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March 3, 2011 - 4:39pm

Professor Profile: Fawwaz Ulaby


In a university with more than 41,000 students, many undergraduates’ early academic experiences include massive lecture halls and a sense of anonymity from their professors. However, in Professor Fawwaz Ulaby’s electrical engineering classes, namelessness is not an option.

Ulaby meets with every student in his classes at least once during the semester to help the student in any way he can, offering advice for everything from course material to a career path. Many students return to Ulaby’s office, meeting with him several times throughout the semester.

Though this may seem fairly simplistic, Ulaby currently teaches an introductory electrical engineering class of approximately 185 students.

For him, the time commitment created by student meetings is significant, but worth it.

“I find (the meetings) to be exceedingly rewarding because it’s something the students really need,” Ulaby said. “They’re making so many critical decisions, and yet we do not have an easy mechanism for someone who understands the discipline they’re working in (to) guide them in the direction that is of interest to them.”

Ulaby began his career by majoring in physics at the American University of Beirut in 1964. He then earned a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the University of Texas and began teaching as a professor immediately after, at age 24. Ulaby’s long career has produced 14 textbooks and many accolades.

In addition to the 26 years Ulaby has taught at the University, he spent two years in Saudi Arabia contributing to the creation of a new scientific university for graduate study.

Ulaby held the position of Vice President for Research at the University prior to his departure, and returned in 2009 as the Arthur Thurnau Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

The shift in job description is typical for Ulaby, who said he enjoys teaching both introductory classes and graduate classes to maintain his interest and enthusiasm.

Ulaby added that he prefers to teach in a traditional style and places an emphasis on human interaction instead of technology. He said that in his experience, most students favor familiarity with their professor over websites like CTools.

“I’m not very keen on all of the emphasis on new technologies because even though they’re intended to make things more available to students, it has become excessive,” Ulaby said.

Ulaby’s passion for furthering students’ education is evidenced by the 115 graduate students who have earned a Ph.D. with his sponsorship. Though he has worked with students and educators all over the world, Ulaby said he considers his decision to come to the University the “best (he) ever made.”