Giving Back to my Country: The Largest Online Boot Camp in Algeria

On May 15, 16 and 17th, 2020, I collaborated with the very talented and hard working Dr. Mourad Bouache (Performance Engineering and AI Manager at Yahoo in San Jose, California) and Dr. Mohamed Senouci (Assisitant Professor of Embedded Systems and Smart IOTs at ECE in Paris, France), to create the largest 3-day online boot camp in Algeria.

Because of the current global pandemic, our plan to organize a face to face boot camp in the west and south of Algeria fell through and we had to think of something quickly. While in person experiences are priceless, this virtual initiative was a chance to convene Algerians from all over (including abroad) in order to fulfill the noble goal of disseminating knowledge and science for all.

The objective of this initiative was to gather a few of the most brilliant Algerian minds abroad for a series of lectures and workshops which lasted 3 days. Initially, we targeted Algerian students and researchers, but the overwhelming interest in this initiative broadened our audience tremendously and we ended up with the largest virtual boot camp in Algeria, with no less than 15,000 students, professionals, and educators watching live on Youtube and Facebook. We were live for about 5 straight hours each day, which included the presentations and the Q&A session.

We started around 9 pm (Algeria time) each night in order to allow our audience to break their fast during the holy month of Ramadan. We were amazed to see that the majority of our participants stayed up well into the wee hours of the nights.

Day 1:

Dr. Mourad Bouache kicked off the boot camp with an inspiring talk about why we organized this event and how such initiatives would have positive and motivational effects on our youth and beyond.

Then, Dr. Mohamed Senouci, a world renown researcher based in France and an expert in AI for CPS (Cyber Physical Systems), Smart Embedded Systems Design, Embedded HW/SW Deep Learning, Multi-CPU/FPGA platform based co-design, smart/autonomous vehicles applications, dependability/reliability of embedded systems, and vision based smart cameras; presented about "Machine Intelligence, Autonomous Vehicles!" and made us imagine a future full of possibilities.

After that, Dr. Fatima Bencheikh, a world class scientist based in Japan who specializes in organic optoelectronic devices with a focus on OLED and organic semiconductor lasers; eloquently presented about "Lighting up the future, new tech for smart devices". She was met with tremendous enthusiasm and interest among our participants who enjoyed her poised and pedagogical way of presenting a topic of paramount importance.

Lastly, Pr. Nouar Tabet, a highly respectable and erudite physicist based in the UAE who researches silicon and perovskite solar cells, nanomaterials, and thin films; presented a thought provoking lecture on "Solar Technologies: The Race for a Lower Cost of Energy" which is of utmost importance for Algeria and its future. His ability to reach his audience with accessible language while discussing highly complex matters was truly impressive.

You can watch the video from Day 1 here

Screen shot taken on day 2

Day 2:

Dr. Saoussen Cheddadi (myself), who specializes in American and international studies, higher education and the transnational movement of intellectual subjects; presented about "academic research for a successful dissertation". I discussed plagiarism, among other topics, and how Algerian students can use strategies to improve their academic writing. You can find the slides of my presentation in the following file

Academic Research HomeCamp2020.pdf

Download PDF • 5.06MB

Pr. Noureddine Melikechi, a distinguished physicist and inventor, Professor of Physics and the Dean of the Kennedy College of Sciences at the University of Massachusetts Lowell based in the U.S who is a member of two of the largest NASA missions to the planet Mars, Curiosity and Perseverance, works on the interactions of atoms and molecules with photons, and on the identification and diagnostics of early signs of cancers and Alzheimer’s. He presented about "Science in an Increasingly Complex World". Participants were astounded at his humility as well as his ability to convey important messages in science and beyond. His valuable set of advice to students during the Q&A had a great impact and yielded overwhelmingly positive feedback.

You can watch the video from Day 2 here

Day 3

Dr. Mourad Bouache, an eminent computer scientist based in the U.S. who is the

Performance Engineering leader for Data Center, Hardware and Software Optimization, 5G and Artificial Intelligence at Verizon Media in San Jose, California; presented about "Artificial Intelligence, 5G Internet and Startups". The audience highly appreciated his generosity in providing so much information as well as how his past experiences and struggles in Algeria were relatable to the Algerian students today. His down to earth attitude and ability to catch the audience attention with story telling were among the highlights of this boot camp.

