Dr. Magdy Bayoumi, a self-described "Egyptian Cajun" heads up UL Computer Science, which was the University's first great academic success, and which has spawned many innovations on campus, in Lafayette, and around the world. ultoday.com spoke with him recently.

Tell us about yourself.

That's a very dangerous question.

I grew up very focused. When I was in high school and looking to my future, I had three wishes, or plans. I wanted to be the President of Egypt; or an Ambassador; or a professor in an American university.

As a mater of fact, at school we had a class government, and I was president. We were doing a lot of work, even more than the SGA here.

I was also working as a freelance journalist, working for some small publications. I was interested in social issues. I have always believed there is no true democracy for hungry people.

In the same token, there is no democracy for uneducated people. I have always believed that education must be available for everyone in the society. So in the Summer, I would work in the rural areas, teaching adult literacy.

I have two opposing forces struggling in me, one pulling me more and more toward Egypt, the other pulling me away from Egypt, because I didn't like many of the things in the system there.

When I arrived in North America, I never had culture shock. I had read a lot about it, I was expecting many things. I like people, I approach them, and I was very lucky. Everywhere I lived in the US and Canada I made many good friends.

When I came for my interview at UL, I had opportunities to go to many places in California, Canada, Hawai'i, but I fell in love with Lafayette from my first visit. Old Tyme grocery was one of the ingredients. What I liked was that they took me to something very down-to-earth. You had to eat with your 10 fingers, and mess up your tie and shirt. What can be more real than that? They didn't take me to a fancy restaurant, and I liked that.

With time, I became more connected with the people here in Acadiana. In our first two years, my wife was pregnant with our second child. She had some medical problems, and people were very supportive. And that strengthened our ties here.

I like very much walking down the street here, and saying "Hi" to everyone.

I am really growing more and more to feel that I am an integrated part of this community. When people say that I'm a Cajun Egyptian, I believe strongly in that.  I dedicated one of my books to Acadiana, it says:  "To Acadiana, I saw you, I hugged you, I kissed you, and we are dancing since."

As part of our Cajunization, my son was recently married to a Cajun girl. They are having both an Egyptian and an American wedding, two ceremonies.

Lafayette is very tolerant.

That's a very important point. After 9/11, teachers went to my daughter and said, "If anyone ever says anything bad to you, just let us know." And nothing happened. I was invited to many functions for 9/11, and was there in front.

9/11 was very emotional, the feeling was double for me. I feel the pain as any American does, but more pain because of the connection to my region. It was double the dose, double the pain.

But the nation survived, Lafayette survived, the community survived. Not just survived, but became stronger. We're still doing the two-step and the jitterbug. Our gumbo is even better.

Computer Science was the first big star at UL.

This is one of the attractions when I visited UL. We started computer science activities in 1962, before most of the big schools. Our Computer Science department was one of the first to be established in North America, before Computer Science became "cool". We set very high standards and we kept our leadership within the state, nationally, and globally.

Since that time, UL has established a tradition of excellence and significance in the computer science area. We took a lead in the state, and we took ourselves to the forefront of computer science in the nation and the world.

A very significant step in this effort was the establishment of CACS, the Center for Advanced Computer Studies. CACS was a focused effort to assemble the best talent, the best resources, and challenge them to take UL Computer Science to the next level. In addition, CACS was to establish itself with the elite programs in the nation.

CACS played a major role in many initiatives at UL. We were critical in establishing ACIM, which is now CBIT [The Center for Business Information Technologies]. Dr. Ramesh Kolluru, Director of CBIT, is a CACS graduate. He has also recently founded NIMSAT [The National Incident Management Systems And Technologies]. CACS was instrumental in getting the NASA application center on campus, and in establishing the Cognitive Sciences program. The Director of Cog Sci, Dr. Subrata Dasgupta, is a CACS faculty member. We were very instrumental in pushing the idea of LITE, when many people were very skeptical. CACS was also one of the major voices pushing LONI forward.

CACS alumni also have a made an impact globally. For example, one CACS alumnus, who was from a small African country, developed the internet infrastructure in that country, in the early '90s. Another alumnus established a new college of engineering in Hyderabad ten years ago. This college has a very close relationship with several international corporations such as Intel. One alumnus established the first Health Informatics college in the Middle East, in Saudi Arabia. Another one established a Super Computer Center in Thailand, and he developed close relationship with LONI in Louisiana.

