On a beach in Tunis, a young man helped a toddler retrieve a ball floating in the waves. That simple act triggered a lifetime of connections for Mohamed Chikhaoui, who helps students from Cambridge, Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East share the intellectual wealth and spirit of MIT.
Chikhaoui was in high school when he retrieved that child’s toy. The boy’s parents, it turned out, were American cultural attachés working for USAID. They asked if he’d considered attending college in the United States. “I just laughed,” he recalls. But the envoys arranged for scholarship assistance, and Chikhaoui came to Cambridge, where his soccer skills helped the MIT team become “one of the finest in New England,” according to the Tech. In the spring of 1965, at the invitation of the State Department, Chikhaoui taught an orientation for Peace Corps volunteers headed to his homeland. “For me this was an unforgettable, positive experience,” he says. “These were bright young people who were really eager to travel to other countries and learn about other cultures and help wherever they could.”
After studying electrical engineering and computer science at MIT, Chikhaoui earned a bachelor’s degree in economics at La Sorbonne. He worked in health services engineering in Paris, where he met his wife, and then in Germany. Next he moved to Saudi Arabia, where he helped engineer the nation’s modern hospital infrastructure.
Now retired, Chikhaoui is living once again in Germany. As president of the MIT Club of Germany from 2007 to 2012, he organized annual meetings that featured professors Wolfgang Ketterle and Phillip Sharp—both Nobel laureates—as well as Chancellor Eric Grimson.
Chikhaoui is proud of the club’s successful effort to send four German high-school teachers to MIT’s Science and Engineering Program for Teachers (SEPT) for a week each summer. They return charged with enthusiasm, Chikhaoui says: “The idea is to give this fascination over to their pupils.” Working with the MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI) program in Germany, Chikhaoui helped engage MIT students to teach in German high schools during IAP. He also judges the $50,000 business plan competition held by the MIT Enterprise Forum for the Pan-Arab region. In 2012 the Alumni Association honored him with the Harold E. Lobdell ‘17 Award for his many years of enthusiastic service.
Chikhaoui remained close to his mentors—his faculty advisor, Henry Morss, and Eugene Chamberlain of the International Students Office—throughout their lives. He also stayed in touch with the family that set him on the path to MIT that day long ago on a North African beach.