Penn College President Visits University in United Arab Emirates

Published 04.14.2004


When Pennsylvania College of Technology President Dr. Davie Jane Gilmour visited American University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates recently, she found its students to be remarkably similar to their American counterparts, including those at the institution she leads.

Dr. Gilmour, who traveled to the university last month as part of a six-member Middle States Commission on Higher Education evaluation team, said the similarities between campus life there and at Penn College are striking.

"I attended a career fair and found it very much like our career fairs," she said. "Halfway around the world, the students' No. 1 issue is parking. The student art and design projects looked familiar to me. They have similar student organizations and activities, and their Student Council is very much like our Student Government Association."

AUS is a coeducational university developed in affiliation with American University in Washington, D.C. The university also has signed an affiliation agreement with Texas A&M University for the development of a College of Engineering. The university is licensed by the U.A.E. Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research and in the United States by the Department of Education in Delaware, offering bachelor's and graduate degrees.

The university's 3,500 students can earn degrees in 23 majors offered by the College of Arts and Sciences and three schools: Architecture and Design, Business and Management, and Engineering. AUS students hail from more than 60 countries worldwide. While most of the students are from the Middle East, all of the instruction is conducted in English. The university, which was founded in 1997 with just 282 students, has undergone remarkable growth in a short period of time, Dr. Gilmour noted.

Sharjah is the third-largest of the seven states that comprise the United Arab Emirates, a nation of some 3.4 million people (July 2003 estimate).

Located on the Arabian Gulf in the west and the Gulf of Oman and the Indian Ocean in the east, Sharjah is bordered by Saudi Arabia and Oman. Its population rose from 159,595 in 1985 to 500,000 in 1995. The majority of people living in Sharjah are based in the city, which has an estimated population of 350,000 (1995 census).

While her visit coincided with a time of great unrest in the Middle East, Dr. Gilmour said she never once feared for her safety while touring the university or traveling in the city and country. She said there were no outward signs of heightened security, and Sharjah residents were observed enjoying picnics and evening strolls along a lagoon that is a popular gathering site in the city.

"I felt very safe," she said of her travels. "I've been to places in this country since then that I have felt less safe."

During her March 11-18 visit, the president had an opportunity to tour the AUS campus and meet with students and faculty. She also visited other sites in the city and country, and she came away impressed by all that she saw and heard.

"The buildings are beautiful; the architecture is stunning," she said. "All of the people we met in the city and country were friendly and warm. Unfortunately, many Americans have an inappropriate stereotype. It truly was a wonderful experience."