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Jutta Abulawi: "Do something else, too!"

Prof. Dr. Jutta Abulawi

Jutta Abulawi in one of her classes.

Leaving campus: Jutta Abulawi together with her students at the Space Lab Bremen.

Hamburg's Pilots: Jutta Abulawi

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20.12.2016Standortpiloten

Hamburg Aviation Series "Hamburg's Pilots" - Episode 8: Prof. Dr.-Ing. Jutta Abulawi, professor for systems engineering and CAD at the Hamburg University of Applied Sciences / vice dean of the faculty of engineering and information technology

When Jutta Abulawi glances out the window of her office, on the 11th floor of the Hamburg University of Applied Sciences (HAW Hamburg), she finds herself looking straight into the kitchen and living area of a student residence.  A fridge, a microwave, paper towel - "and sometimes there are even people actually cooking", she can confirm. If she looks beyond that building she sees her own area of expertise: "Over there is the airport - I have a perfect view of all the aircraft movements here."  The professor in the HAW's Department of Aeronautical and Automotive Engineering began her own path to aviation right here at Berliner Tor - as a mechanical engineering student. In the 1980s it was still a case of  100 students, and one of them female - Jutta Abulawi. She was never bothered by being unique, she emphasises. But it meant that she never had the benefit of hiding in a crowd, for example attending fully booked tutorials where she had missed out on an official place.

From Chinese to Engineering

Jutta Abulawi's interest in engineering began very early. As a little girl at kindergarten, when she was told she had to play with the doll's house and wasn't allowed to use the Fischer Technik, she simply refused to go back the next day. At first, though, she thought her calling was something very different. She wanted to study Chinese, which was indeed an exotic programme back then. When her parents finally managed to persuade her to study mechanical engineering, she came to the discipline with a suitably laid-back attitude. "The degree programme was more of a game for me, a chance to see what I could do. I wasn't stressed, because I actually wanted to fail so that I could study Chinese. And I really wasn't a genius, but I understood how the game worked, and I didn't fail a single thing - even though I had only done elementary mathematics at school," recalls the Professor for Systems Engineering and CAD with a laugh. She now also serves as Vice-Dean in the Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science. 

HAW: Full-Perspective

Then, 15 years ago, yearning for a career change, she left Airbus and the special-purpose equipment manufacturer, Aristo, to return to her alma mater. Initially she was employed as a research associate in the CAD laboratory, "a job, where nobody was afraid of coming into contact with a mother of young children." Her colleagues quickly noticed how good the chemistry was between her and the students. Little by little she was brought into teaching and had the opportunity to conduct her own courses. Ultimately, a sponsored professorship programme saw her attain her doctorate in her mid-40s. Abulawi has thus seen HAW from all sides: as a student, as a research technician, as a professor, and as a member of the extended university leadership. A career that began in industry is something she has in common with almost all applied science professors. The fact that she now teaches what she was once doing herself is thoroughly advantageous, says Abulawi. "From morning until evening I was desigining and developing as an engineer, and so this is what I prefer to teach. I have an understanding of the discipline, I know what counts. And that is what I want to pass on to my students."

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Teaming up with Airbus

Since 2011, she has been successfully working together with Airbus in the Cabin & Cargo area. This allows her to give her students a number of real engineering design tasks to be completed under her guidance and with the support of an Airbus mentor. The students hold their project presentations at Airbus, too, which is an especially exciting experience for the team, as Abulawi is keen to point out. For the presentation, students have to produce three creative concepts for the chosen design task, and then implement them. The question "how can a dog be taken along in the cabin?", for example, led her students to develop a concept for integrating a dog transport box in two attached catering trolleys. The dog can thus fly on board and doesn't take away any space in the passenger area. Meanwhile, some of the students' ideas have been registered for patents.

It's all about practical comprehension

For Jutta Abulawi, learning is above all about practical comprehension. In the past, when she wanted to get young girls excited about engineering programmes at Girls Day, she would disassemble domestic appliances with them. And she regularly takes her students on excursions, most recently to the USA to visit companies there - and to cycle across the Golden Gate Bridge together. It is important to Abulawi, she says, that her lecturers are teaching occasions, not assessment occasions - and that anyone who wants to learn can learn.

Original Text: Julia Grosser
Translation: Paul James Compton

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