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Ran Elgedawy explaining her research to colleagues

Former Pro Basketball Player Studies Cybersecurity, AI at UT

Nobody in the lab has challenged Ran Elgedawy to a game of one-on-one on the basketball court. They all know better. Cybersecurity may be their research expertise, but they would have no protection against Elgedawy around the rim.

Elgedawy, a PhD student in the Min H. Kao Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, played professional basketball for nearly 13 years for a club team in her hometown of Alexandria, Egypt, and was a member of the Under-18 Egyptian Women’s National Team.

The 29-year-old came to the United States three years ago for grad school. After starting at the University of Central Florida, she transferred to UT. Her husband works at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and told her about all the great research opportunities in Knoxville.

Ran Elgedawy playing basketball, dribbling the ball while a player on the other team tries to block her

“I have enjoyed it and learned a lot here,” Elgedawy said. “The education system is totally different than what I was used to in Egypt. You get more practical experience here, which I enjoy the most. I really feel like I am getting value from what I learn in my classes and my internships.”

Elgedawy’s research interests are cybersecurity, user security and privacy, and applied machine learning. She is currently working on analyzing and improving usability and security of password managers’ audits under the supervision of Professor Scott Ruoti.

“Her work ethic really stands out. She is always willing to tackle a problem and tries really hard, even if she doesn’t understand what she needs to do. She goes out and tries something,” Ruoti said. “A lot of students come back to you if you give them something they don’t understand. Ran is more self-directed and willing to go out and progresses a lot faster than other students.”

Elgedawy received her undergraduate degree in computer science with a minor in electrical engineering in Egypt. She worked in the industry for three years while playing professional basketball. But she wanted to expand her knowledge and education, so she came to the U.S. on her own for school.

“The first year was hard of course. I didn’t have friends, and I used to be popular in Egypt because few ladies play basketball or women’s sports in general, especially in the Middle East,” she said. “I was very popular and had many friends and a good social life and job. When I first came here, I felt a little lost. But after the first semester, I adapted well to the new lifestyle and new culture.”

Elgedawy has made friends with the Egyptian and Middle Eastern communities in East Tennessee. She has learned the meaning behind Southern hospitality.

“The people here are extremely nice. I am not used to this,” Elgedawy said with a laugh. “People are greeting you in the store and asking if you need help. It made me feel nervous, and I didn’t want to go outside. But now I am used to it and like it a lot more.”

Ran Elgedawy posing with her sister Raneem holding a trophyElgedawy’s younger sister, Raneem, played basketball for Western Kentucky University and is currently playing professionally. Elgedawy tries to watch as many of her games as she can.

“I considered playing college basketball as well, but I wasn’t sure if it would work out with my PhD schedule and workload,” she said. “I definitely would have loved to play, but I just haven’t put much effort into it with my studies.”

Elgedawy still gets her basketball fix though. She plays intramural with other UT students during the spring and plays a pickup game every Sunday with a group of women. The group recommended Elgedway to the principal at Annoor Academy of Knoxville to become the school’s girls’ basketball coach. She’s in her second season guiding the team.

“I am still not very good at coaching, but I am trying my best,” Elgedway said. “I was hesitant at first, because I had no experience coaching, and I come from a different culture. But I have enjoyed it.”

Elgedawy served an Internship at ORNL last summer working on Artificial Intelligence (AI) in large language models in healthcare. Her goal is to stay in the United States once she graduates from UT and work at a large institution like ORNL or become a professor.

“I really want to do something impactful with what I am learning in grad school,” she said. “Everyone here at UT has been so supportive, and I have received some great opportunities to do amazing stuff at the lab. I am very happy I am here.”


Rhiannon Potkey (865-974-0683,