The Charger Blog

New Professor is Passionate About Creating Opportunities for Computer Science Students

One of the newest members of the University of New Haven's Connecticut Institute of Technology, Mehdi Mekni, Ph.D., is committed to growing the University’s computer science program while creating new opportunities for students who share his passions for software engineering and gaming.

November 12, 2020

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

Image of Mehdi Mekni, Ph.D., in The Stable.
Mehdi Mekni, Ph.D., in “The Stable,” the University’s state-of-the-art esports training and competition space.

Mehdi Mekni, Ph.D., has always been passionate about gaming, and it was actually a gaming console that led him to discover his interest in electronics. As a kid, he was curious about how the consoles are assembled, and he began tinkering with them. He admits he “messed up a few of them” – a price he willingly paid to explore and learn.

Dr. Mekni, one of the newest members in the University’s Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering and Computer Science and its Connecticut Institute of Technology, has remained curious and excited about learning and discovery, and he says these traits that have guided him both as a student and as a professor. When he began to learn more about computing, he found it easy to understand, and he knew he’d found his calling.

“I think I was a good fit for the discipline, in terms of both technical and the personal skills,” he said. “That’s what I try to transmit to my students now. It’s not just about the hard skills, about computing. Soft skills are important too.”

‘I bleed computer science and software engineering’

Now an associate professor of computer science and cybersecurity at the University of New Haven, Dr. Mekni brings to the classroom his inquisitive nature and his background that spans academia and the corporate world.

After serving as a professor of computer science and game development at the University of Minnesota, he created and went on to become the coordinator for the BS in software engineering and the Professional Science Master of Software Engineering program at St. Cloud State University. A hybrid program, the BS in software engineering was designed to be taught in person and online, reaching students around the world. The master’s in software engineering program was offered fully online. After four years, Dr. Mekni became adept at teaching remote and hybrid classes, and he was well-prepared for teaching during the coronavirus global pandemic.

Although Dr. Mekni and his family moved into their new home the day Tropical Storm Isaias hit Connecticut, and they were without power for a week, he was excited and ready to begin teaching at the University of New Haven at the start of the fall semester. His vision is to expand and enhance the computer science program.

“I came to the University with the awareness that it has built a reputation for itself as being a hub for cybersecurity,” he explained. “I bleed computer science and software engineering. We have a successful, well-designed computer science program, and my plan is to grow the program and make it as successful as the cybersecurity program. I would like to add another badge to the University to make it the place for computer science as well.”

‘We’re more than teachers’

Leading and growing successful programs is something Dr. Mekni is intimately familiar with. Under his leadership, the bachelor’s degree program in software engineering at St. Cloud State grew from nine students in 2016 to 300 students upon his departure earlier this year. He also helped the school develop partnerships with leading companies with offices in Minnesota, including Boston Scientific, Best Buy, and Delta. He is well-versed in the corporate world as well, having worked with Vermeg, Ubisoft, and Futjitsu.

Image of Mehdi Mekni, Ph.D..
Mehdi Mekni, Ph.D.

An interdisciplinary researcher, Dr. Mekni’s work brings together fields such as software engineering, computer simulation, and artificial intelligence. While pursuing his master’s degree, which he earned at Laval University in Quebec City, he conducted research funded by a leading cell phone operator in Canada. His work focused on mobile networking, aiming to increase cell service coverage quality while reducing the cost of antennae. It prepared him for his doctorate, which he earned four years later from Laval. He then spent two years as a post-doctoral fellow at Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique in Quebec.

As part of his doctoral studies, Dr. Mekni worked on simulators for Canadian National Railway, helping to develop a predictive system that could prevent obstacles. His work also focused on crowd control simulation, exploring the impact of factors such as police and terrain on crowd movement. His thesis, which was published as a book, earned him the William L. Garrison Award for Best Dissertation in Computational Geography.

Embracing his new role at the University of New Haven, Dr. Mekni is now focused on computer science education and on creating meaningful relationships with his new colleagues and students.

“I’m very impressed by the research and the important work that faculty are doing at the University,” he said. “The pandemic has revealed the human side of all instructors, and all of us are coaching each other and helping each other to continue to grow as educators. We’re more than teachers, and our roles go beyond the classroom, as we ensure that our students are staying engaged and healthy.”

‘Making a living while living your passion is a wonderful combination’

Dr. Mekni is also bringing his passion for gaming to the University, and he is creating a new game development concentration in computer science. The concentration, which will be a unique opportunity for students to learn about game design, the use of extended reality, virtual reality, and augmented reality, is one of the many ways he is endeavoring to grow the computer science program. He envisions opportunities for the gamers of the future to do everything from learning how games work to creating their own startups developing or selling games.

“Making a living while living your passion is a wonderful combination that we would like to offer to the students who are passionate about gaming,” he said. “We want to help them use their expertise and experience and become the builders, developers, and creators of games.”