From The Circuit Board To The Chopping Board

“When I first came here, it surprised me to see that fashion doesn’t change from one season to another. I realized we could keep wearing the same clothes till they looked frayed. But when I was growing up in Egypt, I remember giving away my clothes because they were no longer à la mode,” she said.

Madeleine Andrawis is neither a Parisian model, nor the owner of a Milan boutique. She’s a professor of electrical engineering at South Dakota State University.

Fashion-savvy and suave, she blends many roles into one—that of a professor, researching in the area of “Very Large Scale Integration,” coordinator for the Teaching Learning Center, a doting mother of three, and a cook to boot.

Proficient in English, Arabic, and French, Andrawis is also multilingual. It’s been more than 20 years since she’s lost touch with French, but that hasn’t corroded either her lilt or blemished her soft accent.

She claims her conversational skills have enfeebled over the years, but she still can read the French daily, Le Monde. “My grammar and vocabulary are still good,” she said, with a twinkle in her eyes. Sure enough, she still peppers her sentences with words from the French vernacular.

Speaking about her French connection, she said, “I owe what I am today, to my school in Cairo. I had my first taste of French as early as kindergarten. It was in second grade that we were introduced to Arabic and English. My friends and family still speak to me in French. Oh, I still remember those lovely French songs!”

Born to an enlightened Egyptian family, Andrawis has nurtured the ambition to be an electrical engineer for as long as she can remember. “I’ve always wanted to be an electrical engineer. My father, who was an electrical and mechanical engineer passed away when I was only five years old.”

“Ever since then, I’ve had this impression of him being a great engineer and I wanted to be just like him,” she said. Heeding her inner call to be an engineer, she even turned down a prestigious admission offer to an elite medical school in Egypt.

After earning a bachelor’s degree from Cairo University, the newly-married 24-year-old Andrawis and her husband Alfred, also an electrical engineer, headed west to the U.S. in 1979. Their baggage included their little four-week-old baby.

Their decision to come to South Dakota was influenced by her husband’s brother, who at the time, was working at the university. “He encouraged us to pursue higher studies at South Dakota State University,” she said.

And so she did. No sooner had she completed her master’s degree in electrical engineering than came along a windfall. She was hired as a full-time instructor. Reminiscing about her teaching job, Andrawis said, “I really love to teach. Interacting with students is such a wonderful experience.”

It was during the course of her teaching stint that she discovered how much she enjoyed imparting knowledge to budding engineers. “The dean, at the time, told me that if it’s teaching you like doing and if it’s what you see yourself doing for the rest of your life, you’ll have to get a higher degree so that I can promote you,” she said, quoting him.

Encouraged by her superiors to pursue a doctoral degree, Andrawis, accompanied by her hubby, took off for Virginia Tech in 1987. Armed with a Ph.D., Andrawis was back at South Dakota State University in 1991, and rejoined the electrical engineering department as an assistant professor. “I’ve been here since then,” she said.

Today, she juggles two jobs. As coordinator for the Teaching Learning Center, she works with the university’s vice president for Academic Affairs to promote excellence in student learning, both inside and outside the classroom.

When she’s not managing a learning center session, she’s teaching “Very Large Scale Integration” theories to her engineering students at Crothers Hall. The rest of her time, she’s either socializing, baking pita breads, or going shopping to Washington, D.C.

She certainly has taken the concept of large scale integration from the realm of the circuit board to her own life.


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