(348c) Chemical Engineering Beyond Politics; A Futuristic World Educational System | AIChE

(348c) Chemical Engineering Beyond Politics; A Futuristic World Educational System


Rohani, S. - Presenter, Western University
Chemical engineering beyond politics; a futuristic world educational system

S. Rohani1,2, S. Agah1,3, S. Dini1,4, E. Hemmat1, B. Mottahed1, A. Parvizi-Majidi1, F. Samadi1, F. Sefidvash1

1Baha’i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE)

2Department of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering, Western University, Canada, Email: srohani@uwo.ca

3Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Rice University, TX, USA

4Mechanical Engineering Department, Western New England University, Springfield, Massachusetts, USA


We offer an internet-based chemical engineering program beyond borders with no tuition fees to the students and minimum overall costs to the institutions offering the program.

We and several other professionals voluntarily established a chemical engineering department within an online university in Iran called BIHE (Bahá'í Institute for Higher Education).

In early 1980’s, following the cultural revolution in Iran, the professors and students in all disciplines who confessed their belief in the Baha’i Faith, were expelled from the universities across Iran. In the following years up to the present time, the Baha’i youth have been denied the right to higher education. International appeals initiated by the worldwide Baha’i community to right this obvious human rights violation did not achieve a meaningful conclusion. Consequently, the Baha’i community in Iran with the help of the then expelled professors and under the guidance of the international administrative body of the Faith, the Universal House of Justice, formed a community-based university, the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE) in 1987. As an initiative, the New York Times called it "an elaborate act of communal self-preservation, to educate those who were unjustly denied access to higher education”1. The origin of BIHE was, thus, rooted in a spirit of purposefulness, and dedication. The belief in the power of BIHE has continued to conduct its courses using accredited professors and in accordance with the highest academic standards.

The unique circumstances surrounding BIHE, whereby its professors teach without compensation and its staff and students participate in university activities at a great personal risk, have forced it since 2005 to combine traditional classroom instruction with online learning to unwittingly become a leader in hybrid education.

Although BIHE issues degrees to all of its graduates, Iranian authorities cannot certify these degrees since the BIHE is not recognized as a degree granting institution. However, even in the absence of such certification, BIHE graduates have been admitted into post-graduate programs in universities across North America, Europe, Asia and Australia. So far, more than 90 universities worldwide have recognized the quality of BIHE courses, and accepted them for credit, allowing BIHE graduates to continue their education abroad2.

In September 2011, two Nobel Peace Prize laureates, East Timor past President José Ramos-Horta and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, wrote an open letter to the international academic community calling on it to condemn the Iranian government’s policies towards the Baha’is, to evaluate BIHE curricula, and consider accepting its credits and to offer online curricula to students in Iran who would otherwise be deprived of the right to higher education3.

Despite these pressures, the BIHE has been functioning with ever-increasing efficiency. The classrooms and the laboratories of this fledgling educational system are the homes and basements of the Baha’i families. The professors offer their voluntary services with dedication and the students fueled by their love for learning attend regular classes, via internet. There are many graduates of the BIHE who have completed their PhD and higher degree programs in high ranking institutions and currently working as professionals, abroad. A few who upon the completion of their post-graduate degrees chose to return to Iran and serve as faculty members in BIHE, faced imprisonment and harsh treatment by the Iranian government. The BIHE students in various cities in Iran attend classes offered via internet in their home towns and every month travel to Tehran for in-person classes and possible laboratory work. While in Tehran, they are hosted by families who open their homes for this purpose. The classes are offered by the professors via internet with the state-of-the-art technology. The classes are often held in the evenings allowing the students to work during the day.

The BIHE faculty and students in Iran have consistently faced oppressive conditions. However through the efforts of dedicated faculties and staffs in Iran, and an ever-increasing Affiliated Global Faculty from universities around the world, BIHE now offers 38 university-level programs including Chemical Engineering, Chemistry and Industrial Chemistry, Civil Engineering, Architecture, Computer Science, Social Sciences and Humanities, Psychology, and Dentistry.

In 2009, the authors with the invitation and help of a core group residing in Iran launched a new major in chemical engineering. To fulfill the teaching assistant requirement, applied chemistry students who were interested studied some relevant courses intensively in two years along with their own major to serve as teaching assistants. The organizing group reached out to several universities and communities outside and inside Iran to find volunteers to teach chemical engineering courses. Since 2012, a group of 14 individuals from different professional and industrial backgrounds got together to facilitate this process. Since then we have met online each month and consulted about how to best offer the curriculum. The purpose of the chemical engineering program is to offer an outstanding undergraduate degree program and train chemical engineers with excellent technical and leadership skills, integrity, and social responsibility to serve the citizens of Iran and the world.

First year courses consist of General Chemistry 1 and 2 and Chemistry Laboratories, General Mathematics 1 and 2, Physics 1 and 2 and Labs, electricity, Computer Programming, and Humanities.

In Year 2 students take more common basic courses which include Organic Chemistry 1 and 2 and Laboratory, Basic Calculations in Chemical Engineering, Chemical Engineering Thermodynamics 1 and 2, Differential Equations, Fluid Mechanics, and Humanities.

In Year 3 more chemical engineering core courses are taught. These include Mass Transfer, Heat Transfer, Statics, Strength of Materials, Numerical Analysis, Unit Operations 1, Kinetics and Reactor Design, Applied Math, Introduction to Electrical Engineering, a Technical Elective, and Humanities.

In the final year Unit Operations 2, Chemical Process Control, Modelling and Simulation using software packages such as HYSYS, Introduction to Material Science, Capstone Plant Design, two more Technical Electives and a course in Professionalism and Business are taken.

The technical electives are offered in Waste Water Treatment, Oil and Gas and Petrochemistry, Introduction to Environmental Engineering, Introduction to Biomedical Engineering and a non-technical elective Entrepreneurship for Chemical Engineers at the fourth year level. This provides a unique synergy and integration of courses offered in our program, so that all of our graduates have a holistic appreciation of process and plant design, which includes environmental aspects.

In all courses, emphasis is placed on creativity, innovation, problem solving through teamwork, communications, and reflection – the skills necessary to practice engineering in any discipline.

The design experience in the Chemical Engineering program is realized through the Capstone Design course, as well as the design components existing in the majority of Program Compulsory and Technical Elective courses. The aim is to expose and train students in handling open-ended engineering problems. Solutions must consider safety requirements, codes, standards, specifications, health, environment, social issues, and other pertinent constraints. Students will receive training with regard to economics, business, legal matters, and interpersonal and communication skills. Design courses also provide training in spreadsheets, process simulation, equipment selection, sizing and costing, and cash flow analysis.

We also proposed and managed several research projects under Scientific Advisory Committee since January 2016. This Committee is formed to help facilitate and accelerate the research activities of BIHE that will train our students in conducting research projects and publishing the outcomes in well-known journals.

We praise the students of the BIHE for their ultimate sacrifice and their dedication in pursuit of education. We also offer the operation of the BIHE as a world-wide educational model that can operate at low-cost and high efficiency in many less fortunate countries and remote areas that do not have access to higher education.

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/1998/10/29/world/iran-closes-university-run-covertly-by-the-bahais.html

2 http://bihe.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=146&Itemid=236

3 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/desmond-tutu/iran-bahai-_b_978090.html