Professor Isam Zabalawi

FIEAust CPEng EngExec NER APEC Engineer IntPE(Aus)


Australian College of Kuwait

Professor Isam Zabalawi is the President of the Australian College of Kuwait (ACK). With a PhD in Electrical & Electronics Engineering from Leeds University, he is specialised in analog and digital signal processing and communication techniques. His interests include the communication industry, information technology, technology transfer and higher education development and reform. Professor Zabalawi is a well-published research scholar and prior to joining ACK in 2017, he held senior positions including President of the Arab Academy for Banking & Financial Services, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research in Jordan, Chancellor of the University of Sharjah, Chairman of the Higher Education Accreditation Council of Jordan and founding minister for establishing the German-Jordanian University. He is a Fellow of Engineers Australia and recently achieved his Engineering Executive credentials. Additionally, he is a fellow of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) – United Kingdom, and a Higher Education Reform Expert (HERE’s) with the European Commission and Erasmus+ (Tempus) Office, Jordan.

How long have you been a member of Engineers Australia?
I have been a Fellow Member since 2018.

Why did you pursue a career in engineering?
Engineering creates opportunities to fully extend both sides of the brain. There is a strong need for the left side functions of logic and analytical thinking; however, especially in this conceptual age, there are expanding opportunities associated with the right side functions of creativity and holistic thinking. As a result, throughout my career, I have always enjoyed being part of a team where I can input my specialised knowledge and experiences but at the same time also listen to perspectives from professionals in other disciplines and collectively work toward optimal solutions. During my career I have been most fortunate to work in many different countries, which has opened my eyes to the rich diversity of cultures around the world.

How can Australian communities/people/society benefit from your work now and in the future?
Exponential developments in technology and expansion of knowledge now require ongoing and lifelong learning for engineers. I was most fortunate to work as part of a UNESCO team in Paris along the corridor from the International Commission on Education for the 21st Century, which was considering the approach to learning for coming generations in this new millennium.

Students, graduates and career professionals will increasingly require resilience and maintenance of a positive attitude to view change as an opportunity for future growth, rather than a threat to the present equilibrium. As the leader of an Engineering and Business Tertiary Institution in Kuwait that adopts experiential learning and has strong ties with Engineering Australia and Australian University standards, it is my priority to ensure that our students here receive a rounded world-class education adapted where appropriate to particular circumstances within the MENA region.

I have established strategic partnership arrangements whereby our students and faculty are encouraged to spend time in Australia and we also have ongoing joint research projects, particularly in various engineering fields. We have plans to offer our experiences in transnational experiential education to assist with the establishment of similar technical universities around this region.

What is the most challenging or interesting project you’ve worked on to date?
From a technical perspective, I was most fortunate to chair the tendering committee responsible for the introduction of Mobile Telephony in Jordan. This large scale, multi-dimensional project extended my skills and experience in strategic planning at a national level.

At a personal level, I continue to receive enrichment from being able to lead the development of engineering education programs that are designed to cover all the UNESCO Pillars of Learning identified for holistic formation: Learning to Know, Learning to Do, Learning to Be, Learning to Live Together, and Learning to Transform Oneself and Society. Faced with rapidly changing and globalised work and living environments, as well as a steady drift toward ‘individualisation’, the next generations of engineering professionals must retain a deep sense of connection and engagement for lasting and shared sustainability.

What do you see as one of the biggest issues facing the engineering profession?
Digital and in particular mobile technology now enables engineers to be more flexible and responsive to changing workplace scenarios. I see the greatest and growing challenge into the future being the establishment of professional development programs that enable engineering practitioners to remain at the cutting edge of new knowledge and emerging technologies. There is a need and an associated opportunity here for educational institutions to work collaboratively with industry to develop ongoing virtual and immersive learning programs that can be accessed remotely, but wherever possible with shared connectivity options with other professionals. A broader benefit of such online programs is the richness of collaborations and networking with others in related disciplines who are posited in different locations.

From an umbrella perspective, I am a strong advocate of the CDIO (Conceive, Design, Implement and Operate) approach; not only within educational settings, but also the workplace. It provides a logical and structured approach using systems thinking at both individual and team levels

What excites you about the future of the profession or what opportunities do you see for the future?
Increasingly, engineers are expected to have multidisciplinary skills. Artificial Intelligence and Robotic Assistants will open a whole new workplace environment where the engineer manages the processes and activities of these 24-hour personal tools. Accordingly, engineers will not be time constrained but rather there will be a growing requirement to make the fullest use of digital and mechanical aids. At the same time, since engineers now operate within globalised environments, national borders, practices and standards need to be blended into international accords for the benefit and protection of stakeholders.

Who is your engineering hero?
Professor J. David Rhodes CBE, FRS, FR Eng, possesses a rare combination of exceptional visionary, creative, technical and entrepreneurial skills that resulted in his foundation of Filtronic Components Ltd. in 1977, which then expanded into a multinational microwave enterprise. After completing his doctoral studies in Electrical Engineering in 1966, Professor Rhodes continued his research into Microwave Engineering. Initially, he pursued his private experiments in his own garage outside of his lecturing responsibilities.  Encouraged by his early advances, Professor Rhodes took the risk and stepped up to a commercial level by hiring employees to accelerate the achievement of his goals.

Following his entrepreneurial success with microwaves, in 1992 he expanded into the mobile communications industry with the establishment of Filtronic Comtek. The achievements of Professor Rhodes led to the awarding of his Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1992 and then, in 2002, the Commander of the British Empire (CBE), as well as many Technical and Export Awards.

Professor Rhodes not only had the talent but also the tenacity to back his instincts and convert his research into marketable products. This takes strong self-belief over an extended period of risk and for this reason he has earned my special respect.

Image: courtesy of Professor Isam Zabalawi