by Sal Nudo / Feb 23, 2015
“My village, a global village, carried me through my journey,” says Dr. Fouad Abd-El-Khalick
The academic career of Dr. Fouad Abd-El-Khalick has been filled with important discoveries, valuable collaborations, and innovative teaching. But the associate dean for research and professor of Curriculum & Instruction made it a big point to credit those closest to him during his acceptance of a Grayce Wicall Gauthier Professor of Education appointment Feb. 11 in the Alma Mater Room of the I Hotel in Champaign.
“It takes a village to raise a child,” Abd-El-Khalick said, quoting the ancient African proverb. “Thinking about today only deepened my admiration of this adage and brought into sharp focus my village here at the University of Illinois, a global village that has carried me through my journey to this point.”
The professorship was established in 1995 by University of Illinois alumnus C.J. Gauthier and his late wife, Grayce, also a graduate of the University.
Delivering his acceptance speech in front of more than 60 people, Abd-El-Khalick said his collaborative village included several outstanding mentors, such as Saouma BouJaoude of the American University of Beirut and Norman Lederman of the Illinois Institute of Technology.
He also praised the University itself, calling it a world-class institution with comprehensive and tremendous depth of expertise among faculty, staff, and administrators.
“It is the hard-earned reputation of the University of Illinois and its long history of creating things that make the world a better place that attracted philanthropists and visionaries like Charles and Grayce Gauthier to entrust the University with generous endowments,” Abd-El-Khalick said. “These endowments serve to further enrich our University and advance our work.”
Abd-El-Khalick has been with the College of Education since 2000. He is a prolific writer in the field of science education and has numerous publications in highly ranked journals. Many of his publications are drawn from research that he and colleagues have undertaken while he was principal or co-principal investigator on major research grants. He is also co-editor of one of the top-ranked journals in the field, the Journal of Research in Science Teaching.
In his remarks about Abd-El-Khalick during the ceremony, Provost Ilesanmi Adesida said the investiture of a colleague with an endowed professorship ranks among the most enjoyable events on his calendar. He said the Education at Illinois professor is exploring the edges of science and the practice of both teaching and learning.
“He exemplifies the multidisciplinary, borderless, and comprehensive approach to our grand societal challenges that is necessary to solve the complex issues we face,” said Adesida. “His work is helping us find better and more accessible methods to educate our children, while at the same time creating new understandings of how we ourselves process and translate information to knowledge.”
Speaker Noemi Waight, M.S. ’04 C&I, Ph.D. ’08 C&I, called her former adviser a colleague, mentor, and friend, someone who gives his time selflessly to students. She recalled his feedback on the first draft of her dissertation, an exhaustive period of her life in which Waight didn’t think she had it in her to rework the labored-over piece. After a good cry, she found clarity and made the necessary revisions.
“It helped me identify my moments of strength, moments where my best writing could unfold,” Waight said of the experience. “Most importantly, this was a moment of gratitude. There was someone who was willing to guide me, to help me understand that the writing process improves with time and multiple drafts. Even when weary, we can give birth to great ideas.”
Abd-El-Khalick said his “village playground” encompassed many collegial and hardworking Illinois colleagues, including emeritus psychology professor William Brewer, whom he said was the “epitome of a scholar.”
Brewer returned the compliment while speaking about Abd-El-Khalick, saying his colleague’s studies on science education have made huge contributions to the field.
“He has a tendency to often look and see where the underlying assumptions are, and then go at them. That’s hard because they’re kind of hidden from you,” said Brewer.
During his acceptance speech, Abd-El-Khalick related the numerous wars he endured while growing up in his homeland of Lebanon, mentioning his parents who made vast sacrifices to educate their children, as well as his two sisters, Hala and Hiyam, who are “obviously smarter than me and did great for themselves.” His siblings have advanced degrees and are lifelong learners, according to Abd-El-Khalick.
Rounding out the collaborative community, the Education professor acknowledged the incredible support and sacrifices of his wife, Lama, who was also in attendance.
“I hope by now you all are convinced that, indeed, it takes a village to raise a child,” Abd-El-Khalick repeated at the conclusion of his remarks. “This child is deeply thankful and appreciative of all your support, guidance, and sacrifice over the years.”
In addition to the professorship in Education, the late Mr. Gauthier also endowed two professorships in the College of Engineering at the University of Illinois. Recipients are those whose work has the potential to change our understanding of all the contexts in which learning takes place, with a focus on entrepreneurship education. Professor Nick Burbules was named a Grayce Wicall Gauthier professor in the College of Education.