Design was on the mind of TCC professor Mohamed Chehbouni when, as a teenager, he struck out on his own to Germany from his native Morocco. After one year at the local university, his desire to attend a top university was feasible because tuition was free, and he would be allowed to work off campus to earn living expenses.
Before he could start his college course work, though, Chehbouni had to expand his linguistic skills beyond Arabic and French to include German, the language in which his classes would be taught. One semester later, after proving his German efficiency, his desired major still remained beyond his grasp. Would his yearning to study the “fingerprint” distinction of European architecture prove strong enough for him to delay his education again? Or should he settle on a major that had a spring semester start such as chemistry, math or physics so he could begin his studies?
When he entered the doors of his daily chemistry lab, trading his dreams of fashioning brick and mortar for the present opportunity to explore smashing molecules, Chehbouni had no idea that his life would be altered forever. Once he warmed up to chemistry, he never looked back.
“I did not like it at the beginning, however, (in) time, it was a real joy when I ended up figuring out the unknown or finding out the correct yield after very hard work,” Chehbouni recalled. Since those early days in the chemistry lab, he has distinguished himself as a noted academician who influences students to engage in ways they never envisioned. His passion for his embraced field has inspired international acclaim, allowing him to open the doors of possibility to others.
Chehbouni earned his undergraduate degree in polymer chemistry from the University of Applied Sciences in Aachen. At the urging of an older brother who lived in Arizona, Chehbouni—the seventh of eight children, decided to pursue his doctorate in the United States. His brother, a leading doctoral environmental scientist and the recipient of many international awards, helped him with the move. Seeking a post graduate degree was a natural step for Chehbouni. His parents had worked hard to ensure that he and his siblings earned college degrees, he said, adding that five of their children have earned graduate degrees, including three at the doctorate level.
“I had to learn English since I could only speak French, Arabic and German. First, I joined the English Center at the University of Arizona in Tucson. Once I passed the test for English as a second language, I applied to Ph.D. programs at various universities,” he said. He selected Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, OK, as it offered his desired research topic, a full scholarship as a teaching/research assistant and waived out-of-state tuition throughout the program.
It was there he fell in love with the classroom. “I found passion for teaching when I worked as a teaching assistant. It was rewarding to see the joy on the students’ faces when they understood complicated topics about chemistry,” he said. “I knew right away that I will be seeking a job in academia after graduation.”
A highlight of his academic career at OSU occurred during his graduation. Chehbouni was selected to represent all masters and doctorate students when he greeted then-President George W. Bush, OSU’s commencement keynote speaker, and sat behind him on the podium during his speech. “Out of 25,000 students, a student with a first name Mohamed, who speaks English as a fourth language, was selected to represent all graduate students and shake hands with the President of the United States,” he said. “That says something about the United States: It does not matter who you are or which country you are from; as long as you excel in what you are doing, you will be recognized.”
After earning his Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry in fall 2006, Chehbouni became an assistant professor at Southeastern Oklahoma State University in Durant, OK, and was promoted to associate professor with tenure in 2011. He secured his fulltime position as an associate professor at TCC after spending 11 years driving four hours in some cases to teach less than an hour. The drive was motivated by his love, dedication and devotion to the students who showed up each class period for his classes.
“That is what set him apart for me in the interview process. Determination and commitment, focused on doing what’s needed to support his college and students,” said Zena Jackson, vice president for academic affairs for TCC Southeast. “Since Dr. Chehbouni’s arrival to Tarrant County College, he has stepped up as a committed faculty member and created opportunities for his students. He is passionate about chemistry and has a strong desire for students to love it as much as he does.”
When he joined the TCC faculty fulltime in 2017, Chehbouni’s paramount concern for students moved him to immediately “(start) looking for possible collaborations between TCC and neighboring universities so that the students (would) have access to state-of-the-art instruments, such as Atomic Absorption Spectroscopy, Thermal Gravimetric Analyzer, X-Ray Diffraction instruments,” he said.
Even as he sought those partnerships, Chehbouni invested in students by starting a chapter of the American Chemistry Society (ACS) during his second semester at TCC Southeast. His memories of his own financial struggles in college prompted him to secure a startup grant to fund the cost of the student officers’ dues for required memberships in the national organization.
