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Group of seventeen students in a desert in Egypt on camels. Three pyramids are in the behind them. All of the students are giving a thumbs up.

A group of juniors from the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering at Texas A&M University had the opportunity to give back to their host community while studying abroad in Egypt this winter.

Dr. Alaa Elwany, assistant professor in the department, taught the 14 students during the faculty-led, three-week program. Elwany, who is originally from Alexandria, Egypt, reached out to the local rotary club to see how the students could give back to the community they would be visiting.

Students in a government room. There is a big, gold seal on the black paneling behind them, along with a series of different flags on flag poles. The students are sitting in 2 rows of stands. Two are standing on the left side.The students volunteered their time and money to help set up a special-purpose lab for elementary school students in a local underprivileged school. The students who will use the lab have special needs and are part of the government’s fusion program. As part of the program, students with special needs study one-third of the curriculum in the lab, which is equipped with customized educational tools designed to address their needs.

“One-third of their curriculum is taught to them in that lab, which is set up for that particular purpose, and then the rest of the curriculum is taught to them with the rest of the kids so that they fuse without being left out,” Elwany said.

Once onsite, the Aggie students worked with the local students to learn how to use the educational tools provided on computers and other custom-designed educational tools. They worked with the local student chapter of the Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers to communicate between Arabic and English.

“It is a very welcoming country,” Elwany said. “In appreciation of what they did, the kids made a little performance for them where they sang local welcoming songs and held heart-shaped flags of the U.S. and Egypt to demonstrate unity. We got local Egyptian school students who never got out of their cities to interact with our students.”

Along with volunteering, the students completed a three-hour course and explored the city, visiting about 19 tourist sites. Elwany said the overall experience can have a positive impact on students as they move forward in their careers.

“They’re enhancing their skills, and some of them may aspire to spend some time working outside the country, so this experience was perfect for them to learn how to interact with a radically different culture,” Elwany said.

This December will be the third year for the study abroad program to Egypt.