New international professor eager to become part of community
Dr. Samy El-Tawab has only been at James Madison University for two years, but he already has big plans for the future.
El-Tawab, an assistant professor of integrated science and technology, came to JMU in 2012 after receiving his Ph.D. in computer science at Old Dominion University.
“I was really happy when I got the offer from JMU,” El-Tawab said. “I used to come visit the Shenandoah Valley, four hours of driving, just to see the beautiful mountains. So, to get a job here is really exciting.”
He wasn’t always so sure that he would have a life here, though. After making the 6,000-mile trek from Alexandria, Egypt, to Virginia, he seriously considered turning back.
“The first six months, especially, were really hard,” he said. “You have a complete life in Egypt, you have your friends, you have your connections, and now you’re coming here and starting from scratch.”
But El-Tawab decided to stick it out, and now he couldn’t be happier with his decision. He said he really enjoys being in a smaller city and one of the main reasons he wants to settle down here is the community at JMU.
“People are very friendly,” he said, “not only with the staying with the doors and all this. No, I’m talking really friendly. If you ask someone about something they will try to give you as much as they can.”
El-Tawab is also excited about all of the opportunities JMU has to offer and plans to take full advantage of them.
“I would like to offer new classes, and get very successful,” El-Tawab said. “So I want feedback from students to be good — not good like easy, I mean good like they really learned something.”
He believes that his experiences will help him to enrich the course material and offer the students a new perspective.
“Sometimes I tell a story in my class about something that happened in Egypt that will teach you something you will not learn from an American professor,” El-Tawab said.
Outside of the classroom, he is working with three undergraduates to create a mobile app that will allow students to find open parking spots on campus.
“By the end of the project, the app should not only tell you whether or not a lot is full, but will also give you options for lots that are close and available,” said Robert Spinosa, a junior ISAT major who is one of the students currently working on the app.
Spinosa said El-Tawab is a fantastic professor and working with him is like working with a friend. “He’s always in a good mood, likes to get down to business, and has some great life stories,” Spinosa said. “The fact that he’s from Egypt allows him to bring a more global perspective to whatever we do.”
Spinosa is grateful that as an undergraduate he has the opportunity to be a part of this project and see the process from “idea to creation to implementation.”
El-Tawab said he is impressed with the work Spinosa and the other students are doing.
“The quality of students at JMU is really high,” El-Tawab said. “I can compare a student’s quality here with a master’s student [elsewhere]. So you can imagine a student in their senior year at JMU is really disciplined, really active and really wants to learn.”
For this, and other reasons, El-Tawab would encourage any international faculty member to come to JMU.
One piece of advice he has for any potential new professors is to meet new people. “Try not to stay in your office and in your lab and just work,” he said. “Try to be social, try to go out.”
El-Tawab was also able to meet new people through social events hosted by the Office of International Programs, the same office that helped him secure his visa and file paperwork for his green card.
The friends El-Tawab has met have helped him learn cultural caveats that he wouldn’t have learned sitting in his office.
“I don’t like sitting in the back seat, but I found every time we were going out, someone would say ‘shotgun.’ I was like ‘what is this?’ ” El-Tawab said. “You learn stuff that you don’t learn in school.”
Thanks to his friends, students and a strong desire to make a difference at JMU, El-Tawab no longer thinks about turning back.
“I feel at home,” he said.
Jen Eyring (’14), JMU Public Affairs
Sept. 25, 2013