Obama Honors Physicist Solomon Bililign With Presidential Award

President Obama has named Ethiopian American Physicist Solomon Bililign as one of the nation's "Outstanding Science, Math, and Engineering Mentors." He will receive his award at a White House ceremony later this year. (Photo credit: Courtesy photo of Solomon Bililign and official White House photo by Pete Souza)

Tadias Magazine

By Tadias Staff

Published: Thursday, November 17, 2011

WASHINGTON, DC (TADIAS) – When Physicist Solomon Bililign was a young teacher imprisoned in Ethiopia during the “Red Terror” era, he never imagined that he would one day receive a Presidential Award in the United States.

Now a professor at North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University, Dr. Bililign is one of nine individuals whom President Obama this week named recipients of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring. The honorees will receive their awards at a White House ceremony later this year. The award recognizes the role that mentoring plays in the academic and personal development of students studying science and engineering. According to the White House, candidates are nominated by colleagues, administrators, and students at their home institutions.

“Through their commitment to education and innovation, these individuals are playing a crucial role in the development of our 21st century workforce,” President Obama said. “Our nation owes them a debt of gratitude for helping ensure that America remains the global leader in science and engineering for years to come.”

“I am humbled by the honor,” Dr. Bililign said in an interview with Tadias Magazine following the announcement. “I am just one of thousands of mentors who happened to be nominated.” He added: I am sure there a lot more deserving mentors. The recognition would motivate me to do more.”

Dr. Bililign said that success in science, engineering or math is not as glamorous as success in performing arts or sports in the U.S., but the economic competitiveness of the nation, depends on a solid foundation in the sciences. “Young people need to be encouraged, pushed, persuaded to do it,” he said. “Not for the money or fame but for the love of discovery and innovation. I believe every one has a gift, and a mentor’s role is to identify the gift and nurture it.”

Dr. Bililign was born in Dessie, Ethiopia. He left the country in 1987 to pursue a PhD in Physics at the University of Iowa. “Both my parents were teachers,” he said. “They are actually the first graduates of the Debre Berhan Teachers Training program then run by the US Point Four program.” He continued: “Their first assignment was in Mekele, Northern Ethiopia where they started school under a tree by collecting shepherds from the field… that modest start grew into a big elementary school where my father served as a Principal for over 10 years and my mother taught home economics, until they transferred to Dessie. I did all my school grades one through eleven at Atse Yohannes Elementary and Secondary School.”

Dr. Bililign said he followed in his parents footsteps to be trained as a high school teacher and joined the Prince Bede Mariam Laboratory School in grade eleven. “ I graduated as a physics teacher from Addis Ababa University (AAU), but ended up as a graduate assistant at AAU and taught there as a lecturer for several years,” he said.

But Dr. Bililign’s life-journey has not always been easy. He was imprisoned and tortured during the “Red Terror” era. His father died in a car accident on his way to visit his son in prison.

“While no one had to go through [what I went through], I think I have turned that negative and hard experience to my advantage, where I spent most of my time teaching young prisoners during the day and prison guards during the night, trying to give hope in a seemingly hopeless situation, and keeping myself busy and overcoming negative feelings and bitterness,” he said. “The experience also gave me time to reflect on my life and see the bigger picture in life.”

And what is his advise to a new generation of aspiring scientists? “For the young people who are intimidated by the hard work needed in science, math and engineering, I say nothing in life is easy, it is all about deciding to do it with passion. Every thing will give up its secrets if you love it enough,” he said.

We congratulate Professor Solomon Bililign on his accomplishments.

Update: Dr. Bililign Visits White House, Receives Award (Monday, Dec. 12, 2011)

President Barack Obama greets Dr. Solomon Bililign (left) and other recipients of the 2010 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring in the Oval Office, Dec. 12, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

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65 Responses to “Obama Honors Physicist Solomon Bililign With Presidential Award”

  1. 1 fesseha Nov 17th, 2011 at 6:14 pm

    Great work and well deserved… I am happy to read this… what a long journey (from our time at AAU) God bless…

    Fesseha Atlaw

  2. 2 Zeleke Nov 17th, 2011 at 10:02 pm

    Congratulations Dr. Solomon! Though I never met you in person, I have read many of your writings. You seem a humble person and I thank the Lord for you being recognized for such honor. God bless you!

  3. 3 Munit Nov 17th, 2011 at 11:26 pm

    Dr. Solomon,

    Your story is truly inspiring! You have seen the up and downs of life. I am sincerely happy to read about your achievement. No wonder your students and colleagues nominated you for this award. You are a true educator even by your life example. Hope someone will make a movie about your life.

    Congratulations are in order and well deserved!!

