Prof. David Kieda, Chair of the Department of Physics & Astronomy at the University of Utah, have been working with one of their department's Ph.D graduates, Mohammed Al-Seady (now professor at Jazan University), to develop a scientific and cultural exchange program with Jazan University, Saudi Arabia. In February 2012, Profs. Kieda and Saam visited Jazan University to explore potential common interests in the establishment of a faculty- and student-exchange agreement. The long-term goals of the exchange program are to enable Jazan University students to enroll at the University of Utah and persue graduate degrees in mathematics, science, and engineering as well as immersive study of the English language. The joint exchange agreement will eventually allow direct faculty and student exchanges with Jazan University, thereby providing the University of Utah community first-hand experiences in the culture, academic structure, and politics of the Saudi kingdom.
During summer 2012, a pilot project of the exhange agreement was carried out by Dr. Tino Nyawelo of the University of Utah Center for Science and Math Education. Dr. Al-Seady accompanied five undergraduate physics students from Jazan University on a five-week summer research experience in the Department of Physics & Astronomy. During the visit, the students spent mornings taking intensive language classes at the University of Utah English Language Institute; and spent afternoons attending lectures, working in research labs, and completing training projects in the Department's student machine shop, optoelectronic materials, and nano-fabrication facilities. The pilot research program marked the first time the Jazan University students had left their home country, and it exposed them to a wide range of new scientific and cultural experiences. In the evenings and weekends, the Jazan University students and mentors explored Salt Lake City and Park City, and visited the Telescope Array cosmic ray research project, near the rural town of Delta, Utah.
The Saudi government has set a long-term goal of raising the technological literacy of it's citizens to prepare them for the development of a future technology-based economy in the kingdom. During the past five years, the kingdom has been investing heavily in construction and development of major regional universities serving the general population, and in the establishment of new research and cultural ties with Western society. It is anticipated that during the 2012-2013 academic year, a delegation of faculty members from Jazan University, including the President of Jazan University and the Dean of the College of Science, will visit the University of Utah to continue to develop and expand the pilot exchange agreement. Drs. Kieda, Saam, and Nyawelo also anticipate visiting Jazan University with a wider delegation of University of Utah faculty members during spring 2013 to consider expanding the exchange agreement to include graduate students and faculty in Science, Engineering, and Mathematics. The exchange agreement may also include involvement of Jazan University faculty in ongoing research projects at the University of Utah.