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Spring 2008 Vol. VI, No. 3

AUB Reflections

Unscrambling the World of Poultry Science

FAFS Dean Emeritus Nuhad Daghir

Dean Emeritus Nuhad Daghir is one of many AUB professors who moved in and out of the University and/or Lebanon during the fifteen-year Lebanese civil war between 1975 and 1990. He returned to AUB in 1996 as dean of the Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences (FAFS). When he retired last year, he served briefly as acting provost. Daghir is the first Lebanese dean to be appointed Dean Emeritus.

When did you first arrive at AUB?
When I was only five, I went to IC. It was still a part of AUB. When I graduated I went to look around AUB. People asked, “Why don’t you start in agriculture? It won’t cost a penny. The USAID program provides full scholarships, pays for books, and everything.” And that’s how I got into agriculture at AUB.

What were your first impressions of agriculture? It had to be a new program for most of the students then.
As a freshman, I did not get a real feel for agriculture, with the exception of one course Dean Samuel Edgecombe taught. For one hour each week he talked to us about various fields in agriculture. Those hours got me more into the subject, but what really involved me was a six-month visit to the United States. At the end of my freshman year, I was nominated by the faculty to participate in the International Farm Youth Exchange Program. Although it meant that I would lose one year of my studies, I finally accepted.

It was quite an experience for an 18-year old who had never been out of Lebanon. After a week of orientation in Washington, DC, we were sent to live and work on farms all over the country. I spent three months in Indiana and three in Arkansas. And this is how I got interested in my field—poultry science. In Indiana I worked on two poultry farms—one in Mentone, “the egg basket of the middle west.” The other farm raised corn and pigs as well as poultry. In Arkansas the two ranches where I worked raised cattle, pigs, corn, and cotton, as well as poultry.

What did you do after you graduated from AUB?
After I received my BS in agriculture in 1957, I worked for one year in extension and rural development on the farm (AREC). We worked with 12 villages around the farm—sometimes bringing the farmers in for field days to show them the research that was going on—about, for example, the right kinds of fertilizer to use—and then sometimes visiting their farms and villages. Unfortunately that all came to an end in 1958 when fighting broke out, and we had to stay on the farm. How can you do extension staying on the farm? So I decided to continue my studies. I did my MS and my PhD at Iowa State University in poultry nutrition with minors in veterinary physiology and biochemistry.

And then you returned to AUB a second time?
The faculty was looking for somebody in my field. I applied from the United States and was interviewed by Dean Robert Nichols at Iowa State. I took up my position as assistant professor of poultry science and nutrition in July 1962.

What were your impressions when you returned to AUB as a professor?

AUB had exceptionally bright students, a select group. However, at the time, I felt that AUB students were too “bookish.” The agriculture students needed more hands-on experience. They did not come from rural backgrounds, and most had not even driven a tractor before. So I emphasized hands-on learning in my teaching.

What do you think your former students would remember about you?
They would probably remember how strict I was in the lab. I didn’t want to see students sitting in the lab watching another student doing the work. As

for my graduate students, they would probably remember that I was with them not mainly as a professor, but as a colleague. I worked with them, and I was with them all the time. My students had to learn that they were working in an exact science and every second counts. This is the first truth: You have to be exact in your work.

Do you keep in touch with any of your former students?
I do. Over 40 MS students worked with me, and I still feel close to them. We exchange emails and sometimes meet at conferences and scientific meetings—often in the United States.

During your time at AUB, what were the biggest changes on campus?
AUB has gone through several eras. The years between 1962 and 1975 were the golden era. AUB was developing new programs, starting PhD studies, and getting more new faculty from abroad. When I came in 1962, more than 50 percent of the faculty were expatriates, and the dean then wanted to bring in Lebanese AUB graduates to provide some continuity.

The war created most of the changes at AUB during my time. Take the faculty, for example. In 1975 there were 35 full-time PhDs in agriculture. Gradually they started leaving. First the expats in ’76, ’77, and ’78. And then the nationals, but what helped agriculture was that some of these nationals did not go far. We had a program in Saudi Arabia, organized by what was then called AUB Services, now known as REP (Regional External Programs). We had faculty members seconded there, but many of them came back, so we didn’t lose them. Others left permanently. When I went to Saudi Arabia to join the team in 1984, there were only 15 faculty members left in FAFS. One of the big changes was that faculty members during those difficult war years left AUB to teach and work outside Lebanon.