  4. 4 Debre Tabor Nov 18th, 2011 at 5:20 am

    Congratulations. Your history and beneficence is inspiring.

    Thank you Tadias for bringing us this story.

  5. 5 Nikos Kazantzakis Nov 18th, 2011 at 12:03 pm

    “Ideal teachers are those who use themselves as bridges over which they invite their students to cross, then having facilitated their crossing, joyfully collapse, encouraging them to create bridges of their own.”

    That’s you Professor Solomon Bililign! Congratulations!

  6. 6 Bef Nov 18th, 2011 at 12:23 pm

    This is great. My first time hearing about Dr. Bililign. An inspiring story. Thanks Tadias.

  7. 7 Zelela Amha Nov 18th, 2011 at 1:38 pm

    What a refreshing news. Given all that is going on around the world, it’s wonderful to read such an inspirational story. Congratulations Dr. Solomon. My best wishes in your future endeavors!

  8. 8 Alem Nov 18th, 2011 at 4:56 pm

    Congratulation my friend!! Long time since we communicated and when I see your photo it took me a while… to say I know this persons. Again well deserve recognition; your friend a former Iowa State.

  9. 9 Dejenie A Lakew Nov 18th, 2011 at 5:38 pm

    Dear Dr.Billign Solomon,

    It is an exemplary achievement and hard work that has attracted the attention of the President of the United States of America. I congratulate you on your achievements and the recognition you have received. Aside from doing research and teaching regular courses, mentoring in the Sciences and Mathematics and getting recognition is not an easy matter at all.

    I once again congratulate you and wishing you the best in future works that are awaiting you.

    Dejenie A. Lakew(Ph.D.)

  10. 10 Hope Nov 18th, 2011 at 7:55 pm

    It is a great success of life. The life picture in Ethiopia is hard to imagine. But you have passed through fruitfully. Thank you Tadias.

  11. 11 Abdi T. Nov 18th, 2011 at 10:02 pm

    “A Wise man takes out an opportunity form challenge but a lazy man takes out a challenge from an opportunity” so true and What Dr. Solomon did was exactly the same, congratulations , this is inspiring for young Ethiopian scientists, same time i’m so sad that many smart and bright individuals who can change our county are mistreated and wouldn’t get a chance to do something in their own country … but Congratulation to Dr. Solomon

  12. 12 NEBIYU Nov 19th, 2011 at 8:59 am

    I really appreciate you. You deserve it. U make Ethiopians proud….LEGEND

  13. 13 Proud Ethiopian Nov 19th, 2011 at 9:14 am

    It’s heart warming to read a positive story about an Ethiopian. It’s encouraging for the young Ethiopian generation to see that it is possible and dream do come true. Congratulation and well deserved, you make all of us proud!

    Proud Ethiopian

  14. 14 Girum Behailu Nov 19th, 2011 at 9:19 am

    Congratulations on your achievement Dr. Solomon! Not many people reach this level of recognition.



  15. 15 muluken Nov 19th, 2011 at 11:45 am

    Congragulations, Dr. Solomon! Inspiring and happy news! blessings!


  16. 16 natnael mosisa Nov 19th, 2011 at 1:35 pm

    wow great I am proud of you doc. i wish u all the best and one day you may return back to your home land and spread the knowlage you gathered. best wishes!

  17. 17 Eyasu Markos Nov 19th, 2011 at 2:21 pm

    Congra. Dr. Solomon . Congra to your Mother Mrs. Asrebeb and your family for such a great recognition.

  18. 18 Meheretu Bililign Nov 19th, 2011 at 8:20 pm

    congra my brother

  19. 19 Nemo Semret Nov 20th, 2011 at 8:49 am

    Congratulations Prof! I’m happy for you and your mentees are lucky to have you.

  20. 20 bedilu Nov 20th, 2011 at 10:51 am

    congratulations. We are proud of you. Thanks to GOD and OBAMA, they account you in their business…good luck

  21. 21 zeleykun Nov 20th, 2011 at 11:17 am

    I am always happy when I read about the achievements of Ethiopians at all corners [of the world] and its my pleasure to say congratulation to Dr. Solomon!

  22. 22 Awel Adem Nov 20th, 2011 at 12:28 pm

    Cogradulation Dr. Your success inspires young Ethiopians like me!

  23. 23 Almaz Nov 20th, 2011 at 1:36 pm

    Congratulations, I give Glory to God, who put in you the gift, talent and strength to be a blessing and a good example for your nation and for the next generation. And I thank you also for your dedication and faithfulness to be a good stewardship.

