KAUST founding alumnus Ahmad Showail awarded Fulbright Scholarship

02 December, 2021

Dr Ahmad Showail has been awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study at University of California Irvine (UCI) in the lab of fellow KAUST founder Dr Faisal Nawab.

Showail is one of KAUST's 2009 founding class students, graduating with a MS in computer science before joining the networking lab of Professor Basem Shihada. He later graduated with a PhD in computer science in 2016.

The Fulbright Program is considered one of the most competitive, widely recognized and prestigious scholarships in the world. The program's goal is to improve intercultural relations, cultural diplomacy, and intercultural competence between the United States and more than 160 countries by sharing and exchanging persons, knowledge, and skills. 

"It's a great opportunity to start doing some cutting-edge research," said Showail. "I cannot wait actually; I want to go and start my research immediately."

The competitive process of Fulbright applications

Showail applied for the Fulbright Scholarship in 2020 – submitting his candidacy with an invitation from UCI. He put his proposal together with the help of KAUST alumnus Dr Faisal Nawab, now an assistant professor at UCI.

Showail submitted a project proposal on secure and private internet using SGX cloud architecture along with the application. Showail's solution offers cutting-edge technology used to increase defenses and assure people's privacy using the Internet-of-Things. "I think it's a great project with a great impact, and this is likely why I was selected."

KAUST's impact on Showail

Showail credits KAUST with playing a significant role in shaping his career. "KAUST shaped me as a researcher," he said. "I was taught how to write a good journal paper. The faculty taught me always to seek to innovate at the cutting-edge and tackle the most impactful issues. KAUST definitely had a great impact on my personality as a researcher."

One professor who had a particular impact on Showail during his time at KAUST was Dr Kamran Jamshaid, now at Cisco Labs in Atlanta, Georgia. "He was very helpful, along with Professor Shihada in the networking lab. I want to thank them for all their support, wisdom and advice."

Applying his skills to help Saudi Arabia manage pilgrims

The Fulbright is just the starting point of a long-term collaboration between Showail, UCI and Dr Nawab. "I look at it as an opportunity to start a couple of great projects. Being located in Medina, I'm full of ideas and challenges to help out the local community. Specifically, I am very interested in the challenges of Haj and Umrah". 

Haj and Umrah attract three million people to the small town of Medina, and authorities are always looking for ways to manage crowd movements. Showail is currently writing a survey paper of all the efforts to manage pilgrims using ICT. "I am looking at various aspects, from crowd management to digitization to using AI in smart cameras to track people. Also, the smart applications and smartphones and the GPS location - I think I have surveyed 250 papers already, and I am not yet done."

Being a local to Medina has meant Showail wants to do something impactful in the area using his understanding and expertise in the Internet-of-Things. "I want to try - with the help of the great researchers of UCI – to really understand the local context here and try and do something useful for the visitors and pilgrims who are going to visit Saudi Arabia."