Establishing the chapter was important “to give the students a platform to engage with other chemistry students nationwide. The students will have a chance to listen to invited speakers from various fields, in nursing, pharmacy, medicine etc.,” he said. “They also will be able to visit various universities and companies and learn about scholarship opportunities offered. This way, the students will gain a good knowledge and can, therefore, make a sound judgment on which school to attend after graduating from TCC.”
During his first summer at TCC Southeast, Chehbouni developed a collaboration with Texas Christian University working with Omar R. Harvey., associate professor of Geology, Department of Geological Sciences. He was appointed a Visiting Research Scholar at TCU as a result of his work. He served for two years, leaving with an open-ended invitation to return.
Harvey, who met Chehbouni when they were both volunteering as judges at a Fort Worth high school science fair, recalled telling his wife that “within five minutes of conversing, it became clear that this guy was living his purpose and he knew it. Mo (as Chehbouni affectionately is known) was oozing with joy at teaching chemistry and now getting to do it at TCC. He recounted in an amazing nonchalant manner his daily pre-TCC trip of driving two hours each way to teach his beloved chemistry class at Southeastern Oklahoma State University—sometimes to teach a single 50-minute session. Knowing Mo’s character like I do now, I have no doubt he would have driven further if it meant just one student got to learn something about chemistry.”
Chehbouni’s work beyond the boundaries of TCC at TCU resulted in his invitation to be the keynote speaker at the International Conference in Applied and Theory of Nanostructures (ICATN) 2019 in Kenitra, Morocco. The significance of his presentation extended beyond interacting with colleagues, he said.
“I wanted to take advantage of this opportunity to increase awareness of research conducted at community colleges in general and at Tarrant County College in particular. Since the conference was hosted by a university in Morocco, I had a chance to talk not only to the scientific community, but the students as well. Most of the students in Morocco know the US education system at universities, but not at a community college. I had the opportunity to answer several students’ questions regarding how to apply to TCC transfer courses and what opportunities they have.”
Chehbouni continues to teach at the community college level because its value to students remains just as critical to him today as when he first recognized it. He recently was selected to mentor a graduate STEM student at The University of Texas at Arlington who is interested in a community college teaching career. “The goal of the program is to give the graduate student a view of how TCC faculty use evidence-based teaching practices to improve STEM education and promote the success of our diverse students,” said Jean Maines, professor of biology and co-department chair of biological sciences at TCC Northeast. Maines serves as part of the leadership team of the Texas Regional Collaborative with Aspire, which, according to their website has two objectives:
- To foster the engagement of four-year institutions and partnering two-year institutions for the purpose of creating a diversified and well-prepared pool of future STEM faculty; and
- To develop programs that will allow graduate STEM students from UTEP, UT Arlington, UT Tyler, and UT Permian Basin to explore the possibility of a rewarding career at two-year institutions through meaningful and intensive mentoring relationships.
“The program pairs a UTA STEM graduate student interested in a community college teaching career with a STEM faculty member at TCC. The goal of the program is to give the graduate student a view of how TCC faculty use evidence-based teaching practices to improve STEM education and promote the success of our diverse students,” said Maines. “The student will visit Dr. Chehbouni’s classroom (virtually) to observe his teaching and together they will develop curriculum materials (a lesson on a specific topic) that the graduate student could deliver in the class. Dr. Chehbouni was chosen to serve as a mentor in this program because of his excellence as a chemistry faculty member.”
“When I joined TCC as an adjunct instructor while teaching full time in Durant, I realized that the students have a better chance to graduate on time if they started at a community college. In addition, the small classes allow students to access the instructors more easily unlike big universities. During the overlap, I was in a better position to compare both systems. I can tell with confidence that the education system at community colleges is student friendlier than in universities,” Chehbouni said, “At TCC, for instance, most courses are offered at least twice a year, and sometimes even during summer I and/or II. At universities, some courses are offered either during the fall or spring semester. If a student misses taking the sequel, he or she is forced to wait for one year to able retake it again. It automatically jeopardizes the student’s plan to graduate on time.”
