Thursday, April 8, 2010

Send Us Your Professors

Send In the Professors is the title of an OpEd piece in The New York Times, written by Professor Altaii, who is an Engineering Professor at James Madison University. Professor Altaii in his very moving article on the devastation of higher education in Iraq quotes his mother: “Education is the most important thing in the world,” she said. “Once you realize that, there is nothing you cannot accomplish.” An Iraqi professor is quoted in the article as saying: “Occupy us with your knowledge and advances, not with your guns."

In his article, Professor Altaii notes that the US has several educational initiatives in Iraq, including the new Fulbright Visiting Scholarship Program for Iraq that will enable more than two dozen Iraqi professors to spend time at US universities. As a former Fulbrighter (two times) I can attest to the unique nature of this program in helping to build international friendships, collaborations, enriching educational experiences, and long-lasting special memories.

I would also like to highlight several other very special educational initiatives and programs that are making great impacts on parts of our globe where professors are being sent from the US to Afghanistan; to Kenya, and to India. Many of these intitiatives are due to the professors themselves and the partnerships that they have established.

For example, my university, UMass Amherst, has been involved in sending teachers to Afghanistan as this nice writeup in The Boston Globe reports. Because of this initiative, last month, 41 students earned advanced degrees in education, nearly doubling the number of master’s-level faculty at education colleges in Afghanistan. A colleague of my husband's at the University of Hartford, Professor Keshawarz, who was born in Afghanistan, and who has been involved in rebuilding the engineering education infrastructure there states that: "To have an impact, the international community must establish priorities with an eye toward the long term. Providing food is not enough. Aid programs must help rebuild agricultural capacity so that Afghans can feed themselves. Also, in addition to building roads, bridges, and hospitals, we must establish the educational infrastructure needed to train engineers and doctors." More about his brave and important educational activities can be found here.

Another group, representing the University of Hartford, Brown University (from which I have 4 degrees), and the University of Rhode Island, last summer traveled to Kenya. The delegation included the Provost of the University of Hartford, Dr. Lynn Pasquerella (who is the incoming, new President of Mount Holyoke College, and a Brown PhD), who spearheaded this initiative. This group, which also included students, is utilizing a variety of disciplines – engineering, art, and sociology – to help residents address such issues as water purification, sustainable agriculture, and women’s safety.

In addition, Professor David Pines, also a colleague of my husband's, who is involved in the above Kenya project, has been leading groups of students to India, through the Engineering Without Borders program, to assist in the building of water wells and the provision of clean water.

Through international, face to face, education, great, positive impacts can be achieved. Indeed, even in war-torn and strife-stricken regions, professors can serve as emissaries for knowledge and peace. Respect for education knows no boundaries.