Computer Science Professor Receives Prestigious Fulbright Specialist Award
Mehdi Mekni, Ph.D., is among a select group of academics and professionals in the U.S. to receive the competitive Fulbright Specialist Award. He will now complete a project at Mzuzu University in Malawi in Africa that endeavors to establish partnerships, exchange knowledge, and enhance computer science and information technology education.
September 26, 2022
By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications
Mehdi Mekni, Ph.D., has many years of experience in software programming and computer science – in the corporate world, as well as in research and academia. His background and expertise are getting noticed and have led him to a unique opportunity that is positioning him to make even more of a difference while expanding the University’s visibility on an international level.
Coordinator of the University’s undergraduate program in computer science, Dr. Mekni has received a competitive Fulbright Specialist Program Award that will enable him to collaborate with educators at Mzuzu University in Malawi, a country of nearly 20 million people in southeastern Africa. He will help the university enhance and expand its curricula in cybersecurity and networks.
“The idea is to create an institute for communications and technology at both the undergraduate and graduate levels,” he explains. “This would also include creating an affiliation at the international level – and this is where the University of New Haven would come into play.”
‘I want to assist other institutions’
While Mzuzu University offers undergraduate programs in information technology and data science, it hopes to introduce postgraduate courses in cybersecurity and artificial intelligence that would prepare students for in-demand positions industry-wide.
As part of his project, Dr. Mekni will evaluate the proposed curriculum development and help ensure that Mzuzu University’s courses are up-to-date and meet current industry standards. He’d review the current programs and offer direction on how to enhance them. He’d also develop teaching materials and practical labs and help the university improve collaborations with other institutions.
“I think I have a duty to be a part of the process of enhancing education,” said Dr. Mekni. “I want to assist other institutions and help them move forward.”
‘This is a wonderful opportunity’
Dr. Mekni, who had been placed on the highly competitive Fulbright Specialist Roster, was eligible to be matched with projects designed by institutions in more than 150 countries around the world. The Roster, a program of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) and World Learning (an international nonprofit organization), offers academics and professionals in the U.S. opportunities to take part in project-based exchanges at host institutions around the world. It connects professionals and institutions on projects in two dozen disciplines and focus areas that would leverage Fulbright award recipients’ backgrounds and expertise.
"We are very excited to broaden our global educational impact in Africa with Dr. Mekni's work on capacity building in Malawi,” said Ronald Harichandran, Ph.D., P.E., dean of the University’s Tagliatela College of Engineering and vice provost for research. “He will build a relationship between Mzuzu University and the University of New Haven that promises to serve as a bridge to strengthen future collaborations and allow students from Malawi to study at our University."
Recipients of the awards are selected on the basis of academic or professional achievement, demonstrated leadership in their respective fields, and their potential to foster international collaboration. Past recipients have included heads of state, Nobel Laureates, and Pulitzer Prize winners.
“I think the Fulbright program, beyond collaboration, could also create much more global visibility for the University of New Haven,” said Dr. Mekni.
Because of the impact of the pandemic, candidates are serving a four-year tenure rather than a term of three years. Though travel was suspended during the pandemic, it has now restarted. Dr. Mekni’s tenure, which began earlier this year, will continue through February 2026. He plans to go to Malawi later this fall.
“I want to go to Malawi not only to develop and enhance educational programs, but as an ambassador for the University of New Haven,” he said. “My vision is to bring value to both universities. This is a wonderful opportunity.”