I was no exception. After Saudi Arabia, I worked in industry in Ontario, Canada where I headed technical services and the research and development program for Shaver Poultry Breeding Farms, Ltd. The company contracted the research out to various universities, and one of my jobs was to meet with the professors and develop the research material for the company. I visited more than 40 countries all over the world in that job. It’s remarkable how much you benefit from experience in industry. I recommend that every professor, if he/she has the chance, spend one or two years in industry, for then you become more sensitive to the needs of the students.

Next I was dean of agriculture at the United Arab Emirates National University from 1992 to 1996. So I don’t know much about AUB from 1984 to 1996. But from 1975 until 1984 we were in a period of stagnation. We were, at least in FAFS, just surviving.

Tell us about your years as dean of FAFS.
When President Kirkwood appointed Dean James Cowan interim president in 1976, Dean Cowan asked me to serve as acting dean, a position I held until 1978. Then with Dean John Fisher I stayed on for one year as associate dean before returning to the United Sates for my sabbatical year. I served once again as associate dean under Dean Tom Sutherland.

In 1996, I became dean of the faculty. When I returned to AUB that year things were picking up, but in FAFS we had only 300 students, and the financial situation was bad. But in the first five years of my deanship we were able to develop two new undergraduate programs (one in landscape design and ecomanagement and the other in food science and management), boost enrollment from 300 to 600 students, and turn the financial situation around. We began making money for the University by increasing enrollment, getting support for research from outside the University, and strengthening the role of the farm.

What has been the impact of AUB on your life?
AUB has been my life, and it will continue to be my life. AUB is unique, because it tries—and I’m speaking here from the point of a professional school—to produce a complete individual, rather than a technician or an expert. You become an expert, but also a person with culture, wide interests, and sensitivity to the ideas of others. All of these values I acquired from AUB.

Nuke it
“Microwave-safe” and “microwavable” labels on a plastic container or on plastic wrap packaging only means that the plastic won’t melt or crack in the microwave, but doesn’t guarantee that it won’t leach chemicals into your leftovers.

Why did you decide to step down as dean?
From the beginning I felt I should step down as soon as I had done what I had planned to do. With every administrative position, there is a time to go. You feel as if you’ve done everything, and I’d reached a stage when I thought I should slow down. The time was appropriate to bring in somebody younger—a different style, a different outlook, a different approach. Looking back, ten years is long enough.

I served as acting provost last year, but now I am retired. The University has kindly provided me with this office so I can continue with my research.

What are you working on in your retirement?
Right there on my desk are the proofs of a complete revision of my textbook, Poultry Production in Hot Climates, first published in 1995. I’ve been working on the rewriting for over a year now. I’m also finishing a couple of research projects. One, financed by the Lebanese National Council for Scientific Research, is studying the effect of different oils on the composition of eggs to see if we can increase the Omega 3 fatty acids in eggs—important for the health of the heart. More and more work is being done on eggs as a medium of transporting components important for health. In the other project, financed by Mercy Corps, we are trying to encourage farmers in the Beqa’a to produce more forage crops like corn and alfalfa. There is a good market for these products, but little for produce like potatoes or sugar beet. We’re wrapping up this project, and have been very successful. We’ve trained 3,000 farmers on how to produce these crops.

As you retire from the University, what message would you like to leave your students?
My message would be, “Whatever you do, do it well. If you are unhappy in what you are doing, get out. You cannot do a good job in anything if you’re not happy in it.”

Nuke it 2
The greenest, and safest, way to cover your food for microwave heating and cooking is to use oven-safe glass cookware, which eliminates waste and the potential for chemicals leaching from plastic wrap.

Eggstra, eggstra...

Are you still unhappy about cutting down on your regular breakfast egg? Despite the poor press the egg has been receiving in recent years, it is considered as nature’s most complete food, containing high quality proteins, all the vitamins except vitamin C, the ideal ratio of unsaturated to saturated fats, and a good supply of iron, phosphorous, and several other minerals. Dean Daghir and M. Farran, also from FAFS, G. Barbour from the Lebanese Agricultural Research Institute, and N. Usayran from the Lebanese University, supported by the Lebanese National Council for Scientific Research, have been working to rehabilitate the humble egg by unraveling its health benefits. One discovery is that through feeding hens certain ingredients, Omega-3 fatty acids can be increased in the egg yolk. Daghir’s research has centered during the past year on the effects of different plant oils (soybean, sunflower, and safflower oils) on the yolk fatty acid profile of eggs from hens receiving these oils. Results so far indicate that soybean oil increases Omega-3 fatty acids in yolk more than other oils. Enjoy your breakfast!