A HUMBLE RETIREMENT FOR ROSNI ABDULLAH@MUSTAFA AFTER 33 YEARS OF TIRELESS SERVICE IN COMPUTER SCIENCE

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PENANG, July 2020 – The third day of June marked the day Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) community showered a gorgeous lady named Rosni Abdullah@Mustafa with much gratitude for her endless efforts serving the university in the field of computer science.

After more than three decades well-spent contributing to the university, the former Dean of School of Computer Sciences USM humbly retired from her position.

It was not a short journey for Professor Dr. Rosni Abdullah@Mustafa, to spend 33 years uplifting computer science in USM. Despite not having a smooth-sailing journey with much hurdles met throughout her service in USM, this true-blue Penangite has put in all her efforts to garden young souls with her knowledge and expertise in computer science.

All thanks to this respected lady, USM made its mark in the nation and world with its successful alumni specialising in computer and information technology in both academics and researches.

As the eldest child from 10 siblings, Rosni was raised well in Bagan Ajam, Butterworth. Started schooling in Kolej Tunku Kurshiah (TKC) in Seremban (1975-1979), Rosni furthered her studies in the degree of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics (1980-1984) in Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA.

With her thirst for knowledge, Rosni continued her Masters in Computer Science in Western Michigan University (1984-1986). Loughborough University in United Kingdom became her last alma mater when she got herself enrolled in a PhD in Computer Science for 5 years (1993-1997).

The USM Media and Public Relations Centre (MPRC) was lucky enough to have a short interview with Rosni so that we could carve out a short read-up here right for you about her story and experience in USM.

The following is the essence of our interview with Professor Dr. Rosni Abdullah@Mustafa.

The Untold Journey from the Little Spark of Passion

First and foremost, we would like to extend our utmost gratitude and congratulations to Prof. for your tireless commitments serving USM for 33 years. Could you share with us the starting point of your career after the completion of your Ph.D?

Thank you for your well wishes. I am grateful for USM’s initiative to conduct an interview with me. The significant part of my life that paved my journey to date started with me being inspired by my father who was an educator. My father was a Mathematics teacher and he would do tuition classes after school. That was the time I saw the passion and determination in him for managing the tuition classes. Somehow, this sparked the interest in me to be just like him as an educator but hopefully at the tertiary education level. My father was my role model at that time.

I was actually offered the USM fellowship scheme to pursue my Ph.D towards the end of my Master’s in USA. However, I rejected the opportunity after deciding to get a working experience first in Malaysia. Luck-struck, I immediately applied for the open position of Lecturer of Computer Sciences in USM once I returned to Malaysia.

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I was beyond grateful to hold the position and started serving in the Computer Sciences Department of the School of Mathematical and Computer Sciences since 1987. Four years into teaching and I started realising that my Master’s qualification was insufficient to educate university students.

My stepping stone to my Ph.D programme was when I attended the ‘Supercomputers’ conference in Kuala Lumpur in 1991. I was motivated to pursue ‘Parallel Algorithms’ due to the lack of algorithm development back then as compared to the rapid development of hardware in supercomputers. In December 1992, I started my Ph.D programme in Loughborough University, UK; a 5-year stint before returning to USM in May 1997.

One of the greatest blessings I have in life is my husband who had been very supportive then to quit his job and moved to UK together with our three children. His sacrifices motivated me so much to hurry the completion of my Ph.D so that he will be able to return to Malaysia to pursue his own career ambitions.

When People Say, ‘You Can’t Do It!’, Prove Them Wrong

Could Prof. share with us if you have experienced any discrimination for choosing Computer Science just because you are a female venturing into a new field three decades ago?

Undoubtedly, yes. There was once in an introductory session with a group of seniors when I was laughed at for sharing my interest to try pursuing a degree in Computer Science. They claimed that females can never do computer science because the field was a very tough one back then. I decided to prove them wrong, that females can succeed in Computer Science. However, my scholarship sponsor, Majlis Amanah Rakyat (MARA) did not allow me to change my course from Mathematics to Computer Science. This hurdle made me brave myself to go for a double-degree study, which was Applied Mathematics and Computer Science.

On another occasion, during my interview for the lecturer’s post at USM, I was asked a rather peculiar question, “Am I able to handle the students who are all physically bigger than me?” Well my answer was, "Sir, you should not judge a book by its cover. Even if you put a big fat guy in the class, do you think he can control the students?" The entire panel of interviewers burst into laughter, perhaps thinking that it was a rather amusing answer. Eventually I got the lecturing post, and I am very thankful for that. 

Recognised Awards and Achievements that Made Everyone Go ‘Wow!’

The experiences in your education and career journey are certainly worth sharing. Now, could Prof. please share with us your accomplishments throughout your service in USM as a motivation for the present and future staff to succeed in their respective fields?

