Ambassador Adam Al-Mulla (’95 B.S., Chemical Engineering), now serving as Kuwait’s permanent delegate to UNESCO, credits Oregon State University with opening his eyes to the passion that has driven his career.
That passion would eventually lead him to work with people from various cultures and backgrounds to promote education, science, and cultural preservation and appreciation throughout the world.
As a young man in Kuwait, Al-Mulla aspired to be an engineer in the refining industry. A favorite English teacher he had in high school — hailing from Eugene, Oregon — inspired him to pursue a college education in the U.S., specifically on the West Coast. With its strong chemical engineering program and the college town atmosphere Al-Mulla desired, Oregon State was the perfect fit.
“My initial plan, following college, was to go to work back in Kuwait,” he said. “But then, in my senior year, I took some more research-oriented elective courses. I became very interested in research, so I went on to earn my master’s and Ph.D. During that time, I saw the impact professors had on their students. I did a refinery internship, which was very interesting, but I realized my passion was academia.”
He pursued his passion at Kuwait University, where he served first as a professor, then vice dean of the College of Engineering, and then as assistant secretary general of facilities affairs. While all of these experiences prepared him well for his current role with UNESCO, he said his undergraduate experience at Oregon State fostered his appreciation for a multicultural mindset.
“One of the great things about the Oregon State campus is that it has a very diverse culture,” Al-Mulla said. “Coming from Kuwait, I was able to interact with so many people from different states and nations. I learned to understand and communicate with people of different backgrounds, and we all accepted each other as friends connected through college life. Fifty percent of your personality is shaped by the connections you make, so it’s important to make the most of it.”
As a college professor, Al-Mulla has had opportunities to meet people from a wide variety of places with many different personalities.
“For my own personal growth, teaching helped me get used to being in front of crowds and speaking publicly, and research made me more technically proficient,” he said.
AMPLIFYING UNESCO’S MISSIONS
Al-Mulla was named a permanent delegate to UNESCO in February 2019. He’s now stationed in Paris. It’s a four-year post, after which he will return to the lecture halls and research labs of Kuwait University.
“My experiences at Oregon State and my career in academia helped me a lot with understanding and appreciating diverse points of view,” he said. “Progress requires compromise, teamwork, and working outside your realm in order to best represent your country and improve relationships with all nations.”
Living and working in different places has also helped Al-Mulla become more open and adaptable in every role. In his current role, he ensures UNESCO-sponsored projects and conventions are implemented in Kuwait and provides updates on cultural and educational happenings in Kuwait.
“I’ve started working on projects that align with a specific vision in Kuwait. One such priority is improving access to education, science, and cultural involvement for people with disabilities,” he said. “Every two years in Kuwait, we give awards to individuals involved in initiatives that empower people with disabilities. This is a shared priority with UNESCO.”
In addition, Al-Mulla is involved with UNESCO’s work evaluating and repairing World Heritage Sites. “We’re also working on projects to preserve the intangible, living heritage of different countries,” he added.
He works on educational equality initiatives with the International Bureau of Education-UNESCO in Geneva, on sports programs designed to promote peace among nations, and on Kuwait’s contributions to UNESCO-sponsored education, health, and environmental initiatives in Africa.
“Education for refugees is also a big priority, with a lot of funding from UNESCO and other organizations,” Al-Mulla said. “No one should be denied access to education.”
Al-Mulla said that while people may think his diplomatic role is far removed from his background, there are strong connections.
“Having an engineering background is perfect. In my role, I have to develop a problem statement, assemble a team, and find a solution to that problem, just as engineers do,” he said. “The things I learned as an undergraduate, especially how to communicate my ideas and develop the best solution for the lowest cost, apply to my job every day.”
Al-Mulla encourages current students to take full advantage of their time at Oregon State.
“It is a time to explore your ambitions and become a better person for society,” he said. “You never know what you’re capable of achieving.”