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UWF Professors Earn Rite Of Passage

Michael Spooneybarger/ CREO

The University of West Florida celebrated the promotion of two of its own to the rank of full professor during the first Rite of Passage lecture series of 2016.

Honored for their achievements during the event held Jan. 15 at the UWF Argonaut Athletic Club were Dr. Mohamed Khabou, professor of electrical and computer engineering in the College of Science and Engineering, and Dr. Carla Thompson, professor of research and advanced studies in the College of Education and Professional Studies.

“This has been quite a journey for them, and to get to the rank of professor at a university starts with at least 20 years of formal education,” said Dr. Martha Saunders, provost and executive vice president of UWF, who introduced the lecture series.

The Rite of Passage series gives recently promoted professors the opportunity to share with colleagues, students and other members of the community their journeys and the lessons they’ve learned along their educational paths.

Khabou, who joined UWF’s Electrical and Computer Engineering Department in 2002 and currently serves as the department’s chair, gave a lecture entitled “For the Love of Engineering: My Journey from North Africa to North America.”

Credit Michael Spooneybarger/ CREO
Dr. Mohamed Khabou speaks during the Rite of Passage lecture series at the University of West Florida Friday January 15, 2016 in Pensacola, Florida.

A native of Tunisia, Khabou said his home country is “rich in human resources,” spending 33 percent of its budget on education. While he said Tunisia’s academic standards are rigorous, Khabou excelled, graduating high school in the top 1 percent in the nation. He told the crowd his interest in engineering came at an early age.

“I like the beauty of engineering, the design aspect, the precision of it, building something out of nothing, basically,” Khabou said. “That’s what attracted me.”

Khabou earned a doctoral degree in electrical engineering from the University of Missouri in 1999.

Khabou has worked on a host of research projects, including automatic recognition of handwritten ZIP codes, landmine detection using ground penetrating radar and human face detection and recognition.

He stressed that collaboration was a key in the success of his research.

“My strategy was to collaborate,” he told the audience. “Involve students in your research; involve your colleagues in your research – inside the University, outside the University.”

Thompson, who has been with the University since 2006, founded the UWF Community Outreach Research and Learning Center in 2007. She presented a lecture entitled “Forever Changed” that detailed her educational and teaching journey.

Thompson said her personal teaching and research agenda for almost 40 years has been focused on the area of “math anxiety” in both children and adults.

She said her experience serving as an assistant for one of her elementary school teachers and in learning “new math” inspired her and she knew at that time she wanted to major in mathematics.

Thompson gave a few examples of students from different backgrounds who influenced her teaching career, who she said “spearheaded a long line of students, all ages and all walks of life, who created the tenets for change and initiated my personal self-assessment of who I am as an educator.

“Teaching in the classroom opened my eyes to the meaning of educational philosophy as the foundation for change rather than just a course in a graduate program of study,” she said.

Thompson, who has also served as a faculty member for several universities in Oklahoma, shared with the crowd several of her personal tenets, including the importance of focusing on student needs.

“Student needs are far more important than institutional needs,” she said. “Therefore, changes within the institutions should reflect student needs.”

Richard Conn works as a staff writer for the Center for Research and Economic Opportunity at the University of West Florida.