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An alum’s rise in engineering and politics

Mohamed-Rafiquzzaman-is-pictured-in-his-lab-at-the-California-State-Polytechnic-University,-Pomona

Mohamed Rafiquzzaman has managed Olympic events, advised the White House on technology policies and worked on Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's economic recovery team.

He’s launched a global company that manufactures lenses for cataract patients and published 18 books that have been translated into Russian, Spanish and Chinese languages.

But he’s never forgot where it all started. 

Dr. Rafi MASc ’72, PhD ’74, remembers working diligently to prove himself to professors who challenged him to be his best. He also remembers those same professors welcoming him to jovial holiday gatherings in the staff room and joining him for a burger break at the Harvey’s on campus.

“When you worked, you worked very hard, but I learned how to enjoy life there too,” Rafi says about a belief he’s carried throughout his life.

“Where I am now is because of Windsor — and that’s the truth.”

Rafi was born in Bangladesh and moved to Canada in 1970 with his family to pursue a master’s in electrical engineering at the university that presented him the most competitive offer on both sides of the border — the University of Windsor.

His thesis advisor, Dr. William Miller, helped him and his wife and son settle in a new country they now called home and introduced Rafi to computers, which he had never seen before in his life. 

To this day, the two still talk and visit each other when they can.

Miller had a significant influence on his career; from the months of collaboration in the lab, to the meticulous hours the professor spent helping him prepare an industry-ready resume. 

“And now I do the same thing with my students,” says Rafi, who followed in Miller’s footsteps and became an electrical engineering professor. 

Rafi’s career started in Toronto at Bell Northern Research and then Imperial Oil in Sarnia. He now resides in Los Angeles where his business is headquartered and the university he teaches at, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, is located.

Rafi has rubbed shoulders with Schwarzenegger and eventually landed a spot on the former governor’s economic advisory team to help determine which areas of the economy should be mended first. He now calls him a friend. 

A quip he made to a stranger in a bathroom led him to the Olympics as a manager of the Olympic swimming and diving events. It turns out the man he made laugh was the CEO of one of the biggest sponsors of the ’84 Olympics.

“It’s so important to be focused and positive. I try to beat any negativity,” Rafi says. “Start your day with laughter. Work hard along with a positive attitude and you’ll never lose.”

Rafi says the valuable lessons he learned and practiced in life are crucial to his success. He tries to instill the same principles in the hundreds of students he’s taught in his 42-year career.

“I tell them to always try to improve yourself and you can do anything in this world,” he says. “Don’t blame someone else when something doesn’t work out. You improve it. If you have that attitude, no one is going to stop you.”

Engineers especially have an opportunity to make an impact in the world, he adds. During a three-year stint as an advisor to the White House’s Technology Policy Committee in 2003, he helped bolster breakthrough bio-medical research.

Dr. Rafi also helped introduce computer technology in Bangladesh in 1990 as an advisor to the country’s president. 

“Technology has a tremendous impact on society,” Rafi says. “One of the best fields to be in is engineering. We get to change people’s lives.”

This article was featured in the latest issue of WE, the Faculty of Engineering’s annual magazine.

WE is distributed annually to alumni, students, faculty, staff and industrial/community partners of the faculty. If you would like to receive WE electronically and UWindsor Engineering’s quarterly e-newsletters, join the faculty’s mailing list.

Photo credit: Tom Zasadzinski