger, the situation is different.

“One of the most attractive things at A&M-San Antonio is the opportunity to shape, working with all the faculty, staff and other administrators, the future of the university,” Abdelrahman said. “You don’t get that very often.”

After just under three months on the job, Abdelrahman is excited to start shaping that future.

“There is a lot of things that we can do. I don’t want to say it’s being a kid in a candy store, there is just a lot of things that can be impactful,” Abdelrahman said. “This is what I love, I love building; that’s the engineering part of it.”

Administrative cooperation

Abdelrahman is also impressed by the people he will be working with.

“The people I have worked with so far — from the president, to the faculty, the Faculty Senate and the staff — are just amazing,” Abdelrahman said. “Everybody is so dedicated, and you can see the passion in everyone.” 

President Matson has been equally impressed with Abdelrahman.

“Dr. Mohamed Abdelrahman has been phenomenal,” Matson said. “He has hit the ground running, as they say.” 

Dr. James Finley, Faculty Senate secretary and associate professor of English, also spoke positively about the start of Abdelrahman’s relationship with the senate.

“What I have seen is a commitment, not just a willingness, but a commitment to working with us,” Finley said in a Sept. 8 interview. “I think that the work we do is better when we’re accountable to each other.”

Abdelrahman acknowledged that there will be significant challenges he faces in his new position.

One of the biggest challenges Abdelrahman expects to face is being able to balance growth with funding. 

Abdelrahman family portrait. Photo courtesy of Dr. Mohamed Abdelrahman.

“We have a lot of big ideas … balancing this growth so that it is still controlled and so we do not get overwhelmed, it can be a big challenge,” Abdelrahman said. “There’s so much that you can do in so many directions. So where do you spend your efforts so you get the most bang for your buck?”

Abdelrahman already has some priorities for what to tackle first in striving for academic excellence.

“It’s a balance between recruiting and retaining the best faculty, which requires you to focus on compensation for the faculty; recognizing the excellence of the faculty; increasing the diversity of the faculty,” Abdelrahman said.

Aside from his career, Abdelrahman’s main passion is his family. His face lit up as he spoke about his 2 1/2-year-old granddaughter.

“She is really the light of my life. We have to talk every night. Family is my real passion,” Abdelrahman said.

Just as Abdelrahman enjoys seeing the impact he has had on his past students, he values the impact he has on his family.

“Humans matter most,” Abdelrahman said. “When you talk about students, it’s not about a paper published. I really like it more when I see the impact on a student that’s in my class that learns something that they can apply outside. It’s very similar with my kids and my grandkids now. It’s always about ‘what impact do I have on their life and they have on mine?’”

Sergio Medina contributed to this story.

About the Author

Graham Hotard
Graham Hotard is a communication junior at Texas A&M University-San Antonio. He transferred after receiving an associate degree from San Antonio College and is a full-time student. He is an avid fan of all things science fiction and fantasy. In his free time he loves to listen to audio books, play video games, watch football and spend time with his dog Luna. He plans to pursue a career in writing after graduating.

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