Karim Abdel-Malek has led ITI, formerly CCAD, since 2005.
Wednesday, May 22, 2024
Photo of Karim Abdel-Malek

Colleagues paid tribute to outgoing Iowa Technology Institute (ITI) Director Karim Abdel-Malek with terms including “visionary,” “caring,” and “successful,” during a heartfelt luncheon on May 16. 

Abdel-Malek is stepping down as director of ITI, formerly Center for Computer-Aided Design (CCAD), after nearly 20 years of leadership.  

“What we have accomplished together is nothing short of amazing,” said Abdel-Malek, who joined the College of Engineering faculty in 1994. “Thank you.” 

Jun Wang, James E. Ashton Professor of Engineering and ITI assistant director, recounted the institute's history and accomplishments.  

“Karim had a stellar career trajectory in Iowa that most of us can only look up to,” Wang said. “His leadership for CCAD and ITI has led great strides in our research adventure and formulated a collaborative working-together culture for us to achieve research excellence." 

University of Iowa leaders and colleagues from throughout his tenure submitted tributes or spoke in person. Abdel-Malek's friends and family and Dean Ann McKenna shared stories of impact and personal anecdotes. 

“The research enterprise that Karim directed helped me secure multiple Department of Defense (DoD) research grants as the PI,” said Yang Liu, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering. “Karim outlined a vision that guides and motivates the center members to achieve research excellence, particularly on the DoD side.”  

Abdel-Malek may be best known as the inventor of virtual human avatars, Santos and Sophia. The avatars became popular tools across military branches and the private sector to predict human behavior and test equipment.  

Abdel-Malek conducted his own research as director of the Virtual Soldier Research Lab, securing $60 million in funding over many years. He also achieved three U.S. patents, five books, nine book chapters, 146 journal papers, 120 conference papers, and a variety of awards and accolades.  

Abdel-Malek became director of CCAD in 2005 and led an expansion of faculty, labs, and funding with a focus on applied engineering research and technology transfer for public benefit and use. 

His approach was entrepreneurial, operating ITI akin to a small business, some colleagues noted. Abdel-Malek built partnerships across disciplines and industries and focused on developing teams that could solve large-scale projects.  

Abdel-Malek was credited with mentoring junior engineering faculty and establishing seed funding programs through ITI to kick start their research careers.  

“I am deeply grateful to Karim for his leadership. It made a giant difference to me, especially when I was junior faculty,” said Ananya Sen Gupta, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering.  

In 2019, the Iowa Board of Regents approved the renaming of CCAD as ITI to reflect its broader scope. ITI reorganized into mission areas all linked by a core of predictive modeling and simulation: Advanced Manufacturing and Materials, Aerospace Technology, Biotechnology, Environment and Energy, Human Modeling and Simulation, and Systems and Sensors. 

Abdel-Malek noted he will rejoin the mechanical engineering faculty when his term as ITI director concludes. The term ends in June, but Malek has agreed to stay on in an interim capacity until a new director is named.