Top-paid professor brings GW overseas

The University’s highest-paid professor earns more than most administrators and hundreds of thousands more than most faculty. But Shahram Sarkani is not your average professor.

Sarkani, a professor in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, spends up to 200 days a year on the road, crisscrossing the world to teach engineering courses to a range of big-name clients that include the Taiwanese Air Force and aerospace manufacturer Lockheed Martin. Administrators said the Engineering Management and Systems Engineering program, which Sarkani directs, is one of the fastest-growing and most profitable sectors of the University.

“He’s a superstar,” said Donald Lehman, executive vice president for academic affairs. “I wish I had more people with his energy.”

Sarkani earned $571,280 in 2006, more than any other employee besides then-University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg and Skip Williams, provost and vice president for health affairs, according to the University’s most recent tax documents, released this spring. His salary had risen nearly $100,000 each year since 2003, according to the records.

“There are many reasons why he is paid so well by the University,” Lehman said. “But he also teaches, conducts research and participates in service just like any professor.”

While EMSE runs more than 20 graduate and doctoral programs in the U.S., Sarkani recently returned from Taipei, Taiwan where he and SEAS Dean Thomas Mazzuchi helped teach an accelerated graduate program to a Taiwanese corporation.

“Originally, the program started with the Taiwanese Air Force, but I think we taught all of them,” Lehman said. “Now it’s corporate clients.”

The corporate courses are taught cohort style, with students learning alongside their fellow employees and with a specialized focus in mind. Rod Harris, the Lockheed Martin learning and education coordinator for the West Coast, said the company prefers Sarkani’s courses for educating their employees because they are flexible.

“GW has been open to tailoring programs for our specific needs,” Harris said. “If we go to another university, we have to take whatever is offered.”

Harris said Lockheed Martin has been using Sarkani’s programs in the Washington area for almost a decade. Their West Coast courses, which Lehman mentioned as a major source of revenue for the SEAS program, began three years ago and are gaining popularity after GW began offering instruction on location.

“The class starts at 5:30, so students can grab a bite to eat after work, stay on campus and never have to worry about traffic,” Harris said. “It makes other programs feel like pulling teeth.”

Sarkani, reached at his GW office in California, said his near-constant travel was crucial to the success of his programs.

“Because (EMSE Chair) Professor Mazzuchi and I are the ‘faces’ of EMSE-OCP programs in the recruiting phase, we find the students expect to see us frequently in their classrooms as well,” Sarkani said. “The travel naturally is tiring, but the intellectual and professional satisfaction that reward us for our efforts well outweighs any physical inconvenience.”

Sarkani said corporations come to GW for these engineering degrees because, unlike other distance learning programs, the school brings their full graduate program to these corporate sites.

“While the program is identical to our on-campus offering in terms of admissions criteria, delivery, content, faculty, and scholarship, a factor vital to our success is the exceptional student services we strive to provide,” Sarkani said. “EMSE-OCP facilitates all the interactions with GW that a student may require. This relieves the students of the burden of dealing with logistical interactions with the University, which are, at best, challenging from a distance. This way the students can concentrate on their studies.”

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