Alumna Katherine Lelia Hall has learned that no matter how far from Blacksburg her career takes her, she’s never far from a fellow Hokie.

That sense of global community was reaffirmed recently at the first Hokies in the Middle East alumni networking event in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. An initiative of the Language and Culture Institute, with support from Alumni Relations and the College of Architecture and Urban Studies, the event brought together more than 85 alumni, students, and supporters from the region.

“The connections we made in Blacksburg and continue to make all over the world are the reason that we chose Virginia Tech in the first place,” said Hall, who earned a master’s degree in English in 1998 and a doctorate in curriculum and instruction in 2001 and now teaches at Khalifa University in Abu Dhabi. “It is very exciting to know that we alumni can still keep our connection with Virginia Tech even when we live far away.”

For Mohammed Al Nakhi, who graduated in 2001 with a degree in mechanical engineering and now works for BP in Abu Dhabi, the event brought back vivid memories. “I always enjoy exchanging stories with other Hokies of our time in Blacksburg, whether that’s walking through the Drillfield in the middle of winter, enjoying one of the night football games, or describing how beautiful the campus is during autumn. Those moments, frozen in time, are what connect us.”

Charles Fox, who received his bachelor's in biology in 1990 and his master's in architecture in 1998, found out that someone he had been doing business with for many years was also a Hokie. “I had no idea before the gathering,” said Fox, chief operating officer for the Dubai-based architectural firm AE7. “This was a fantastic opportunity to meet people and make some new connections.” 

Don Back, director of the Language and Culture Institute, said strengthening such connections was a primary reason for hosting the event. “Our faculty, students, and alumni who are engaged internationally play a critical role as Virginia Tech grows into a global land-grant university,” he said. “Staying connected with alumni in key regions like the Middle East helps advance university goals, such as student recruitment, learning and research experiences, and international partnerships.”

Richard Blythe, dean of the College of Architecture and Urban Studies, welcomed attendees via video. He called alumni in the Middle East “incredibly important to the operations of Virginia Tech, and to who we are and how we find ourselves in the world.” Alumni abroad play a vital role not just as donors willing to underwrite research, but also as ambassadors who connect their communities “to the very projects that we work on.”

In addition to connecting with fellow Hokies in Dubai, Hall appreciated getting an inside look at FutureHAUS, just days before it was named the world’s best solar home. “Being part of a family that continues to innovate, showcase student work, and keep Virginia Tech as a part of the future is something no Hokie takes lightly. We were as proud of the FutureHAUS team as if we ourselves were beside them as they developed the house.”

Fahad AlHomaid, a 2014 mechanical engineering graduate who now works in eastern Saudi Arabia for the national oil company, Saudi Aramco, said the gathering helped him expand his network. “It revived the spirit of the Hokies and the real sense of being a part of a larger Virginia Tech community,” he said.

The alumni event coincided with two international student recruitment fairs, sponsored by the Language and Culture Institute, part of Outreach and International Affairs. “If Virginia Tech wants to keep attracting the best students from all over the world, it’s important to stay relevant with potential students, alumni, and industrial partners by visiting other countries and showcasing the best Virginia Tech has to offer,” Al Nakhi said.

Mohannad Shaheen, a 2017 industrial and systems engineering graduate, said the event helped him realize that Virginia Tech alumni occupy influential positions internationally. “A strong international presence is necessary to attract further talent, attract alumni, and reinforce Hokie pride,” he said.

Written by Rich Mathieson