2024 KGSP Convocation



Image 1: KGSP Convocation 2024 group photo.

The KAUST Gifted Student Program held its annual Convocation event in Philadelphia, PA in January 2024. This year’s theme was, “The KGSP Network: Accelerating Impact,” and had 399 current KGSP students, 18 KAUST faculty members, over 30 KGSP staff, and four alumni in attendance. Convocation spanned over the course of two days, and included multiple alumni and faculty-led panels and showcases, a KAUST Research Fair, a Student Research and Enrichment Fair, networking breakout sessions, and an Awards Ceremony.

Student emcee Maryam Aljaroudi

Image 2: Student emcee Maryam Aljaroudi (University of Wisconsin-Madison, Chemical Engineering) presenting to Convocation attendees.

The KGSP Convocation supports KAUST’s and the KGSP’s mission to foster collaboration with Saudi Arabia’s intellectuals, promote networking within the professional and educational sectors, and contribute to the advancement of Saudi Arabia. Event attendees heard welcome remarks from Maryam Aljaroudi, a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin-Madison majoring in Chemical Engineering, who was selected as student emcee for the event. In her speech, Maryam emphasized the importance and impact of the KGSP network and implored her peers to lean into their collaborative potential. “Each one of you, as part of this network, possesses a unique set of talents and perspectives that help create positive change,” she said. “Today, we celebrate not only your individual achievements but the collaborative potential that lies within the KGSP Network… Your impact is not confined to the academic realm; it extends to the communities you touch, the industries you reshape, and the global landscape you influence.”

Following the welcome speech, attendees heard opening remarks from KAUST’s Director of Youth Talent Development, Saham Al-Husseini, who expanded on KAUST’s and the KGSP’s contribution to Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 through KAUST’s new institutional strategy of Accelerating Impact. “We, the KGSP, have two key strengths to contribute,” Mr. Al-Husseini said. “First, we have exceptional, high-achieving students eager to prove themselves and to leave their own mark on the world. Second, we have a vibrant network of alumni strategically placed at key organizations and industries all across the Kingdom, connected by their shared KGSP experience. The Program, that is so valued by our leadership, will be the core component of the transformation our country is undergoing. It is you, the young scientists, engineers, and thinkers, who will be the engine driving this progress.”

The “KAUST Strategy Showcase” segment of Convocation was presented by KAUST’s Dean of Graduate Affairs, Brian Moran, who provided an overview of KAUST’s strategy to align the University’s missions to the goals of the Kingdom, including Vision 2030. The Accelerating Impact strategy aims to transform research into economically productive innovations by focusing on Saudi Arabia’s Research, Development & Innovation (RDI) priorities, including Health and Wellness, Sustainable Environment and Essential Need, Energy and Industrial Leaderships, and Economies of the Future. Building on the discussion of KAUST’s strategy, Professors Jinchao Xu and Zexiang Li presented virtually on KAUST’s Innovation Hub, a new initiative by the University that promotes collaboration and innovation with academic and commercial entities in Shenzhen, China. Through this presentation, students also learned of opportunities to leverage KAUST’s partnerships to commercialize innovative ideas. Aamir Farooq, Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Director of KAUST’s newest graduate degree program Technology Innovation and Entrepreneurship (TIE), introduced the new program to KGSP students. The program has been designed for students interested in entrepreneurship, innovation, and product development, and is a testament to KAUST’s continued commitment to the Kingdom’s national advancement objectives by bringing novel research outcomes to market.

Tadd Truscott, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at KAUST

Image 3: Tadd Truscott, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at KAUST, presenting to KGSP students during the KAUST Faculty Research Fair.

In the “KSA Showcase – NEOM” segment of Convocation, KGSP Alumna Renad Bougis (Virginia Tech ‘20), highlighted her role at NEOM and exposed current students to employment and internships possibilities at the company, life on-site, and the future of the giga project. The showcase was moderated by Alumnus Ali Alrashoudi (Purdue University ‘17) and included a question-and-answer section during which Renad responded to questions from eager students. In the “Research Showcase: AI Across Fields” session, attendees heard from Mohamed Elhoseiny, Assistant Professor of Computer Science at KAUST, who introduced students to the KAUST AI Initiative. The goals of the Initiative are to bring together faculty across the University around a range of collaborative and interdisciplinary projects and to start developing education, outreach, and engagement opportunities both within Saudi Arabia and globally. Professor Elhoseiny’s presentation included interactive elements and a Q&A session with KGSP Alumnus Kumail Alhamoud (Cornell University ‘21) and current students. Following the showcases, the “Health, Life and Water Panel” was led by Michael Berumen, Associate Dean and Professor of Marine Science; Peiying Hong, Professor of Environmental Science and Engineering; and Hernando Ombao, Professor of Statistics. The panel, which was moderated by KGSP alumnus Ahmed Alsaggaf (University of California San Diego ‘20), was aimed at educating students on the KAUST projects and degree programs of the faculty members on the panel.