Last but not least, Pr. Belgacem Haba, an internationally renown inventor based in the U.S. who holds over 500 U.S. patents, and close to 1500 patents and patent applications worldwide, and currently works on the development of 3D technologies for mobiles and servers alike; presented about "History of Electronics to the 4th Industrial Revolution". His scientific stardom among Algerians and beyond brought in even more participants on Day 3 which was the culmination of a very successful 3-day boot camp.

You can watch the video from Day 3 here

This ambitious event would not have been possible without the relentless work of our team: Akram, Salma, Fethi, Kenza and Yasmine.

Mourad, Mohamed and I are working on exciting future projects as we continue to give back to our country, Algeria, and to lift our youth through education and science.

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Mourad's Youtube channel Moubachir Silicon Valley

Mohamed's Youtube channel Nokhab

My Fulbright Experience in the U.S.

“Once a Fulbrighter, Always a Fulbrighter”. This is what we are taught at the beginning of the Fulbright Journey. The sense of pride and prestige that we get as Fulbright grantees lasts, indeed, a lifetime.

Initiated in 1946 and funded by The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of The U.S. State Department, the program aims to increase mutual understanding between the U.S. and other countries, promote peace, innovation, creativity and knowledge that transcends borders. Since it began in 1946, more than 360,000 Fulbrighters from over 155 countries have participated in the program. There are several types of Fulbright grants, the one I talk about in this post is the Fulbright Foreign Student program which allows students around the world to experience the American higher education and earn a graduate degree.

In Algeria, my home country, the number of grantees selected annually is very limited, making the Fulbright program even more competitive. Indeed, between 2008-2018, there have been 75 Algerian grantees of the Foreign Student Fulbright scholarship. From 1949 to 2018, only a total of 217 Algerian Fulbright students were granted the scholarship. When compared to other countries in the MENA region, Moroccan Fulbright student grantees for example, totaled 904 within the same period. It is consequently evident that Algeria has had very limited funding from the U.S. State Department since 1949.

The Fulbright grantees in Algeria are chosen through a merit based open competition which is advertised on the U.S. embassy in Algeria website as well as their social media and some local newspapers. There are 3 major steps for the Fulbright application process: 1) the Online application. 2) Pre-selection and interview at the U.S. embassy in Algiers. And 3) Final selection from U.S. universities contingent of budget approval in Washington DC. This process takes nearly one year to complete.

First days

In May 2011, I was among the 7 selected grantees and was sent to the University of Kansas (KU) to pursue my MA in American studies. On July 6th, 2011, I land for the first time at the Kansas City airport and meet with a group of volunteers from KU that the Fulbright Program had pre-arranged to welcome the new arriving Fulbright students from several countries. We head to the KU main campus in Lawrence, Kansas to start my Fulbright pre-academic program the next day that summer. As we drive from the airport, I remember thinking about how privileged I felt to be part of this prestigious experience and how challenging it was to get here. I think about the Fulbright application process throughout that previous year, the wait, the standardized tests, the interview at the U.S. embassy in Algiers and the day I learned that I was granted the scholarship to pursue my MA in American studies at KU.

The much-needed pre-academic program not only taught us how to navigate graduate school and assignments, it also showed me how the American Higher Education system works. I get to pick my own elective classes? what are electives anyway? Coming from a French inherited higher education system in Algeria—which determined what you study and how you study it as soon as you pass the dreaded baccalaureate exam (high school diploma)—I was instantly amazed by the new opportunities available to me at KU. But at the same time, I couldn’t help but be a little skeptical (or maybe scared) of this newly found academic freedom.

So, I pondered, students in the same program can have different learning experiences based on their interests? That seemed surreal, Algeria’s highly centralized higher education system thrived to create standard curriculums and pre-designed course contents which are meant to create a homogenous university experience for its students nationwide. After all, when you have been accustomed to a certain way of doing things for so long, it can only be difficult to adjust to new situations. For a moment I even thought, why didn’t I just go to France like most of my friends who chose to study abroad? The system is pretty much the same and at least I wouldn’t feel so homesick; and even if I do, Constantine (my home town) would be only 2 hours flight away. It would take me at least 2 flights and nearly 24 hours to get from Lawrence to Constantine transiting through Europe.

