Electrical engineering professor wanted to be just like her father


Alakananada Mookerjee

“When I first came here, it surprised me so much to see that fashion doesn’t change from one season to the other. When I was growing up in Egypt, I still remember giving away clothes because they were no longer a la mode. But here, I realized that we could continue wearing the same clothes year in and year out till they looked frayed!” she said with a broad smile.

Just in case you’re wondering who ‘she’ is, well, she’s no anorexic model from the Parisian catwalks or the owner of a Milan boutique. She is Madeleine Andrawis, professor of electrical engineering at South Dakota State University.

Fashion-savvy and suave, she blends many roles into one: that of a professor researching in the area of VLSI (Very Large Scale Integration); coordinator for the Teaching Learning Center; a doting mother of three kids and a cordon bleu chef.

Proficient in English, Arabic and French, Andrawis is also a multi-linguist.

It’s been more than 20 years since she’s lost touch with French but that hasn’t corroded her lilt or blemished her soft accent.

She claims that her conversational skills have enfeebled over the years but she still can read the Le Monde (leading French daily).

Born to an enlightened Egyptian family, Andrawis has nurtured the ambition to be an electrical engineer for as long as she can remember.

“I’ve always wanted to be an electrical engineer. My father, who was an electrical cum mechanical engineer passed away when I was only five years old. Ever since then, I’ve had this impression of him being a great engineer and I wanted to be just like him,” she said.

After earning a bachelor’s degree from Cairo University, the newly-married 24-year-old Andrawis and her husband Alfred, also an electrical engineer, headed west to the land of opportunity in 1979. Their baggage included their little four-week-old baby.

Explaining their decision to come to South Dakota, she said, “My husband had a brother in Brookings who was working with SDSU. After we got married right out of college, he encouraged us to pursue higher studies at SDSU”

And so she did. No sooner had she completed her master’s in electrical engineering, from SDSU, then came along a windfall. She was hired as a full-time instructor.

“I really love to teach. Interacting with students is such a wonderful experience,” Andrawis said.

Encouraged by her superiors to pursue a doctoral degree, Andrawis, accompanied by her husband, took off for Virginia Tech in 1987. Armed with a Ph.D., Andrawis was back to SDSU in 1991 and rejoined the Department of Electrical Engineering as an Assistant Professor.

“I’ve been here since then, climbing up the academic ladder and am enjoying what I do,” she said.

Today, she juggles two jobs: one, which requires her to be more right-brained; another, which involves a more left-brain activity.

As Coordinator for the Teaching Learning Center (TLC), she works with the university’s Vice President for Academic Affairs to promote excellence in student learning both inside and outside the classroom.

“The mission of TLC is to help equip the faculty with what they need to better teach their students,” she explained.

Every Wednesday afternoon, a quaint, picture-book-like cottage on 8th Street witnesses a brainstorming session. Faculty and experts converge to exchange notes on how to teach better.

And when she’s not managing a ‘Stress Management’ session at the TLC, she’s teaching ‘Very Large Scale Integration Theories’ to her engineering students at Crothers Hall.

The rest of her time, she’s either socializing, baking pita breads or thinking about going clothes shopping.