Well, I have published more than 100 journals and scientific materials which can be the main references in my field, including several international publications. Throughout my journey to contribute to USM, I am very blessed to be recognised and awarded with various accolades for academics, researches and administration including:

               1. Academic Staff Higher Education Scheme (ASHES), Nov 1993 – April 1997
               2. Excellence Service Award 1994
               3. Excellence Service Award 2003
               4. Excellence Service Award 2010
               5. Honorary Industry Award, Academic Category 2015
               6. Excellence Service Award 2017

The Principles: Inspire Them, Engage Them, Empower Them

What are the principles that Prof. upholds in your duty and to be a good leader?

Always do your best, properly delegate and leverage the strength of each staff and aid them to improve their weaknesses and of course, to work together in a productive and harmonious working environment. ‘Inspire Them, Engage Them, Empower Them.’

The Secret Idol

Who is the greatest icon in your life that made you to be so highly-inspired to succeed in life?

Since young, my role model was my father. However, as I grew, I observed successful leaders around me and they became my inspirations.

The Sweetest Memories Etched Forever

What are the sweetest and unforgettable events that Prof. would like to share with us along with your contribution and service in the School of Computer Sciences and National Advanced IPv6 Centre?

To be honest, there were too many unforgettable events to share but these are a few that will cross my mind when good memories are mentioned:

               1. To be able to work together with staff to make any official event/ceremony organised by PTJ a
                   successful one;
               2. To see students bag home success and awards in any competition;
               3. To watch the staff achieved success, especially work promotion.
 
My greatest joy would be meeting alumni from Computer Sciences outside of USM and watching them succeed. There were quite a number of occasions that I had seen them in events I attended. These alumni saw me while delivering their speeches on stage and would extend their gratitude to USM and to me personally as their lecturer. That was enough to make my day.
 
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The Legacy Lives and Goes On

Dear Prof., what is the legacy of your academic knowledge and expertise that you think would benefit future generations that will continue to serve in USM?

My main research field is Parallel Computing, mainly on Parallel Algorithms. This field is quite ahead in 1997 when I completed my Ph.D.

In 2000, I started exploring Parallel Algorithms to process biological data and began multidisciplinary researches. At the same time, I ventured into industrial relations and obtained a sponsorship grant from Intel for parallel processing. Also, I collaborated with Intel to organise a multicore-programming training programme for researchers from the higher education institutions.

That was also the time Intel contributed the Intel Multicore Lab to USM. In 2013, Intel offered a collaboration opportunity for Intel Galileo and Intel Edison training programmes to expose the Internet of Things (IOT) to all Computer Science students through the Computer Science curriculum, final-year projects and researches in both Master’s and Ph.D programmes.

Thus, I was exposed to many Intel Makers activities and the participations prompted me to commence the Makers@USM activities in late 2016. These activities were formalised in USM on 1 March 2017. The idea obtained strong support from USM and the proposal was presented to the Ministry of Higher Education. With that, Unimaker emerged in 2018 as the Makers’ activity in Malaysia’s higher education institutions.

The zenith of Unimaker USM was USM topped the first and second prizes in the inaugural Unimaker Competition 2018.

The two main basics by Rosni:

1. Multidisciplinary Research, which should lead to multidisciplinary teaching. When I ventured into exploring the use of parallel algorithms for biological data, some people said I was crazy. Today, I have graduated 24 Ph.D students and 3 Master’s by research, where 15 of the Ph.D and 2 of the Master’s are in the area of Computational Biology.

I was one of the researchers involved in the Newton-Ungku Omar Grant with researchers from UNIMAS to explore Deep Learning in astronomy. The grant was with astronomy experts from Manchester University, UK. I have also led a team of multi-disciplinary staff to secure a LRGS MRUN grant entitled ‘High Performance Big Data Analytics Platform for Optimizing Oil Palm Yield via Breeding by Design’ with collaboration between UTM, UM, UKM, UPM and Felda Global Ventures (FGV). The grant was approved in mid-March 2020.

2. Research impact from collaboration with the industries, and activities from Makers@USM and Unimaker.

The Iron Lady Who Handles her Career and Family Well

Prof., how do you manage your time to be committed in both your career and family?

Coping between family and career is indeed a challenge especially for the females. My principle is family is always first, but not to the extent of neglecting my work responsibilities. I am always grateful to be blessed with a supportive and caring husband who is always there to assist me in managing family matters.

The Inspiration that Ignites Fire in Young Souls

Last but not least, could Prof. share a few words to motivate all USMians to continue serving the university with full commitment and love?

No one is perfect. Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses. Identify them. Work hard through the strengths to contribute to USM and improve the weaknesses. Always be ready to learn and explore new things. Share your knowledge and experience among the staff and work as a family to advance USM to a greater level. With utmost importance, enjoy your work and be sure of your life goals. Thank you.

Text: Angel Goh Wei Ling (USM Alumni)/Editing: Tan Ewe Hoe & Mazlan Hanafi Basharudin/Photo: Ebrahim Abdul Manan 

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