  24. 24 Sabata Dubbii Nov 20th, 2011 at 1:42 pm

    We need to recognize DR. Aklilu Habte of the University of Addis Ababa who started the Bede Mariam Science Teachers institute program. Many graduates from the one year special high school program had come a long way.

    I congratulate all the students from Bedemariam School and DR. Solomon. He was a very hard working student and a great science student. Indeed he is a great glaring role model for young men and women globally not only for Ethiopians. I say to DR. Aklilu Habte you are a great academic visionary. Thank you for all what you had provided to young students at Bade Mariam School in Sidst Kilo in early seventies.

    Last not the least I would reiterate my gratitude to all the teachers who served as lecturers in the school and the UNESCO where the funding for the program originated.

    Sabata Dubbii

  25. 25 Getachew Nov 20th, 2011 at 9:58 pm

    Congratualtions Dr.Solomon on this great achievement!

    You make every Ethiopian proud and I am happy for you and your family.


  26. 26 Genene Ruga Nov 21st, 2011 at 5:06 am

    Really it is great. Congratulations !
    Stay blessed !!

  27. 27 anteneh Nov 21st, 2011 at 6:05 am

    congratualtions dr solomon

  28. 28 Gemechu Fanta Nov 21st, 2011 at 9:04 am


    It is inspiring for young Physics practitioners in Ethiopia. It is also a lesson for our leaders that Ethiopians are capable of changing their country through science researches.

  29. 29 johan Nov 21st, 2011 at 10:44 am

    i am proud of yagerelige!!!!!!!!!

  30. 30 Moges Nov 22nd, 2011 at 1:32 am

    I could not find the right words to explain my Happiness with Dr. Solomon and President Obama. We are proud of you!!!

    Let God be always with you to bless you every time.

    From AAU

  31. 31 Zenebe Kassie Nov 22nd, 2011 at 7:46 am

    Oh ! this is great …………….. Congratulations.

  32. 32 Wondwossen Nov 23rd, 2011 at 2:45 am

    Congratulations on the great achievement!!!!

    Keep on…

  33. 33 Reason Nov 23rd, 2011 at 4:24 am

    Hmmm congrats my Brother. You have come a long way …from Maekelawi Room No 2. You deserve that Bro.

  34. 34 kossi Nov 24th, 2011 at 2:22 am

    Congrats Dr. Solomon Bililign for the achievement. You deserve it.

  35. 35 dawit ayele Nov 25th, 2011 at 11:38 am

    I am happy for the honorable Dr.solomon’s achievement.

  36. 36 thomas ayalew Nov 26th, 2011 at 1:49 am

    good work

  37. 37 Zinaye Tefera Nov 26th, 2011 at 2:51 am

    Congratulations Dr. Solomon. This is the fruit of perseverance,hard work and doing science with passion and love. Doing it not for money but for satisfaction. Our young generation is to learn a lot from you and from your effort. I love your saying: “…it is all about deciding to do it with passion. Every thing will give up its secrets if you love it enough” It can be a life principle for every professional .

  38. 38 Dr. Syoum Gebregziabher Nov 26th, 2011 at 5:02 pm

    Heart felt congratulations!

  39. 39 said a Nov 27th, 2011 at 8:04 pm

    Dear Dr. Solomon,

    The last time I saw you were in 1971 at AAU. Congratulation, brother for the Job well done.

    Said A. Batie

  40. 40 Bertha McLendon Nov 28th, 2011 at 10:33 am

    Congratulations! Well deserved award. I am so proud of you.

    Be bless always.

  41. 41 Biniam Nov 29th, 2011 at 8:40 am

    Congrats Dr. Solomon,

    It’s such a great news to hear that one of my best lecturers during my days at AAU is being honored for an outstanding achievement.
    Congratulations again as you deserve the recognition for your dedication to Science.

  42. 42 Michael Gizachew Nov 30th, 2011 at 10:09 am

    We are proud of you Dr. Bililign and keep up the good work. I have attended one of your seminars at Addis Ababa University, while I was a graduate student there. I am contented by your achievements which is gives for thous of us in science an inspiration to pursue for more.

    Michael Gizachew,
    Debre Birhan University,
    Physics department,

  43. 43 Abitti-Kirra, Deutschland Dec 3rd, 2011 at 7:09 pm

    Egziabher Yimesgen!!!

    It is really an outstanding achievement that our elder brother Dr. Solomon has overcome. I am fed up of reading and listening just only negatives stereotypes of  our beloved, honored and extraordinary Motherland, Ethiopia. It was not easy for Dr. Solomon to come through all such ways. However his hope and endeavor let him finalize his dream of which many many Ethiopians and I are really proud of. I wish a healthy life, peace and more dreams to be realized for ur future carrier. u have inspired me again to go forward as many other outstanding Ethiopians have done. May God be with u!!!

