Mohamed El-Aasser, professor of chemical engineering, is retiring in August 2018 after 46 years of service at Lehigh University. El-Aasser was the founding vice president of the Office of International Affairs, serving in that role from 2009 to 2015.
The new division combined areas, originally including Study Abroad, English as a Second Language, the Iacocca Institute and the Global Citizenship program, under one strategic umbrella. Under El-Aasser’s tenure, Lehigh positioned itself to become a major player in the international education scene:
- Established institutional partnerships at 16 universities around the world
- Nearly tripled the number of international undergraduate students and doubled international graduate students
- Expanded study abroad opportunities, including fully funded international internships
- Made Lehigh a more welcoming, inclusive home for international students and scholars
Before becoming vice president of international affairs, El-Aasser held other administrative roles at the university, including provost and vice president for academic affairs (2004-2009), dean of the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science (2001-2004) and chair of chemical engineering department (1996-2001).
El-Aasser came to Lehigh as postdoctoral fellow in 1972 and joined the faculty as professor of chemical engineering in 1974. He is an expert in the field of polymer colloids and emulsion polymerization processes, pioneering an area of research known as “Miniemulsions” (he coined the term in 1980). Throughout his career, El-Aasser was dedicated to mentoring and developing his students and staff, ultimately advising 99 Ph.D. students. He returned to his role on the faculty after stepping down as vice president of international affairs in 2015.
Retiring with El-Aasser is his long-time colleague, Debra Nyby. Nyby worked at Lehigh for nearly four decades, serving in leadership roles in Admissions, the Emulsion Polymers Institute, the Chemical Engineering Department, the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and the Office of the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs. Always a champion of international students and scholars, Nyby was appointed Lehigh’s first director for the new Office of International Services in 2009. Thanks to her dedication and personal advising to generations of international alumni, she is known as “Mama Nyby” around the world.
Under El-Aasser and Nyby’s leadership, Lehigh University joined the United States Indonesia Partnership Program (USIPP), a program funded by the U.S. State Department and facilitated by the Institute for International Education to develop bilateral student exchange programs between the two countries. With several other universities in the U.S. and Indonesia, Lehigh developed a theme-based cohort exchange that combined international travel with a collaborative, hands-on curriculum focused on democracy and religious pluralism and led by faculty from each of the partner universities working together. Running for five years, the program received additional funding from the Institute for International Education and the Henry Luce Foundation.
On the occasion of El-Aasser’s retirement, Lehigh’s Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering hosted a two-day symposium in his honor that included presentations the field of polymer colloids and a gathering of his current and former students and friends and colleagues in the field.
At the event, IIE recognized both El-Aasser and Nyby for their commitment to international education. El-Aasser received an award “for enlisting Lehigh University to lead in the Global Innovation Initiatives that tri-lateralized international education exchanges.” Nyby received an award “for being a true champion of international educational exchange, a model of excellence in campus internationalization, and for sustained engagement with IIE.”