Get to Know HFC: Math instructor Dr. Ali Hariri’s family has deep HFC ties
HFC mathematics and engineering instructor Dr. Ali Hariri taught at the College at the same he was taking classes at the College.
“The most interesting part of it is, during Fall 2000, I used to go to HFC on Tuesdays and Thursdays to teach math and on Mondays as a student to help me understand Programmable Logic Control,” said Hariri, of Dearborn Heights, a principal engineer at DTE Energy.
A native of Lebanon, Hariri audited the classes CIS 171: Java Programming and ELEC 245: Programmable Controllers at HFC (then called Henry Ford Community College) in 2000. He also served as a math tutor in the HFC Learning Lab.
All in the family
Not only did Hariri attend HFC, but so did Hikmat, his wife of 30 years, and their four daughters. Here is a brief list of their HFC connections:
- Hikmat Hariri earned her associate degree in computer information systems at HFC. She continued while she was pregnant with their third daughter during her second year at HFC.
- Rana Hariri was a pre-nursing student at HFC from 2012-14. She transferred to Michigan State University, where she completed her bachelor's degree in nursing. Currently, she is a registered nurse at Beaumont Hospital, Dearborn.
- Dr. Rola Hariri recently graduated summa cum laude, earning her doctorate in pharmacy from the Eugene Applebaum College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences at Wayne State University. During her days at Crestwood High School in Dearborn Heights, she was a dual enrollment student at HFC. Like her father, she volunteered as a math tutor in the Learning Lab.
- Nour Hariri was dual enrolled at HFC while attending Crestwood. She is currently a full-time student at HFC in the pre-engineering program. She plans to transfer to Wayne State to complete her bachelor's degree in electrical engineering, following in her father’s footsteps.
- Manar Hariri is currently a sophomore at Crestwood. Like her two older sisters, she is a dual enrollment student at HFC.
“As you can see, every member of my family was or is a student at HFC,” said Hariri. “We love Henry Ford College!”
The importance of math
Hariri attended high school in his native Lebanon. Although he wanted to be an engineer, he admitted he was not particularly good at math.
“During my sophomore year of high school, I was below average in mathematics,” recalled Hariri. “At that time, my dream was to be an electrical engineer, but I did not know that mathematics is the main gateway to any engineering field. In my final two years of high school, I had a phenomenal mathematics teacher. He had just earned his bachelor’s degree in mathematics and was about six years older than I was. He explained to me just how important math is in the engineering field. I was so inspired by him. With his support and help, I was able to go from a below average student to being one of the top students in mathematics during those two years. During my undergraduate and graduate programs, I earned an A in all my math classes.”
Those classes included Calculus I, Calculus II, Calculus III, Differential Equations, Linear Algebra, and Engineering Mathematics I.
After immigrating to the United States in 1983, Hariri earned his associate degree in pre-engineering from what is now Rogers State University in Claremore, OK. He later earned his bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from Wichita State University in Wichita, KS. He went on to earn both his master’s and doctoral degrees in electrical engineering from Wayne State.
For his dissertation, Hariri was required to attend 2-3 seminars and publish a minimum of three papers. In one of those seminars circa 2011, Hariri was selected to be the chairperson of the Modeling in Biomedicine and Biomechanics session at the International Association of Science and Technology for Development (IASTED) for Modeling, Simulation, and Identification in Pittsburgh.
During his grad school days, he won the Professor Andrzej Olbrot Travel Award for Excellence in Graduate Student Research 2011-12 at Wayne State. His research was selected to be the best student research in Wayne State’s College of Engineering during the 2011-12 academic year.
HFC is a great place to be a student and a teacher
Hariri has been teaching at HFC since 2000. He has taught both mathematics and engineering classes. He is a senior adjunct faculty member, reporting to HFC College of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Dean Janice Gilliland. His desire to teach at HFC began when he was a student at HFC.
“I was so impressed by the quality of teaching at the College,” said Hariri. “When I went to register in the basement of the Reuther Liberal Arts Building, I was very pleased by the way I was welcomed and the help I received. After these two experiences, I said to myself, ‘This is a great place to study and to work.’ And here we go – all my family members studied at the College, and I have been working here for the last 22 years!”
Hariri was impressed by the way the College – particularly the Math Department – responded to the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020 when all operations were moved online.
“We were able to be on top of everything,” he recalled with pride. “We worked around the clock trying to adopt the new system of teaching 100 percent online to save the Winter 2020 semester for our students. The math team was working together to help each other deliver the best education to our students. I did not see that teamwork anywhere else. I have friends who teach at other colleges who were extremely impressed with the teamwork demonstrated at HFC. They were left to their own devices and had to figure out how to continue the semester themselves.”
He continued: “That wasn’t the case at HFC. All the math teachers at HFC were trying to help each other through email or Zoom. Now HFC’s engineering instructors are working as one team. That team is no different than the math team. I am sure the instructors in the other departments at HFC are doing the same thing. I can proudly say HFC is a great place to be an employee or as a student.”
Getting students not to hate math
Teaching math can be a challenge for Hariri because so many students declare they are “bad at math” or that they “won’t use math” when they enter their chosen professions. Hariri also found that 75 percent of students reported hearing other adults speak negatively about math, saying things like, "I hate math.” Hariri aims to change that perception among today's students.
“Math teachers can show students just how much they can and will use math every day,” said Hariri. “The big challenge is really how to help skeptical students have success at math. This involves using both concepts and drills in a combination that allows less-experienced students to survive and succeed in a difficult academic situation.”
Hariri’s favorite classes to teach are Intermediate Algebra and Introduction to Engineering.
“As an electrical engineer, I have to say Engineering 130. But I have to also say Math 110,” he said. “This class is the main gate to all math classes that are required for any field of study, especially the mathematics and engineering fields. I call Math 110 the foundation of all mathematics classes. And the mathematics classes are the foundation of the engineering classes. I’ve taught Math 110 for about 17 years – I really love it!”
Making learning engaging and interactive
Gilliland spoke highly of Hariri.
“Dr. Hariri has been a dedicated instructor at HFC for decades,” she said. “He spent many years teaching all levels of mathematics and has now transitioned to provide education in the engineering department. Here he will be able to share his workplace experiences at DTE Energy with students who are entering the field of engineering.”
Having taught at a 4-year university and at a community college, Hariri prefers HFC.
“Teaching at a university may require attending lots of seminars, and professors are often more focused on research than teaching,” he explained. “But community colleges don't have research departments. The instructors are hired to teach, which is where their focus lies. They are able to give students more attention than university professors. Many community college students find that the quality of instruction is better at the community college level than at the university level.”
Hariri continued: “Another crucial component to the college experience is small class size. You won't see many huge, crowded lectures at HFC. Most classes have 20-30 students or fewer. This allows for much more interaction and constructive discussion rather than a one-sided monologue that is common in entry-level university classes. The small class sizes also contribute to the quality of the teaching. Professors in small classes are naturally compelled to make the learning process more engaging and interactive. Classroom discussions are more common, and professors are generally more accessible to students.”