Eventually, I pulled myself together and was ready to tackle graduate school at KU despite the many challenges: linguistically, English being my third language; and culturally, the KU student experience seemed so casual but so structured at the same time. Either way, I had no choice but to do well, really well. The Fulbright Program had put so much faith in me by granting me the scholarship, which meant I get to uphold its legacy of excellence. I had to make sure my Fulbright advisor in Washington DC only received outstanding transcripts and reports every semester.

The culture and student life

Five weeks of intensive academic English classes later, a new bank account, a lease to a new apartment, a better acquaintance with America’s groceries and the local culture, and two dozen new American and international friends in America’s humid but very welcoming Midwest, I finally got over the culture shock and started to feel more comfortable in my new student life.

At the beginning, I did not really get the chance to meet a lot of locals because I used to spend most of my days on campus interacting with students from the U.S. and from all over the world. But after a while, I got more involved off campus by participating in volunteering events like the KU Big Event which aimed at giving back to the city of Lawrence through one service day together with thousands of KU students. I had so much fun meeting local residents and completing projects in their neighborhood such as cleaning, planting trees...etc.

From the very beginning of my journey, I wanted to make the most of my time in the U.S. In fact, Fulbrighters are expected to be ambassadors of their own country/culture and I enjoyed fulfilling that part, so so much. I am a very sociable person in general, so getting into associations and participating in on and off campus events was a real treat for me. I was able to talk about Algeria during casual as well as more formal events, cook Algerian food during Potlucks, wear my best Algerian attires, and hold up the Algerian flag during the KU homecoming parade. KU’s ISS office (international student services) did an awesome job connecting international students, and most of my activities had something to do with ISS. More importantly, being a board member of the KU Fulbright Association was a very enriching and exciting experience. I helped welcome new arriving Fulbrighters, we organized BBQs at Clinton Lake, trips to Kansas City, attended Basketball/Football games and so much more.

Academic life

As the first semester unfolded and I became more comfortable with reading at least 1 book a week, completing endless assignments, and pulling several all-nighters at Watson Library; I started to reflect on the hundreds of thousands of Fulbrighters since 1946 before me who have come to universities all over America and certainly left an imprint—one way or another—in the U.S. as well as within their communities back home. I have always been fascinated by the transnational movement of goods, ideas and people and the lasting effects that these circulations engender on communities worldwide.

You see, at U.S. universities, you are able to choose elective courses (with the approval of your advisor and in addition to your core courses) which fit into your research and academic interests. Being in an interdisciplinary department like American studies at KU, allowed me to further explore my passion for transnational American studies and investigate America’s hegemony with a focus on Algeria, my home land. My country has historically been an understudied region in relation to the U.S. and remains marked by a gap in scholarship that tackles the transnational dimension of Algerian-American history. Indeed, the extensive body of literature about Algeria in various fields is mainly written in French or Arabic which deepened America’s unfamiliarity (not to say ignorance) with all things Algerian—both academically and culturally—despite the long history that ties the U.S. and Algeria.

I first focused my MA research in American studies at KU on identifying and evaluating evidence of Americanization in Algeria. Later when I decided to pursue a PhD in the same field and as my academic interests broadened, I wanted to focus my doctoral research on the crucial triangular relationship between the U.S., France and Algeria in terms of the imperial forces present in Algeria. My dissertation, which I defended last year, tackles "The Fulbright Program in Algeria: Higher Education, Soft Power, and Transnational Intellectual Subjects". I became thus an expert in international higher education in relation to the U.S. and Algeria. This project, 7 years after my Fulbright application, ended up being completely different from what I wrote for my statement of purpose back then. The amazing thing with academic research at a U.S. university, is that you get to explore new horizons outside of your comfort zone. For me, it ended up being an amazing experience and an opportunity of a lifetime!

To Conclude

The time I spent in the U.S. has not only taught more about my own country’s history and identity; it also ultimately helped me become a more self-aware, confident scholar, and a global citizen who was able to debunk so many stereotypes about the U.S. as a nation and culture. And instead of focusing on America alone, I became more aware of other countries’ cultures and struggles. I came to the conclusion that creating and nurturing multi-cultural environments—like the Fulbright programs are doing—engenders tolerance, acceptance and respect of difference. We become more open, even toward the things which do not necessarily align with our core beliefs or with what we have been taught our entire lives. I firmly believe that diversity is power, and that tolerance is the answer to people’s misconceptions about other cultures/nations. In the next blog post, I will offer tips and tricks for international students to succeed, survive and thrive during their experience at U.S. universities.


The Fulbright Foreign Student Program

U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs