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Chico State

From Chico to the UAE—In Pursuit of Partnerships

President Gayle Hutchinson along with other Chico State faculty sit with those from the UAE around a conference table.
Courtesy photos
President Gayle Hutchinson

The first time I visited the the United Arab Emirates was 10 years ago, when I was dean of the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences (BSS). I traveled to the Women as Global Leaders conference in Dubai with faculty from the Department of Child Development. We escorted two honor students who were presenting on children’s perceptions of war and peace with student partners from Zayed University. While there, Professor Cindy Ratekin and I traveled 30 miles north to Sharjah and introduced ourselves to fellow Wildcat Sheikha Jameela bint Mohammed Al Qasimi (Psychology, ’82), who serves as director general for Sharjah City for Humanitarian Services (SCHS). That visit laid the foundation for a strong relationship between Chico State and the SCHS that continues to this day.

Fast forward to 2018. In February, Vice President for University Advancement Ahmad Boura and I trekked halfway across the globe to reunite with Sheikha Jameela, as well as her cousin and alumna Sheikha Lubna Khalid Al Qasimi (Computer Science, ’81), who is president of Zayed University. Sheikha Jameela received the College of BSS Distinguished Alumna Award in 2010, while Sheikha Lubna earned an honorary doctorate from Chico State in 2009. It was an honor to visit with them again, as we consider partnerships to benefit all of our students.

Here are a few of my reflections on our trip, as chronicled in my travel journal:

February 10–11: Arrive in Dubai

We arrived at the Dubai International Airport late on February 10 after flying nonstop for 15 hours from San Francisco. We used the next day to rest and recover from jet lag while reviewing our plans for the week. I could not wait to set off across the city to reconnect and make new acquaintances.

February 12: Sharjah City for Humanitarian Services

Ahmad Boura, President Hutchinson, Marilyn Roberts, and Fatima Ibrahim tour the disability resource center at Sharjah City for Humanitarian Services.

What a phenomenal day! VP Boura and I drove to Sharjah City for Humanitarian Services (SCHS) to visit Sheikha Jameela. Our greeting was that of two old friends. It was terrific to see her again. Her staff shared a PowerPoint about disabilities services SCHS provides and programs Sheikha Jameela has implemented since I saw her last.

We then toured the SCHS, visiting the educational programs where we met children of all ages and young adults with a variety of disabilities. After lunch, we toured the disability resource center under the direction of Fatima Ibrahim.

This memorable day concluded over dinner with Sheikha Jameela at a restaurant on the water. As the sun set, we recapped the day and discussed opportunities for collaboration. Sheikha Jameela invited us to meet in the morning to review her plans to expand the SCHS.

February 13: Emirates of Sharjah and Dubai

We learned VP Boura and I were to meet Sheikha Jameela at her private office, about 15 minutes from the SCHS. She greeted us in the driveway of a large, lovely villa with her assistant and project engineer. On a table in the conference room lay four large books filled with architectural plans for the first phase of the new SCHS. The plans are stunning. The proposed facility will hold state-of-the-art accommodations, spaces for residents, and contemporary educational programs. Sheika Jameela is truly a visionary! We wish her great success as she works to bring this expansion to fruition.

 February 14: Dubai

Today, we were off to meet with another Wildcat, her highness Sheikha Lubna, president of Zayed University, an international institution of higher learning in Dubai.

When we arrived, Zayed University looked as I remembered it from 2008. The real difference is Sheikha Lubna is expanding Zayed University, with the development of a new campus in Abu Dhabi. And she is expanding the curriculum to include men, as it is primarily a women’s university.

Security escorted us to the second floor of the administration building. The office suite was spectacular, decorated in a contemporary fashion that honored the founder of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, as well as the history and culture of the United Arab Emirates.

Sheikha Lubna arrived with an entourage of colleagues and campus communications professionals. I greeted her with a big hug and introduced VP Boura. We met Vice President Reyahd AlMehaideb, an engineer educated at the University of Pittsburgh and Stanford, and Provost Marilyn Roberts, who is originally from Texas with a PhD in journalism and a specialty in strategic planning and branding.

President Hutchinson and Sheikha Lubna stand with other dignitaries holding the framed photo of hands holding rosary beads and beads of Islam.
Together with Ahmad Boura, Reyahd AlMehaideb, and Marilyn Roberts, President Hutchinson accepts a framed photograph from Sheikha Lubna.

Sheikha Lubna presented me with a framed photograph of hands as a symbol of faiths and cultures getting along. It was a most appropriate gift from the woman who serves as the Nation’s Minister of Tolerance, and I was incredibly touched.

We adjourned to the elegant, wood-paneled conference room that comfortably seated about 25. The college deans arrived, and we began to discuss opportunities for collaboration.

Sheikha Lubna facilitated the meeting with grace and enthusiasm. It was clear she was proud of Zayed University. It also was apparent she is proud of her alma mater and the experience she had in Chico. One of the administrators shared the vision and strategic plan of Zayed University, and then Sheikha Lubna asked me to share a little about Chico State. Never one to shy away from an opportunity to brag about our campus, I jumped right in. VP Boura teased me later that I took over the room as “Professor Gayle,” immediately putting everyone at ease and helping them to learn about our University.

When I finished, the floor opened for questions. Impressed by Chico State’s innovations and academic rigor, there were many requests to learn more and discussions about opportunities to partner with our academic programs. VP Boura and I handed out business cards, and we received cards from everyone around the table.

A student artist shows off one of her pieces during a tour of Zayed University's student union.
A student artist shows off one of her pieces during a tour of Zayed University’s student union.

After our meeting, we posed for pictures with colleagues who attended the meeting. Then, a group of women student government officers gave us a tour of the student union and student activity center, where we enjoyed student artwork on display and speaking with the artists. Sheikha Lubna also explained how students were now able to sell their art online. What a good idea. Hmmm.

We concluded the visit with a luncheon of cultural foods from the UAE. It was an epicurean delight!

February 15: Sharjah and Dubai

President Hutchinson and her wife, Linda, stand together in front of the world's tallest building, lit up in the night sky.
President Hutchinson and her wife, Linda, stand together in front of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, in Dubai.

With one more day in the UAE before we had to fly home, we took some time to see the city of Dubai.

Final Reflections

I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to visit our distinguished alumnae in their homeland. Both Sheikha Jameela and Sheikha Lubna spoke highly of the education they received from Chico State, describing their experiences with us as transformative. Both welcomed the idea of connecting our students and programs, which excites me greatly.

Students and alumni constantly remind me how the education and co-curricular experiences they receive change their lives, the lives of their families, and communities. Trips like this help develop opportunities for resources and experiences for Chico State students. We have nearly 140,000 Chico State alumni living and working around the world. Imagine the possibilities!