Mohammad T. Alhawary came to Norman in fall 2001 to start the Arabic language and Middle Eastern studies programs at the University of Oklahoma.
Shortly after his arrival, the 9/11 terrorist attacks made the study of Arabic even more important in U.S. national security and foreign relations.
Interest in the program at OU rose every year, but still Alhawary was the sole full-time professor in the Arabic language program.
But with the university's recent receipt of a new grant, Alhawary will get some help.
The National Security Education Program awarded OU's International Programs Center a $1.3 million grant to expand the Arabic language program on the Norman campus.
"It's going to really put us on the map in terms of regionally and nationally as well," said Alhawary, ConocoPhillips professor of Arabic language, literature and culture.
The award will provide money for scholarships for OU students majoring in Arabic, hire new faculty and staff and allow OU to study the best Arabic language programs in higher education across the United States.
"The selection process for National Security Education Program grants is extremely competitive," OU President David Boren said in a press release. "This award recognizes the growing excellence of OU's International Programs Center."
Boren authored the legislation that created the federally funded NSEP when he was a U.S. senator. Administered by the Department of Defense, NSEP provides grants for institutions and students to study world regions and languages critical to U.S. interests.
The fact that Boren started the NSEP probably didn't hurt OU's chance of receiving the grant, said Zach Messitte, vice provost and executive director for the International Programs Center. It probably helped for the selection committee to know that the university administration also supported the efforts of the Arabic program, he said.
The grant couldn't have come at a better time.
"The program is kind of literally bursting at the seams," Messitte said. "For obvious reasons, the program is very popular."
There is a great need for more Arabic language training, Alhawary said. Arabic is one of the six official languages of the United Nations. It is spoken by at least 300 million people in the more than 20 countries in the Arab world. It is also the religious language of the world's 1.3 billion Muslims.
And it's important for U.S. national security and foreign relations. The Arabic program at OU prepares students for a variety of careers in the government, international business or the arts, Alhawary said.