NEDians Demonstrate the American Spirit in Supporting Their Alma Mater
By Akhtar M. Faruqui
Pictures by Anwar Khawaja
Anaheim, CA: Pakistanis in the United States often pride on their ‘American’ identity. But not many of them share the American zest for fostering education and technology that has served as a singular stimulus to all-round economic and social change in the United States. The NED Alumni Association, and a small group of visionaries, provide a glaring exception to this disconcerting ‘Pakistani-American’ trend.
In the short span of five years, the NED alumni’s successes have been many and, what is more, sustained. Outgoing president Ahmed Ali proudly asserts the accomplishments “are nothing short of extraordinary,” and rightly so. The number of scholarships given to NED students alone has quadrupled during 2008-2011. Besides, quite a few well-meaning initiatives have been taken to induct a wholesome change in the teaching program of the NED University of Engineering and Technology, Karachi, Pakistan.
A function at the Cerritos Sheraton on Saturday, June 19, to ‘meet and greet’ Vice-Chancellor Abul Kalam, turned out to be a rare concourse spotlighting the alumni’s sincere strivings to give a much-needed fillip to technical education in Pakistan.
Described as a ‘transformational figure’ by Engineer Ahmed Ali, the octogenarian Vice-Chancellor truly deserved the compliment. Said Ahmed: In 1996 when he took over NED, there were only four undergraduate programs at the university, now there are 22! In 1996, it took six years to complete the four-year degree program, today it takes four years to complete the four-year degree. In 1996, between 350 to 400 students received the bachelor’s degree, in the convocation on February 20th this year, 1771 students graduated, including over 200 who received their post-graduate degree.
VC Abul Kalam made a profound impact on the gathering with his impeccable demeanor and edifying observations. He paid glowing tributes to the university faculty, describing its members as “solid gold,” and showed appreciation for the “awakening in the US that the alumni should do something for the students.” He apprized the gathering of the growing number of students graduating from the university - 1771 in 2011 - of whom 38.5% were girls. The Vice-Chancellor asked the NED graduates to maintain a regular rapport with the alma mater and urged those intending to visit Pakistan to “drop an email defining your expertise and we will be able to arrange your lecture at the NED University ...”
The NED University of Engineering and Technology (NEDUET) offers degrees in 19 disciplines along with masters and doctoral programs, its students body is 7000-strong, and the faculty is not gender-based - women and men are in about equal numbers, claims the alumni’s newsletter.
Engineer Ashraf Habibullah presented the evening’s keynote address laced with hilarious anecdotes and witticism. He furnished fresh proof of the adage “boys will be boys” and his reminisces of life spent in Pakistan led to spontaneous bursts of laughter time and again. The lad, who failed five times in getting admission to a Catholic school and mistook the word monk to be the feminine of monkey, today heads a leading American software company that is successfully executing prestigious projects in 150 countries of the world! Many in the audience realized, though belatedly, that being dumb at school like Einstein, has rewards in later life. Habibullah endeared himself to the audience with his plain talking and earnestness: he owed a great deal to his teachers who “instilled in me the quest to learn, transformed me into someone who was trying to learn ...” and proudly recalled “the things that NED did for me.” Before concluding his scintillating address - deserving the best superlatives - he announced a handsome donation of $25,000 for his alma mater.
Dr Farhat Siddiqi, President, NEDAASC, welcomed the NED alumni. “NED has done wonders for us all,“ he acknowledged, and added, “I grew up dirt poor in Karachi running around bare feet because my mom couldn’t afford to buy me the new sandals. For the last 17 years I have owned an engineering company in Orange County. It’s all due to the love of my parents and almost the same kind of love from my teachers at NED.
“NED was short of good furniture but was never short of love and support. The Silicon Valley is full of NED alumni who founded or co-founded numerous technology firms. NED produced world famous engineers including the world renowned structural engineer, Ashraf Habibullah ...”
Earlier, outgoing President Ahmed Ali presented an introduction to NEDIANN-NA while Iqbal Ahmed furnished an introduction to NEDAASC.
Sharing impressions of his visit to the NED University of Engineering and Technology in the alumni’s newsletter, Engineer Ahmed Ali made several incisive observations: “I came away from my tour with the belief that the alumni can make a great difference by supplementing the resources available to NEDUET. The university and its staff will be well served if all of the chapters under the NEDIAN-NA umbrella can provide seminars via satellite or in person at the campus, which could be of a few hours, days, weeks, semester or an entire academic year. We have had some success in this area but we need to develop a more comprehensive outreach program. Other areas that we should work on are to develop a mentoring program for the students and provide assistance in writing technical papers for presentation at national and international symposiums and conferences. In addition, we can help students interested in going overseas to locate sources of funding and scholarships ...”
A qawwali presentation by the Fana-fillah group, the only American traditional qawwali party performing in Pakistan, India and the USA since 2001, was an enlivening feature of the evening. Aminah Chishty Qawwal has been a leading force in the art of Pakistani tabla. A student of the great Ustad Dildar Hussain Khan, Aminah has performed at the shrines of Pakistan’s great saints. With the blessings of Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s lineage they aspire to represent the might and magic of this sacred form of music in the West. Their performance was memorable. Clapping in unison and raising their voice to high decibels to resonate in the spacious hall, the Fana-fillah group appeared to cast a spell on the charged and appreciative crowd.