When asked about his philosophy of volunteerism, Ahmad Durrani, professor emeritus of civil and environmental engineering at Rice, gives a quick smile and knowing look: “Volunteering is my way of giving — of doing good in the community.” Throughout his career as a Rice professor, an entrepreneur and vice chancellor of Lahore University of Management Sciences, Durrani sustained an impressive body of service-oriented activities.
“Leaders must be volunteers first,” Durrani says. “As a volunteer you can better understand the community you are trying to represent.” In his retirement, Durrani has doubled down on giving back — putting his considerable talents and knowledge towards philanthropic pursuits, university service and community advocacy.
In 1982, on the advice of his Ph.D. advisor at the University of Michigan, Durrani came to Rice as an assistant professor in the civil engineering department. During his first weeks in Houston, he was taken in by the warm and collegial welcome from his department and the gorgeous campus environment. “I came here, and I fell in love with it,” Durrani says. “Opportunities arose from other places, but I never wanted to leave.”
A long-time Jones College volunteer associate, Durrani consistently sought out ways to connect with and engage students outside of the classroom. In the early 1990s, he helped Jones students start Ideas to Action, an entrepreneurial club that created their own small business providing dorm room essentials to incoming freshmen.
In the late 90s, Durrani founded the Rice Global Engineering and Construction Forum, an organization that connects the university with oil and gas executives in Houston. Now in its 21st year, the RGF boasts over 40 affiliate companies, a permanent board and an executive director. Durrani, who is currently serving as the chair, recently passed a resolution to place students on the board alongside senior executives — both to show them how a working board functions and to allow them to build contacts with industry leaders.
In 2008, it was in the spirit of giving back that Durrani finally agreed to leave Rice. He retired from the university to become vice chancellor (a role equivalent to university president in the U.S.) of Lahore University of Management Sciences in his native country of Pakistan. In addition to guiding an impressive and diverse research university, Durrani negotiated a memorandum of understanding between LUMS and Rice to help bring promising graduate students to Houston.
This pipeline of students from Pakistan to Rice facilitated yet another club sponsorship for Durrani. Now back in the U.S. and retired, Durrani is sponsor of the Rice Pakistani Student Association. “PSA is an organization that lives in two worlds,” Durrani says. “The students still carry their culture from Pakistan, but at the same time they want to adopt the ways of Western culture.” As a faculty sponsor, Durrani helps to bridge that gap by corresponding with incoming students, managing expectations, providing rides from the airport and generally making the students feel at home. He makes a point of inviting new students to his home for an annual summer party and works to ensure they become a part of the Rice student body.
Durrani is also on the board of directors for the Association of Retired Rice University Faculty. On top of efforts to engage retired faculty in memoir writing, book discussions, talks and conferences, ARRUF works to connect retired faculty with the Rice community.
For Durrani, retirement has become a time to do all the things he’s always wanted to do. This includes working with organizations that serve the community, like the Alliance for Compassion and Tolerance and Crisis Intervention. He is also a member of the West University Rotary Club, where he oversees a committee that gives scholarship money to students at Rice and the University of Houston. On the weekends, he can be found at his ranch in Brenham where he is trying his hand at hay farming.
If you are a Rice faculty or staff member and are interested in learning more about sponsoring a campus club, you can find sponsorship details on the Rice University Student Center webpage.