September 27-28, 2019 – The Faculty of Engineering (FE) at Notre Dame University-Louaize (NDU) collaborated with the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) to host the first EFx conference in the Middle East. Students from different ASME chapters in Lebanon came together to organize the event, with NDU selected by the ASME to play a lead role as the hosts. The event saw a total of three competitions, and five seminars with a focus on skills which complement engineering proficiency.
Turnout was extremely high, with over 190 attendees from a variety of backgrounds including schools and universities across Lebanon and the Middle East, NDU Alumni, and engineers just starting out in the field. The vast majority of the participants were students, with 130 students registering either for the competitions or the seminars on the first day.
The EFx opened with a seminar on emotional intelligence given by Imad Bou Khalil, life coach and founder of SucceednLead. A highly interactive session, which included an ice breaker, Bou Khalil’s seminar covered the different types of stress, stressors, and applying techniques for stress management.
The ice breaker session was followed by a welcome note given by Dr. Charbel Bou Mosleh, Associate Professor at NDU’s Department of Mechanical Engineering – FE and ASME Regional Advisor, and pizza and board games so that the participants could get fully acquainted. Students who had registered to compete in the Oral Presentation competition were given their prompts around this time.
The second day opened with an address by the keynote speaker: former ASME President, Madiha Kotb. Kotb discussed her extensive experience as chair of the ASME Presidential Task Force on Uniform (Financial) Reporting, and as a member of the ASME Committee on Governance and Strategy, the Council on Codes and Standards, and the Committee on Ethical Standards and Review. Kotb also gave an overview of the role that the ASME plays in the engineering world.
“We wanted the first presentation to be about the ASME and were lucky enough, with Dr. Metni’s help, to secure Ms. Kotb as a speaker,” said Jad Hakim, Student Advisor of the NDU ASME chapter and one of the organizers of EFx.
Three more seminars followed Kotb’s presentation: An Overview of the Entrepreneurship Ecosystem in Lebanon, by Stephanie Abi Abdallah, Programs Director at Beirut Digital Districts; Personal Growth, by Samir E. Zehil, founder of Wydner Coaches & Associates; and Planning Your Future When You Can't Decide What's For Lunch, by Charles Azzi, recent NDU alumnus and associate consultant at Bain & Company.
Abi Abdallah covered the steps needed to start a business in Lebanon, from how to begin a startup to what laws new entrepreneurs might need to be aware of. Abdallah also shed light on Lebanon’s position as a testing ground for markets in the rest of the Arab world.
The Personal Growth talk saw Zehil present his own journey and highlight key factors that impede people’s success. In particular, Zehil focused on the causes of negativity, how to foster a more positive outlook, and how to use that outlook to spur you to action. “One thing that stood out to me,” said Hakim, “was when he said that if you talk to others the same way you talk to yourself, you would no longer have friends.”
Finally, Azzi’s workshop aimed to help participants draw a clearer picture of what they might actually want and how they might be able to achieve it. Azzi encouraged participants to think about the environments they are most comfortable in as a means of better placing themselves in their future careers.
“Student participation in all of the conferences was extremely good,” said Hakim. “At the end of each workshop, I don’t think there was a single student who didn’t go down to talk to the presenters, either to ask additional questions or to exchange contact information.”
The presentations were followed by the three competitions: Oral Presentation, Impromptu, and Mechatronics. “We chose students from the participating universities who were on the EFx committee directly in charge of organizing the competitions to act as judges,” said Hakim, “we felt the best way to ensure a fair result was to have as diverse a panel as possible, and the EFx committee organizers were the most eligible.”
The Oral Presentation competition had seven participants demonstrate their public speaking skills and engineering knowledge by presenting on one of the following topics:
1. Self-Healing Materials
2. Mobility in future robots
3. Artificial Intelligence in health diagnosis
4. Technology in smart cities
Each contestant had 10 minutes to present, followed by a thorough Q&A session which often exceeded the allotted 5 minutes, due to the extremely high caliber of the presentations. The Oral Presentation session was won by NDU’s own Ralph Sakr who chose Self-Healing Materials as his topic.
The Impromptu competition tested participants’ ability to think on their feet. 20 teams of up to 4 members were given a bag of unknown materials and instructions on what to design/build: a self-driving car which would be graded according to how long it could run without stopping, a floating device which would be graded according to how much weight it could support before sinking, and a glider which would be graded according to how slowly and accurately it fell. Teams could only use the materials provided, and could not reuse the same materials on a different build. This competition too saw a group from NDU winning first place: “Team Jad” comprised of Robin Makhoul, Jad Samaha, Cynthia Yowakim, and Sherif Salhab.
Finally, the Mechatronics competition had teams building an autonomous robot over the course of four weeks prior to the event. The teams’ finished robots would face off in an arena where they were tasked with collecting ping-pong balls of their teams color and place them in a scoring zone in the middle. The winning robot was the first to collect 3 of these balls. A team from Rafik Hariri University took first place.
The event concluded with a Gala Dinner where the EFx’s successes were on full display. All the participants, from contestants, to speakers, to simple attendees, mingled freely swapping contact details, and discussing the conference. “As the primary aim of the EFx was to get engineers from across the region talking to each other, it was a great success,” said Hakim. “We’re planning on ASME E-Fests next. They’re like the next level of EFx with prizes being the chance to attend and take part in international ASME conferences and competitions.”
With such high turnout and engagement, it is likely that E-Fests will start to be organized sooner rather than later.