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Saad El‑Zanati’s Career at Illinois State

MCCCC34 coincides with a celebration of Saad El‑Zanati’s career at Illinois State University.

Saad El‑Zanati earned his Ph.D. from Auburn University in 1991, and in the same year he began as an assistant professor in the Department of Mathematics at Illinois State University. He was promoted to the rank of professor in 2000 and was named Outstanding University Researcher in 2007. In 2014, he was named a distinguished professor; the highest academic rank bestowed by Illinois State University. In August 2021, Saad retired after teaching for 30 years at Illinois State.

Saad’s research focuses on several areas in graph theory and combinatorial design theory. He is the author of over 100 research articles in discrete mathematics. He has done extensive work on graph and hypergraph designs and is recognized as a leading authority on graph labelings. Saad has given over 75 presentations about his research, including nearly 20 plenary presentations at conferences throughout the United States and in Turkey, Thailand, and Australia. Saad has co-directed three Ph.D. theses with colleagues in Thailand.

In 2002, Saad was awarded the Hall Medal by the Institute for Combinatorics and its Applications (ICA), an international professional organization for researchers in discrete mathematics. The Hall Medal recognizes extensive quality research by an ICA member in mid-career. In 2007, Saad co-authored the chapter on graph decompositions in the second edition of the CRC Handbook of Combinatorial Designs, the premier reference guide for research mathematicians in the area of combinatorial designs.

Since 2007, Saad has received nearly $5 million dollars in funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF). He is the principal investigator on seven NSF grants that engage undergraduates in genuine mathematics research. He developed and implemented the Illinois State University Research Experiences for Undergraduates Site (REU), which focuses on original research and exemplary teaching practices for prospective secondary mathematics teachers. Undergraduates from across the nation travel to Illinois State for the opportunity to participate in the REU program, which has generated over 100 projects, publications, and presentations.

During his tenure at Illinois State, Saad initiated the collaborative Teacher-Scholar Program in Secondary Mathematics, bringing together education and mathematics faculty. He has served on the Academic Senate, the College of Arts and Sciences Faculty Status Committee, the Advisory Committee for the National Center for Urban Education, and on multiple committees dedicated to building curriculum, implementing strategic plans, and strengthening teacher certification. The College of Arts and Sciences at Illinois State has honored Saad with the Distinguished Teaching Award and the Outstanding College Teacher Award.

Saad credits his career achievements to the support and encouragement of his department and his many collaborators. He particularly acknowledges the influential roles of Christopher Rodger (his Ph.D. advisor) and Curt Lindner at Auburn University, Peter Adams and Darryn Bryant at the University of Queensland in Australia, and Narong Punnim at Srinakharinwirot University in Thailand. His discrete mathematics colleagues Amin Bahmanian, Heather Jordon, Michael Plantholt, Dan Roberts, George Seelinger, Songling Shan, and Papa Sissokho are credited with creating an intellectual environment at Illinois State in which collaboration thrives. Most of all, Saad acknowledges that Professor Emeritus Charles Vanden Eynden, his friend and long-time research partner, is the giant on whose shoulders he stands. Ryan Bunge, his talented and dedicated former student, is now a crucial colleague contributing to the accomplishments of the REU program. Saad recognizes that the success of the teacher-scholar model is due to the support of his mathematics education colleagues David Barker, Distinguished Professor Emeritus John Dossey, Cynthia Langrall, Sharon McCrone, and Wendy O’Hanlon. Key components of the REU program would not be possible without the support of NSF, the Center for Math, Science and Technology and the ISU Chicago Teacher Education Pipeline.

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