Physics Alumna Named Interim Dean At Connecticut Community College

Fatma Salman’s journey in physics starts with dismantling battery-powered devices as a child and leads up to her recent appointment as interim dean of academic and student affairs at Manchester Community College (MCC) in Connecticut. Along the way, she raised five children, picked up two master’s degrees, a doctorate degree and became a U.S. citizen.

Challenging? Yes. But for Salman, the pursuit of a goal and a passion for teaching makes the finish line worth it.

“Patience is such an important component of success,” Salman said. “There were plenty of times I wanted to give up, but you just have to look at your long-term goals and keep pushing through.”

Salman’s choice to go into academia versus industry started with the teachers in her native country, Egypt. These instructors saw her potential, genuinely valued her success and coached, encouraged and mentored her through high school and into secondary education. Salman got her first chance to mimic her professors as a university teaching assistant.

“When you have that light bulb moment and a student suddenly grasps a difficult topic, that’s just the best thing,” Salman said.

As much as Salman enjoyed teaching and doing research in the university in Egypt, she saw better opportunities on her horizon. She immigrated with her family to the U.S. in 1999, and interviewed with Professor Robert Peale, Ph.D. for the physics doctorate program at UCF in 2001.

At the moment she was dealing with the stress and culture shock of an international move in addition to the duties of caring for children who, at the time, were 4, 18 months and six months. Touring the UCF laboratories, plus the warm welcome she received from faculty, though, confirmed she made the right move. A month later, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 unfolded.

Her fears of retaliation and discrimination against a woman who wears the traditional hijab were eventually set to ease. She singles out her professor at the time, Michael Johnson, Ph.D., future College of Sciences dean and current interim provost, as someone who set the respectful and accepting tone of the Department of Physics.

Freedom to be herself allowed Salman to focus on her studies and hone her teaching style. As she explains it, she sees physics in every aspect of life; it’s a fundamental part of her identity. That makes teaching physics less explaining concepts, and more demonstrating application.

“I put a lot of work into my pedagogy,” Salman said. “It always frustrated me when a professor would take students up to a certain point and then just leave them to figure out the rest.”

Graduation led to teaching positions at UCF and Valencia Community College, before transitioning to MCC. Today, she is fulfilling a fourth term as the MCC campus director to the NASA Connecticut Space Grant Consortium, along with memberships in the American Physical Society, American Astronomical Society and the American Association of Physics Teachers.

The work ethic that carried her this far remains a spur to advancing her career, along with her now five children.

“I want my kids growing up and seeing what their mom achieved. She doesn’t give up easily,” Salman said.

Salman extends her gratitude to her doctorate advisor at UCF, Lee Chow, Ph.D., and former Department of Physics Chair Talat Rahman, Ph.D., for their encouragement and wisdom along her professional journey.





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