Students also participated in Division and Enrichment Breakout sessions where they obtained in-depth knowledge on the programs and initiatives offered by each KAUST academic division, and fine-tuned their skills for finding and acquiring internship and employment opportunities. The Biological and Environmental Science and Engineering (BESE) division breakout session was led by Professors Michael Berumen, Sahika Inal, Satoshi Habuchi, and Peiying Hong, and included research updates from the Red Sea Research Center and the Water Desalination and Reuse Center. The Computer, Electrical and Mathematical Science and Engineering (CEMSE) division session featured Professors Miguel Urbano, Ivan Viola, Mohamed-Slim Alouini, and Hernando Ombao, and included an overview of the division with the goal of informing students of the current research being done in the field such as in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. The Physical Science and Engineering (PSE) session was led by Professors Qiaoqiang Gan, Javier Ruiz-Martinez, Deanna Lacoste, Tadd Truscott, Peter Schmid, and Pedro Castano, and the session included an overview of how PSE addresses technological and engineering challenges that impact the Kingdom and world. Finally, Enrichment sessions led by KGSP staff and Alumni provided students with tips on how to secure internship and university research opportunities and included conversations with alumni on their experiences acquiring enrichment opportunities.

KGSP Alumni Panel

Image 4: From left to right: KGSP Alumni Ali Alrashoudi, Ahmed Alsaggaf, Renad Bougis, and Kumail Al Hamoud on the “KGSP Impact” panel discussion.

Students heard from KGSP Alumni in greater detail during the “KGSP Impact” segment. The session featured four Alumni speakers, Ali Alrashoudi (Purdue University ‘17), Renad Bougis (Virginia Tech ‘20), Ahmed Alsaggaf (University of California San Diego ‘20) and Kumail Alhamoud (Cornell University ‘21), who all successfully matriculated to KAUST, and discussed the significance of attending KAUST following their time in the KGSP, as well as the role the Program plays in preparing changemakers who will shape the future of Saudi Arabia and the world.

Student Research and Enrichment Fair

Image 5: Jana Alghamdi (Rice Univesrity, Applied Mathematics and Computational Science), presenting a poster titled "Understanding the Applications of Wardrop Equilibrium and Mean Field Games” at the Student Research and Enrichment Fair.

The KAUST Faculty Research Fair offered an opportunity for KAUST faculty to put their research on display and network with KGSP students during a poster fair. Later in the weekend, 67 students participated in the Student Research and Enrichment Fair, where they presented their own research posters and discussed different types of enrichment opportunities with fellow peers and KAUST faculty. Student presentations were comprised of internships, home university research opportunities, and research from the previous summer’s KAUST Summer Internship Program (KSIP).

Senior Commencement Speakers

Image 6: Senior Commencement Speakers Layan Kazem (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Biomedical Engineering) and Iliayas Alabdulaal (University of Wisconsin-Madison), addressing their peers at the Senior Commencement Ceremony. 

Convocation concluded with the annual Awards Ceremony, a celebration of the achievements of KGSP students and recognition of graduating seniors. The ceremony was livestreamed on YouTube to include friends and family of KGSP seniors across the globe. Iliyas Alabdulaal, a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison majoring in Computer Science, and Layan Kazem, a senior at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute majoring in Biomedical Engineering, were selected as this year’s Commencement Speakers, reminiscing on their academic journeys, offering congratulations to their peers on collective achievements, and gratitude to their family, friends, KAUST, and the KGSP.

Convocation exemplified the impact of a collaborative community of future changemakers and thought leaders, and the hard work and resilience of its student body. The Program celebrates its students as they continue in their efforts to become leaders who will shape the future of Saudi Arabia, and of the world.