  44. 44 Binyam Dec 16th, 2011 at 6:16 pm

    Congratulations Dr. Solomon Bililign!

  45. 45 addis Dec 17th, 2011 at 12:59 am

    What an honor dr Solomon!

  46. 46 Abera Hadgu Dec 17th, 2011 at 3:10 am

    Great news for young academicians! Congratulations to Dr. Solomon.

  47. 47 Biruk Woldeyohannes Dec 17th, 2011 at 2:49 pm

    You are hero ! What I mean is a real hero . No words can express my feelings towards your excellent achievement. It is a great Joyful day for Ethiopia and your students.

  48. 48 Wossene Dec 23rd, 2011 at 9:56 pm

    Dr.Solomon, I am happy for you and your family. As a young girl who spend weekends visiting my brother and sister in prison, I see your story as a Herald of HOPE. I dont know if you are aware of it BUT I have observed the inability of most Ethiopians in relating their life back in Ethiopia with the USA.

    Thank you – For connecting my reality of my weekend prison visits with your story of Success.


  49. 49 Mamush Woldu Dec 29th, 2011 at 6:02 am

    Dr.Solomon,I have no words to describe to my feelings.we proud of u!!!

  50. 50 TADESSE WOLDEAREGAIE Dec 29th, 2011 at 1:07 pm

    I want to say congradulation Dr. Bililign for his outstanding achievement.
    As well keep up the good work Tadias Magazine for your efforts bringing such an
    amazing news to our attention. Thanks.

  51. 51 Muluneh Lemma Jan 30th, 2012 at 7:05 am

    Congratulations professor!
    Muluneh from Arba Minch University

  52. 52 Eshtaol Feb 4th, 2012 at 7:47 pm

    Yihin Mayet Berasu Metadel new degmom Metsinanga New Ethiopia Bicham Satihon BatekalaY Tiwludu Hulu yatachewin Sceintist Dr.Kitaw Ejigun yemitekalin Agengenaa…

    Bebekule Temesgen Biyalehu…Letiwilidu Arayaaaa Yihonal Dr.Solomon.
    EGZIABHER Hoy Temesgen!

  53. 53 zewdu Alamineh Fetene Feb 10th, 2012 at 4:08 pm

    Congra Prof., Sure of it, this is motivational! Thank you.

  54. 54 henok Feb 17th, 2012 at 2:14 am

    well i could only say he’s got a beautiful mind!

  55. 55 Getu Engdaw Feb 20th, 2012 at 1:57 am

    This is really amazing experience in life that can shape anybody else life who is in a hardship.

  56. 56 D.G.Solomon Feb 29th, 2012 at 10:21 am

    Congratulations! Congratulations!! Hearty Congratulations!!!

    I can’t tell you how happy I am to tell everyone I know that a fellow Ethiopian, Dr. Solomon Bililign, has won the prestigious “Presidential Award” for your hard work, in pursuit of relentless and selfless service to humanity.

    Congratulations again!

  57. 57 Gebrehana Tadesse Mar 3rd, 2012 at 11:44 am

    Dear Dr. solomon Bililign

    I really appreciate you and your innovations. You were in a big challenge, but you overcame those challenges by your strong and planned goals and really you are a role model for all of us. Congratulations!

  58. 58 BERHANUT Mar 6th, 2012 at 1:46 am

    Congrats, not only to Dr. Bililign and his family but also for the whole Ethiopians. Although I was not lucky to be One of your former students( I was at AAU 1984-1987) I heard alot about you. You deserve it.

  59. 59 Birhanu Mar 6th, 2012 at 6:40 pm

    You Deserve it!

  60. 60 Nibret Mar 11th, 2012 at 12:35 am

    Dear Dr Solomon, I am proud of your endeavor and lifelong challenging process. You are a model for the realization of once dream.

  61. 61 Freweyni Mar 14th, 2012 at 5:23 am

    Congradulation ! Dr. Solomon. I learned so many things from ur life experience/ up and down/.

  62. 62 Manna Heshe Mar 20th, 2012 at 6:52 am

    Congratulation Dr.Solomon on your great achievement and recognition by President Obama All Ethiopians should be proud of!

  63. 63 Getachew Taye. May 24th, 2012 at 2:13 am

    I am very happy to hear about Professor Solomon. May God Bless you more and more!!

  1. 1 Photo: Dr. Bililign visits White House, receives award at Tadias Magazine Pingback on Dec 15th, 2011 at 6:59 pm
  2. 2 Addis Ababa University Professor Receives 2012 Andrei Sakharov Prize at Tadias Magazine Pingback on Mar 5th, 2012 at 12:00 am
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