Campus Closeup: Mohey Mowafy
By age 12, Mohey Mowafy (HPER) was convinced that he needed to leave his native Egypt for the idyllic United States he saw depicted in several 1950s American films. But after the 1967 war that pitted Egypt and its Arab allies against Israel, education was the only ticket out. So he left for graduate school at the University of Wisconsin after a period spent earning a college degree and teaching at Ain-Shams University in Cairo.
“Because I had a decent GPA, my government-assigned job was to teach at a university and continue on for a graduate degree,” said Mowafy. “That’s how things used to be in Egypt. I didn’t really have a choice and I was born into a family of teachers. My grandfather, father, brother and uncles were university teachers and it was pretty much decided for me that I would follow the same path.
“I had studied animal husbandry and exercise physiology, even though I’m no athlete and can’t even throw a Frisbee. But the research grants at the time were in biochemistry—especially in the area of nutrition. I changed direction based on a professor’s recommendation.”
After earning his doctorate, Mowafy applied to 27 universities for full-time employment. The first offer came from Northern. He joined the home economics faculty in 1976 and immediately felt welcomed by the Marquette community he said he deeply loves and considers home. He later was asked to develop a dietetics program within the department. Mowafy still teaches courses in nutrition, cultural food patterns and obesity/weight management, but the dietetics major was eliminated in a round of deep budget cuts.
“I actually proposed to have it go because I recognized enrollment was not keeping pace with the cost of offering the program. It was the right decision.”
Mowafy has no regrets about his profession, even if it was initially assigned to him. In fact, he fully embraces it and talks passionately about his role in empowering students—or learners, as he calls them—to set their own standards, achieve their own goals and become independent thinkers.
Harmony is a predominant theme in his personal life. Mowafy is a member of the Marquette Interfaith Forum. Since Sept. 11, 2001, he has frequently been asked to present on topics outside the realm of nutrition sciences. He recently served as a panelist at the World Congress on Middle Eastern Studies in Barcelona for two sessions: the constructs of peace and violence in the Muslim world; and the role of Muslim women bloggers in the current reformation movement. In what he calls "the highlight of my life so far," Mowafy also chaired a session on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
“I was in awe of how many Muslims, Christians and Jews were there. The speakers were the 'academic rock stars' in that field, My grandfather was a true scholar—a Renaissance man. He instilled in me that you can’t limit yourself to one academic topic. I’m asked to share my perspective because I am an Egyptian-born American Muslim who detests religious intolerance and bigotry. Mostly I discuss the religious-political aspects of the Middle East and the role we, as Americans, play in the region.
“I am not a strict or devout Muslim. My wife calls me ‘Muslim Lite’ because I select wonderful nuggets to live by, such as love, compassion and forgiveness. Many of these are also embraced by Christianity and Judaism. If terrorists can pick and choose violent verses to motivate their actions against humanity, I reserve my right to cherry-pick the positive aspects of my faith to abide by.”
Mowafy is a self-professed political junkie, spending three hours each night reading global newspaper coverage to “monitor the dialogue.” He also enjoys taking daily walks with his wife, Kris, a Negaunee native who is director of nursing at the Eastwood Nursing Center. They reside in Harvey with Mowafy’s son, Adam, from a previous marriage.