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26 October 2009

College of Engineering professor awarded William R. Jones Outstanding Mentor Award

As he sat at his desk one afternoon, sending off e-mails and getting ready for his next meeting, College of Engineering professor and associate dean Shihab Asfour received one e-mail that both surprised and pleased him.

The McKnight Doctoral Fellows Conference, sponsored by the Florida Education Fund (FEF), awarded him the William R. Jones Outstanding Mentor Award.

“To be honest with you I didn’t even know that this award existed,” Asfour said. “One of my students whom I had worked with nominated me without my knowledge. I just got the e-mail telling me that I had won.”

The McKnight Doctoral Fellowship was created to help underrepresented minorities (particularly African Americans) who are trying to receive a Ph.D. financially. The William R. Jones award is their highest honor for those who help minorities.

Professor Asfour, who is about to complete his 30th year teaching at the University of Miami, revels in the type of one-on-one interaction he has been able to have with his students.

“You get to really know the students, they are not just a number in the classroom,” Asfour said. “Teaching is a great profession to start with but when they are an undergraduate or a graduate student and you are conducting research, that is when you really get to see them develop.”

His students appear quite keen on working with Asfour in a variety of ways. Damon Stambolian, who is currently working on his Ph.D. and has Asfour as his adviser, worked with him since the early 1990s while working on his bachelor’s.

“He’s always trying to help you out, and has been more than just an advisor to me,” said Stambolian, who currently works for the Kennedy Space Center full-time while completing his Ph.D. “He is positive, patient and has really helped me with my work.”

Although Asfour’s focus is ergonomics and biomechanics, he also has led the University of Miami into other areas. He is the principal investigator for the University of Miami Industrial Assessment Center which helps companies in the South Florida area become more energy efficient.

“We started this center before being green became the hot button that it is now,” Asfour said. “But now people are paying more attention and this can save them a lot of money.”

Despite his various projects, Asfour has made it clear though that his primary focus is his students.

“I’ve had people who have graduated and who are doing other things write me an e-mail unexpectedly thanking me and telling me that they would never be where they are without my help,” Asfour said. “That is truly amazing.”