Chehbouni has given more 30 presentations at the national and international level, including an abstract of a paper presentation at the 257th National Conference of the American Chemical Society in in Orlando, FL., and a presentation at the 258th National Conference of the American Chemical Society in San Diego, CA. He also is the author of several peered-reviewed papers, has reviewed several manuscripts and has secured more than $70,000 in grants from various agencies. He holds several awards including the best paper award from the American Ceramic Society, Material Science and Technology.
The contributions he makes to the field of chemistry manifest themselves in what he brings to students in his classroom, according to William Coppola, president of TCC Southeast.
“Students who are pursuing careers in STEM, and specifically chemistry, will look to Dr. Chehbouni’s accomplishments as an indicator to connect with him in his classes and through his academic research. His achievements are a definite way to recruit students for our College at large, especially students interested in studying chemistry,” Coppola said. “Already, Dr. Chehbouni is active in judging science fairs and competitions at high schools. His presence will reinforce his talents and knowledge in such a way to encourage students to attend TCC Southeast.”
Once enrolled at TCC, students can benefit even further from Chehbouni’s ongoing investment in them.
“He provides students with outreach opportunities that connect them with other students around TCC and at universities such as TCU and UTA. His impact is evident in students’ acceptance at universities such as TWU, Tarleton, Skaggs Graduate School of Chemical and Biological Sciences at Scripps Research,” Coppola said. “Dr. Chehbouni brings much to the campus community and is passionate about seeing his students and colleagues succeed. As an active member of our college community, he continually contributes to the mission and vision of TCC.”
His administrator, Thomas Awtry, dean of math, science, engineering and health and physical education at TCC Southeast, agreed.
Dr. Chehbouni is an energetic and productive faculty member who has been very successful with student engagement both in and outside the classroom. In the classroom, he is organized, has good questioning skills and uses technology effectively to reach, engage and assess students.
Dean of Math, Science, Engineering and
Health and Physical Education,
“I appreciate that when he questions students, he doesn’t just stop with the initial question, but asks good follow-up questions to guide student learning a step further.”
With all he has accomplished and continuously gives to his students, Chehbouni has visions of creating even more educational opportunities for them.
“(I want to) develop a research course at Southeast Campus so that students can gain experience in research,” he said. “In addition, I am hoping to offer all courses in both face-to-face and blended format to give the same chance to students who cannot attend the class twice a week.”
Chehbouni’s dedication to their education is not lost on his former students.
“Dr. Chehbouni has been particularly helpful in guiding students’ educational goals through arranging special guest speakers from different areas of study, relative to science,” said Mike V. Mabry, a former ACS Student Chapter president who now cultivates exotic plants for mass distribution with plans to own his own farms. “He has done an excellent job. He shows students how to be true artists of their craft and gives them the means to pursue it. The response I have seen from students is that; they are absolutely adamant about gaining his approval, he motivates them that well.”
Vy Nguyen, also an ACS club officer who became a supplementary instructor for Chehbouni’s classes, credits him for her development. “I have gotten to develop my leadership skills and communication skills,” Nguyen said. “The ACS is an awesome place for students to make friends, share our interests, explore new things and learn from each other.”
Things she learned in his classroom impact her in other areas.
“Dr. Mo has a very clear and descriptive plan of what he wants students to take away from his course. The greatest takeaway from Dr. Mo’s course is time management,” Nguyen said “I have never thought it was important until I took his class. He had a detailed schedule for each week, assignments/homework due for students to schedule their learning accordingly.
“I am still utilizing this method to schedule my weekly works and assignments. Although there were some low-energy weeks that I cannot bring myself to finish assignments, following the schedule somehow motivated me to get things done,” she said. “I love his teaching style: very organized and knowledge driven. Dr. Mo wants every student to take the most out of his classes and to prepare them for their future career, not just for mere grades on their degrees. Ever since I have met Dr. Mo, it was like opening a huge door of opportunity.”
Reflecting on his achievements, Dr. Chehbouni’s loving and supportive wife, Dr. Sania Khatib, was there with him on every step. It started on his proud graduation day from OSU when he greeted then-President George W. Bush descending from his helicopter on the football field. She always joyfully accompanies him on national and international events to offer support and to celebrate his successes. “For the past 16 years, I would not have been enjoying this success without my wife’s limitless support. She has been my companion and my best friend building memories together in our journey,” said Chehbouni.
Students interested in chemistry can learn more about chemistry at TCC.