Q/A with a Valpo Professor

20150716 JLH Sami Khorbotly Garden-008

Inside the College

How would you describe your teaching style?

Interactive. I like to engage my students. I usually start each lecture by asking a question to pique their interest in the subject. Their answers are not always correct, but they become intrigued, which helps them retain the information.

For example, I might ask my students how many computers they have in their homes. Most of them say two or three, but the reality is that they probably have 20 to 30 in their houses — one in microwave, one in their cell phone, one in almost every technological device. This initiates a conversation about the difference between desktop computers and embedded computers.

Can you describe the research that you do and how you involve students in your research?

I do a lot of research in computer vision. We try to make computers, primarily robots, see things. Humans usually open their eyes to see things, but it is a lot more complicated when trying to tell a robot to extract and interpret information from a video or image.

Recently I have been working with a group of students on swarm robots — a group of robots working coherently to achieve a certain mission. For example, say you have a rescue mission involving a disaster area, and you want to evacuate that area. In that case, you might have 10–15 autonomous vehicles that would retrieve people and transport them to safety.

What is one of the most interesting projects you have worked on while at Valpo?

I really enjoyed working with Professor Craig Goehler, Ph.D., and the senior design team on the robotic football project. Through the class, a group of students built 11 robots that competed
at University of Notre Dame, where we won first place. Then we won another competition here on campus against Purdue University Kokomo. The project was a lot of fun because it combined sports and engineering, which are two of my favorite things. It was an exciting challenge to design robots to do things like tackle and throw, and translate sports concepts like speed and strength into engineering terms — motor speed and battery power.

Outside the College

You mentioned that you enjoy sports. Which ones are your favorites?

When it comes to watching sports, I enjoy basketball and football the most, but I also enjoy playing sports. In my free time, I like to go to the ARC to play pick-up games of basketball with whomever is there at the time. I also play soccer with some other members of the faculty every now and then.

Rumor has it you have a bit of a green thumb?

I have a vegetable garden in my backyard. I grow tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, and eggplants. I also grow a variety of herbs such as parsley, cilantro, basil, and mint. Every morning, I enjoy waking up to check on the progress, and I love when I can pick something and put it in a salad or another dish. It just feels different than buying it. It’s also an excellent pastime and gives me a reason to be outside. Otherwise, I would likely spend the whole day working at my desk or watching TV.

What else do you enjoy doing in your free time?

I love to travel, and of course, I enjoy going home to Lebanon to visit my family. Everyone except for my wife is in Lebanon — my parents, my brother and his family, and all of my cousins. When I’m there, I spend a lot of time going from home to home visiting people. I have to be careful, though, because the culture there involves everyone inviting you over for food, so I always gain about 15 pounds every time I visit.

Aside from being back home, some of my favorite places to visit include Montreal and Gulf Shores, Alabama, or any beach in general.

At a Glance

Sami Khorbotly, Ph.D., College of Engineering

Sami Khorbotly, Ph.D.,
College of Engineering

Originally from Lebanon, Sami Khorbotly, Ph.D., Frederick F. Jenni Professor of Emerging Technology and associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, has made a second home at Valpo with his wife, Nadea, who is the assistant director of student services at the Graduate School. Now in his second year in the College of Engineering teaching courses such as logic design, advanced digital systems, and senior design, Professor Khorbotly has quickly found his niche, both in the classroom and out.