So CACS has developed leadership, and created a stimulating environment for new ideas and innovation.

I guess this is very natural, because we are a young department. That's a difference between the US and Europe, America is a very good environment for new ideas. A new idea will still fly here. In Europe. with their long history, new ideas are not received with the same enthusiasm.

Well, CACS is young and we're open to new ideas. For example, we went ahead on CajunBot, and we didn't have a robotics program. But we looked at it like an embedded software/hardware project. That shows we were ready for the challenge. We didn't shy away from competing with the elite schools. We believed in ourselves, and the University and the community supported us.

I always liked the linkage and the relationship that developed between CACS and the community. We always look at ourselves as competing nationally and internationally, but we will always have a major role here in Acadiana, and in the state.

So we see ourselves as one of the main players in Lafayette, which is a unique community. All the representatives of the big companies, SUN, IBM, Microsoft, Silicon Graphics, they were very impressed with our work as a team: the University, the City-Parish Government, business people, community leaders like Bill Fenstermaker and Clay Allen. We work as a team. For instance, we have local leaders bringing in futurists to look at Lafayette. You don't have these initiatives in many other communities.

As an academic unit in this short time, CACS and Computer Science have established a very rigorous reputation for research. We are not a big department. If you look at the research money we get, it averages about $3M per year, with only 17 faculty members. So per faculty member, we are very productive.

Also many of our faculty have been invited to be keynote speakers, program reviewers, and evaluators. Our people have been on many committees for the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, the Department of Defense, and others.  Two of our young faculty, Dr. Hongyi Wu and Dr. Dmitri Perkins won National Science Foundation career awards.

We are the only department in the field of computer science, maybe any area, where the graduate school and research components are in separate department from undergrad education. This means that we can keep the quality of undergraduate education high, so it is not overshadowed by the glamor of research money and publications, or graduate education.

Our Computer Science alumni are the biggest supporters for maintaining a very rigorous undergraduate curriculum here at UL. We have not fallen in the trap of sacrificing undergraduate education for the glamor of research and graduate studies as it happened in many top universities. Our unique system of having a separate department focused on undergraduate education, but one that works in a close relationship with the graduate program-- both under one administration-- has paid off tremendously. For instance, our department of Computer Science has been one of the first to develop a Video Games Design curriculum.

We also strongly believe in our role in supporting K-12 education. The Computer Science department sponsors the longest running high school programming contest in the nation. We have also initiated an annual Computer Science Education for High School Teachers six years ago. Our faculty do this in their own time, for one full week.

You have been a prominent advocate for UL and for the state of Louisiana.

Across Louisiana, we are not very good in projecting our achievements and accomplishments. Too often, we are obsessed with showing how backward we are. Of course, we should pay attention to our shortcoming so that we can overcome them, but with the same token we should highlight those surveys and studies that reflect our progress and advances.

For instance, not many people know the progress which took place in higher education in the last ten years, including the improvement in our faculty faculty. It is very crucial for our citizens to know this, so that our students are proud when they enroll at UL. It is very important that we push for an image enhancement campaign in Louisiana, as well as nationally and internationally. It is a must.

In addition to the quality of education and research that both Computer Science and CACS provide, we always stress the quality of life of that Lafayette and Acadiana can offer. In 1983, the Computer Science department hosted the largest computer science conference in New Orleans.

We then hosted an international microelectronic conference in Lafayette in 1994, which brought in more than 500 people from allover the world, the majority of whom had no clue where Lafayette was. We accomplished that through a community effort. In addition to the technical programs in Microelectronics and Computers, we had a Cajun and Zydco culture program with the help of people like Bary Ancelet and Ed Roy. Not surprisingly, many of these people came again for conferences in Lafayette in 1998, 2000, and 2003. As they say, "You have to come back for the real gumbo." In 2007, we hosted a large international conference in New Orleans, with more than 1200 people involved, despite all the negative publicity after Hurricane Katrina. In addition to having the main technology gurus from SUN Microsystems, Texas Instruments, and the MIT Multimedia Lab, we also hosted a Mardi Gras ball that captured everybody's imagination.