University of Illinois’ Provost Cangellaris to build Neom University in Saudi Arabia


Sydney Laput

Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Provost Andreas C. Cangellaris speaks during the grand opening of the Siebel Center of Design on Oct. 8. Provost Cangellaris will be leaving the University after 25 years to travel to Neom University in Saudi Arabia.


Last week, the University of Illinois announced that Provost Andreas C. Cangellaris will be leaving the University to travel to Saudi Arabia, leading a university that will be developed and built by the Provost himself.

Cangellaris, who has been a professor for nearly 25 years, has been serving as Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Provost of the University. Before that, he was the dean of the Grainger College of Engineering and the department head of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Cangellaris said that making the decision to move to Saudi Arabia was a hard one, especially after his 25 years at the University.

“I was born and raised in Greece,” Cangellaris said. “My wife is American. And after the 41 years we’ve been together, I have convinced her that I am a citizen of the world. And she has accepted that but, you know, she needs her home base and as far as I can tell, Urbana-Champaign is our home base.”

As a citizen of the world, Cangellaris said that the challenge of developing what will be Neom University is a great one, that he is very much conscious of the environment, and that the promise is great.

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Saudi Arabia, especially the area in which Neom University will be established, will be a sustainable region running on progressive laws, Cangellaris said. Cangellaris added that everything that will be done there will be built to be sustainable in the future ahead.

Cangellaris gave the example of Green Steel and the manufacturing process, mentioning that Saudi Arabia is currently trying to cultivate sustainability even in other industries within their Kingdom.

“What they want to do is they want to build a university from the ground up that is going to inspire and support this new state in the Kingdom by providing the students, who join there, the opportunity to combine their learning in the classroom with immersive learning in the community, as the community develops,” Cangellaris said.

In Saudi Arabia, the primary source of funding is gas and oil, a fossil fuel community. Cangellaris said that the citizens of Saudi Arabia know that this is not a sustainable future for them.

“So they’re trying to position themselves for a future where their young generations think about other ways in which they look out to the prosperity and then contribute to the world,” Cangellaris said.

Although Cangellaris has helped set up a partnership between Zhejiang University in China and the University, he said his life has been primarily in the United States. He said that he has had a significant presence in terms of partnerships around the world.

“This is the first time where I’m going to be in a different place, working the majority of my time there, and I will tell you, it will be different,” Cangellaris said. “But at the same time, as I said, the opportunity is so great that the discomfort of trying to adjust to a totally different culture and world is worth it.”

Cangellaris said that the most rewarding thing about being a part of the University faculty has been the amazing people he has met. He said that anything his community decides to accomplish, they will make happen.

“Nothing is impossible at the University of Illinois. Once people decide they want to do it,” Cangellaris said. “They will make it happen. And this is a thing that, first of all, has driven me throughout my academic career, to know that I’m in a community of people who make the impossible happen.”

Cangellaris said a significant part of building Neom University will be education and innovation, and it will do so by emphasizing sustainability, renewable energy and respect for the environment.

“Developing this awareness of students about the importance of sustainability for the future of the world and also the fact that you know, innovation is making all the difference in the world,” Cangellaris said. “If you look around you, the ability to come up with new materials that are degradable, biodegradable, for everything that we do around this, that requires significant creativity by humankind.”

Cangellaris said he wants to turn Neom University into a living laboratory, creating inspirations in the environment and letting those who attend think about the new things that the world needs to be doing as they think about a sustainable future for everyone.

As Provost Cangellaris leaves the University for a future of innovation at Neom University, he emphasized the significance of opportunity and education here at the University. He said it is the experience at the University that has prepared him for his future in Saudi Arabia.

“I’m going to be building the university from scratch,” Cangellaris said. “This is what is most exciting. I’m given the opportunity to use all my experience, all the things I have learned, all the lessons I have learned from the mistakes I’ve made in the past to build a university from scratch.”


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