Meet veteran jurors at Stars of Science
03 Oct 2017 - 0:50
By Fazeena Saleem / The Peninsula
As a fresh cohort of young innovators prepare to pit their wits in a new series of Qatar Foundation’s (QF’s) Stars of Science TV programme, all eyes are on three-person judging panel which will ultimately decide who’s in and who’s out.
With everything to play for in the ninth season of the Arab world’s number one science and innovation show — entrants compete for a share of $600,000 in prize money – it’s vital to know what makes the jury tick.
So, who exactly are giving the thumbs up or down this season? Series veteran Professor Fouad Mrad, who has been a mainstay on the show since its first season in 2009, is a man who does not mince his words. “My philosophy is to push candidates to the next level through critical feedback. Life in the innovation world is difficult and you need a thick skin to persevere. You need to be willing to give your all to succeed,” he told The Peninsula.
Professor Mrad earned a doctoral degree in electrical engineering from the prestigious Purdue University in the US. He works as an Executive Director for ESCWA Regional Center for Technology at the United Nations, where he makes sure policies are in place to support the region’s tech entrepreneurs.
Professor Fouad Mrad
Professor Mrad is no stranger to taking risks. He was internally displaced in Lebanon during the country’s civil war, which started in 1975. During a time of insecurity, he found sanctuary in education, which he reasoned, would be his vessel to a better life. After secondary schooling, he landed in Buffalo, New York, thanks to a Hariri Foundation Scholarship.
“This was a life-changing experience. The weather, people, culture, language, and style of education were all very different to what I was used to at home. It took a lot for me to adapt and develop a sense of belonging. I could have easily given up and gone back after a few months. But I knew that to ensure my family was safe for years to come, I had to be determined. I had to make New York my new home. There was no other way. This journey has clearly influenced my style of feedback to Stars of Sciences candidates,” says Professor Mrad.
Professor Mrad ’s fellow jury member, Dr Abdelhamid El Zoheiry, is a mentor to the very core. “I love providing feedback that both educates and entertains. Delivering feedback with humor is actually a tactic – it cuts through the tension and allows you to address a topic head-on. But I never joke with the intention of hurting feelings.”
Dr El Zoheiry is President of the Euro-Mediterranean University in Slovenia and a professor at Cairo University Faculty of Medicine. Dr El Zoheiry’s passion for mentorship grew during his time working with the Egyptian government to encourage scientific innovation in the country.
“What truly excites me is being a facilitator of ideas for innovators. Just like traditional nested Russian dolls, innovators have ideas within ideas. All they need is a skilled observer to help them open their mind to other possibilities.”
“By motivating their imagination, I want to encourage them to become serial innovators.” Dr El Zoheiry also looks at his role in the light of closing the gap between men’s and women’s participation in science. Of the 101 shortlisted candidates across eight seasons of Stars of Science, so far only seven have been women.
“As culture changes, more women are choosing these fields. As men, we must welcome them in order for us all to prosper. I have a strong feeling that soon, we will have a female winner on Stars of Science,” he said.
Dr Abdelhamid El Zoheiry
While, Dr Khalid Al Ali is the newest member of the SOS judging panel. Although he will be making his debut on the show, he is a highly experienced tech entrepreneur and one of the leading minds behind the creation of QF’s Qatar Science and Technology Park.
Dr Al Ali holds the distinction of being the first Qatari to work at NASA and earn a PhD in Mechanical and Electrical Engineering from the prestigious University of California, Berkeley. He was in charge of building and launching spacecraft at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in the US.
Dr Al Ali credits his meteoric rise to one particular episode from his childhood in Qatar when he met Apollo 14 Commander Alan Shepard, the first American in space, who famously hit two golf balls on the moon. As a little boy, Dr Al Ali was intrigued and inspired by the astronaut’s stories. The coincidental encounter turned the young Qatari’s world upside down. From then on, he set his gaze to the stars. His life would revolve around one dream – working at NASA to advance humanity’s drive for space exploration.
Following his decade-long tenure at NASA, Dr Al Ali created and participated in several start-up ventures in Silicon Valley – the most recent of which is Senseta, a world leader in big-data analytics and drone-powered solutions.
His latest foray into the highly competitive startup landscape managed to raise more than four million US dollars in its first venture capital funding round. The company develops innovative technology to leverage big data and drone-powered solutions to make cities and information systems safer and smarter.
To budding innovators he says, “Don’t be shy. It’s all right to be ambitious. It’s all right to be bold. No country or geographic region has a monopoly on innovation and talent. Most importantly, do not let setbacks discourage you from the path of entrepreneurship. Give yourself permission to believe that you can achieve what you set out to do.”