Winters in Central Kentucky aren’t always particularly cold. To one Frankfort newcomer, however, the winter of 2007 was the coldest he’d ever encountered.
In 2007, Ahmed S. Alsaqufi was a Kentucky State University master’s student fresh from Saudi Arabia and eager to learn aquaculture. He almost didn’t make it.
“My first winter, I told my friend I’m going to write my will because I’m going to die,” Alsaqufi said.
A mixture of homesickness and temperatures he found too cold to fall asleep in, brought Alsaqufi to his adviser Boris Gomelsky. “I told him, ‘I’m going to withdraw,’” he said. “I was serious.”
Gomelsky talked him out of it.
Gomelsky, an expert on fish genetics, was “like a father” to the young Alsaqufi. “He helped me to buy a car. He helped me to rent an apartment. He showed me how to register for courses,” said Alsaqufi. “When I defended my Ph.D. (at Auburn University), he was the first person I called.”
Alsaqufi, who was recently named director of fish resources research at King Faisal University in the eastern Saudi Arabian city of Hofuf, has kept in touch with Gomelsky through the years. He says he plans to write a Arabic translation of his mentor’s textbook “Fish Genetics: Theory and Practice.”
Saudi Arabia is investing more in aquaculture as part of an economic plan unveiled last April titled “Saudi Vision 2030.” The plan aims to reduce the kingdom’s reliance on oil.
Alsaqufi says his father, who works for national oil company Saudi Aramco, encouraged his son’s interest in aquaculture long before Vision 2030. “We need to think like my father did,” said Alsaqufi. “One day the oil will stop. We need other resources. He understood. He encouraged me to go to another field.”
As a fish geneticist, Alsaqufi is eager to enhance fish farmed in Saudi Arabia to appeal to different parts of the kingdom. “People like the grouper — probably too much,” said Alsaqufi, who wants to experiment with providing better tilapia to eastern provinces and better marine fish to central provinces.
Alsaqufi is also eager to foster relationships with foreign universities, including Kentucky State University and Auburn University, both of which he plans to visit this summer. Those relationships might involve sharing research funding or developing exchange programs, Alsaqufi said.
Alsaqufi is also eager to visit for a different reason.
“I miss the weather,” said Alsaqufi. “It gets really hot over here in June, July and August.”