NYU Abu Dhabi is marrying liberal arts with academic research to develop students capable of connecting a changing world, under the watchful guidance of its Vice Chancellor, Al Bloom.
Research and innovation are at the heart of your identity as a university. Can you tell us about the student projects underway at the moment that you think have the potential to make an impact globally?
Our students have embarked on some remarkable projects. Some have designed a mobile app aimed at improving road safety. Others have developed aerial and underwater drones, which earned top honors from the U.A.E. federal government.
Students in our Engineers for Social Impact program, taking advantage of the unique internal structure of plant xylem, recently designed and implemented a potentially life-saving water filter for rural African communities.
A student working with the Imperial College London successfully explored ways of delivering drugs to diseased cells through ultrasound, aiming to create non-invasive surgery techniques to treat cancer and heart disease. Another student studying biology found and tested a bacterium that eradicates a tiny worm that damages crops across the world. This could help to replace a toxic pesticide currently used with a sustainable, organic solution that can help boost crop yield and transform global agriculture.
And, as part of the first-ever Solar Decathlon Middle East, our students are currently designing and constructing a solar-powered, high-efficiency home, with the intent of creating a model of sustainable homes for those living in the U.A.E.’s non-urban areas.
How empowered are young people to act on the issues that are important to them?
I am constantly moved by how profoundly the nation’s youth are inspired by their culture and by the leadership to make formative contributions to their own society and to the development of a more humane world. They actively seek the educational preparation that will allow them to participate in shaping responsible development, intellectual, artistic, economic and technological advances, and a more inclusive and cooperative world.
In your eyes, what makes NYU Abu Dhabi unique in the region?
We offer an innovative model for high-quality education in the 21st century. We draw in students who are not only academically exceptional and passionate about learning, but also committed to building bridges of cooperation across a splintered world. Our model combines the analytic rigor, breadth and depth of the best of liberal arts education with the ability to listen, appreciate differences and forge a shared purpose, which are critical to the global leadership roles that our students want to and will assume.
Central to that is building a student community in which no culture dominates and that allows each student to develop their own sense of ethical and societal priorities. Our student body is14% Emirati, 13% American, and 73% drawn broadly from across six continents.
We embed a liberal arts education within the context of a research university. Students work with the faculty, who are both committed teachers and preeminent scholars, to conduct research that seeks not only conceptual advancement but also the creation of a more productive, informed, just and cooperative world.
NYU Abu Dhabi represents a highly successful partnership between a leading international university and the government of a sovereign nation, creating an institute whose identity is at once American, of and for Abu Dhabi, and of the world. This partnership and multiple identity act as powerful evidence for optimism that worldwide mutual understanding can be achieved.
Education is a powerful tool for change. What are some of the key challenges and responsibilities faced by educators in the current global climate?
The key challenge is to shape an education that strengthens analytical skills and prepares students for building international relationships with respect, understanding and common purpose.
Institutes of higher learning have become keenly cognizant of the need to reflect the cultural diversity of the populations they serve, and to make environmental sustainability a concern central to their missions. We would argue a next step is now imperative. To ensure that undergraduate education serves the needs of an interdependent, vulnerable world, it must begin to develop the capacity to connect that world.
Are there any particular challenges to teaching a liberal arts curriculum in this region? How does the sector in the Middle East differ from the US or Shanghai?
Teaching a liberal arts curriculum in this region, rather than in any way limiting its potential can greatly enhance its educational impact. At the core of the liberal arts is the development of the analytic tools for engaging, analyzing, and setting priorities among differing beliefs about what is true, what is right and what is significant.
The more complex the challenges to one’s assumptions, the more productive the confrontation becomes, and in the end the clearer the recognition of the vast array of similarities we all share, at a deeper level, as human beings.
Practicing liberal arts in an environment different from that of one’s own upbringing helps to develop the skills to join with others in rigorous analysis, respect and sensitivity, to imagine mutual solutions for a better and more cooperative world.
What is your dream for NYU Abu Dhabi? What top three goals are you determined to achieve?
To demonstrate that both liberal arts and research can be comfortably embedded within an institute to the marked benefit of both educational aspirations. To demonstrate how the capacity for listening carefully, appreciating difference and building bridges can become a critical component of undergraduate education. And then to demonstrate how this model of undergraduate education can and must develop leadership for an interdependent and vulnerable world.