Head of University of Louisiana Computer Science Department: ‘Our Strength is in Our Diversity’

Magdy Bayoumi, director of the Center for Advanced Computer Studies and head of the Computer Science department at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, was born and raised in Cairo, Egypt—but he always knew he’d to move to America one day. “Since I was in high school, my plan was to come to the Unites States of America,” he says. “I knew the U.S. was ahead of everybody in terms of technology, and my interests were in microelectronics and computers. It was like a dream became true when I finally got here.”

If you look at microelectronics specifically, many of the people working in this field are immigrants.

Bayoumi arrived in the United States on a student visa and enrolled in a Master’s program at Washington University in St. Louis. Following graduation, he headed to Canada to get his PhD in computer engineering, so it wasn’t until 1987—after he’d secured his current staff position at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette—that Bayoumi returned to the country he’d longed to call home. He was approved for citizenship in 1991, and in his 30-plus years as an educator, he’s taught roughly 3,000 students. Currently, Bayoumi is working with a group of graduate students to design microelectronic chips that can communicate with the human brain. “They do different things and can have many purposes,” he explains. “It can help if you have an artificial limb. It can help to diagnose a mental disease.” It’s important work being done in a field that is consistently in need of more skilled workers. He would like Americans to fill these jobs—and he often speaks to students at local high schools about the value of majoring in STEM fields. But at the moment, there simply aren’t enough qualified Americans in the field. “If you look at microelectronics specifically, many of the people working in this field are immigrants,” Bayoumi points out. “And yet we always need more qualified people than what’s available.”

In addition to the important roles immigrants play in STEM, Bayoumi knows America’s foreign-born population is also crucial to our nation’s economic success. “Most of them contribute to the economy by working and paying taxes,” he says. “They’ve become very useful citizens. Many have been here so long that they now feel they belong here.” He says the idea of deporting 11 million undocumented immigrants who are already here makes no sense. “What about families? Will you break them up?”

Separating parents from children and husbands from wives is hard for everyone involved. Bayoumi knows that struggle firsthand, since he had to leave his own parents and brother behind in Egypt when he migrated here. “But after a while of being in the U.S., you no longer feel like an immigrant—you feel like you’re from here. I feel I am an American now.” Today, Bayoumi is married and has two sons—the oldest of which is married to “an American girl,” he notes gleefully—and a daughter. “So we are really having more roots now.” Feeling safe, secure, and integrated into the country you choose to call home is a feeling Bayoumi wants all immigrants to have—which is why he knows our immigration system has to be reformed. The current one, he says, is “too complicated and needs to be simplified.”

“This country is based on immigrants,” says Bayoumi. “That’s how it was built, and that’s how it will be sustained. Our strength is in our diversity, so we need reform that accommodates those who are already here and minimizes undocumented immigration going forward. If we can take this money that was [allegedly] going toward building the wall and invest it in Mexico’s economy instead, the people who live there can have a reasonable life there and won’t have to come here. I don’t know if that’s a romantic idea, but it’s an idea.”

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