Baylor Professors Tell Of Jubilation In Iraq During Successful Higher Education Workshop

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    Members of the Baylor delegation to Dohuk University in Iraq, after their return.
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    Dohuk University in Dohuk, Iraq.
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    Engineering lecturer Cynthia Fry answers questions for Tierney Cook of Waco's channel 25.
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    l to r: School of Education Dean Robert Yinger; School of Engineering and Computer Science Dean Ben Kelley; Director of the Center for International Education Bill Mitchell; Director of Middle East Studies Mark Long
Dec. 23, 2003

by Judy Long

A delegation of 23 Baylor University professors returned to Texas from Iraq on Dec. 23 with tales of Iraqis' jubilation over the capture of Saddam Hussein and appreciation for Baylor's support, as the country seeks to rebuild its higher education system.

The group - the largest academic contingent to date from a U.S. university to go into Iraq - traveled to Dohuk University in the Kurdish sector to conduct continuing education seminars for the school's faculty. They were joined by two colleagues from the Consortium of Global Education, Dr. Jimmie Burrell and Dr. Carolyn Bishop, both of Marietta, Ga.

Dr. William Mitchell, director of Baylor's Center for International Education, said the trip was a great experience, both as an opportunity to assist Dohuk University and to see the Iraqi response to Saddam's capture, which was established as a Kurdish holiday.

"It was rewarding to see the emotions and excitement of the Kurds following the capture of Saddam," Mitchell said. "Since Baylor was there, Dohuk University deferred its celebration until next week. The mood felt like an experience of five New Years Eve celebrations at the same time."

Mitchell said Baylor organized the conference to help Iraqi higher education officials begin to rebuild a modern university. The Baylor workshops averaged 55-150 attendees, including Iraqi university presidents, academics, politicians, military officials, and business and community leaders.

The group departed for Iraq on Sunday, Dec. 14, the same day Saddam was taken into custody.

"It was interesting to follow the details of his capture," said Middle East Studies Director Mark Long, whose book, Saddam's War of Words, will be released by U.T. Press in April 2004.

"I was fascinated by the disparity between Saddam's public persona and the way he was captured. During the first Gulf War, Saddam said he would die before he was disgraced by the Americans, but when they found him, he meekly surrendered without a fight."

Long said Saddam's capture did not affect the trip's agenda. The professors, representing a variety of disciplines from physics to classics, made the trip in response to a request by Dohuk University's president, Dr. Asmat M. Khalid, for continuing education for his faculty. During the Saddam years, academics in Iraq had no access to advances in their fields.

Dohuk, which maintains strong medical and engineering programs, managed to offer good curriculum in spite of the challenges of operating under a dictatorship, according to Dr. Rene Massengale, a Baylor microbiologist who led sessions on the latest medical advances.

Massengale said Dohuk science faculty were limited by restrictions placed on them by Saddam and by international interests that feared Iraqi misuse of scientific advances.

"Although academics there had been unable to access journals and research, they still provided quality education for their students."

She said the Baylor group toured the university's hospital, which she described as "immaculate" even though they lacked supplies and medicines. Massengale was struck by the warmth and hospitality of their Iraqi hosts.

"I felt overwhelmingly welcomed, and I felt safe the entire time I was in Iraq," she said. "They displayed a genuine graciousness that astonished me."

Massengale coordinated workshop topics ahead of time with Dohuk's College of Medicine. Along with Dr. Lyn Prater, an assistant professor of nursing at Baylor, Massengale brought to their Iraqi colleagues new information on vaccine-preventable diseases and emerging infectious illnesses, as well as advanced topics, such as human cloning and stem cell research. They also discussed teaching techniques in medicine, including problem-based learning and evidence-based medicine.

Massengale credited her faculty colleagues in the biology department for her success in preparing for the trip.

"My trip would not have been possible without the assistance of my colleagues. I felt as if I were an ambassador on their behalf," she said.

Dr. Benjamin Kelley, dean of Baylor's School of Engineering and Computer Science, said he found many points of commonality between the two schools.

"We have a similar environment -- Iraq and Texas are about the same size, with similar population and climates and a history of oil. We also talked about commitment to religious faith. In the Kurdish region they are open-minded and tolerant, so we saw it as a common bond."

Kelley said the faculty at Dohuk is well-educated, although they often have to teach without textbooks.

"They are going to emerge in a hurry and I think we can contribute some valuable insights. And, they were unbelievably hospitable and warm and friendly," he said.

Dr. Amy Hubbell, a lecturer in French in the department of modern foreign languages, focused her Iraq workshops on communicative methods of teaching English as a foreign language. She also brought with her loads of textbooks to help Iraqi universities, such as Salahaddin University in Irbil, begin building French programs.

"It was an incredible experience that allowed me to do what I love most - teaching and helping people," Hubbell said. "It was amazing to see what they were able to do with such limitations, such as the lack of technology and other resources that we take for granted."

Over the years, that lack of resources severely limited fields of study for Iraqis, Hubbell said. A newly minted Ph.D. from the University of Michigan, Hubbell discovered that several Iraqi students, who were pursuing doctorates in linguistics, were only doing so because "those were the only books they had."

"I can't imagine having to work on something I did not have an interest in or a passion for, but that's all they had," Hubbell said.

A faculty member at Baylor only since fall 2003, the French lecturer found the Iraq trip to be the "best orientation to Baylor."

"I wouldn't have wanted to make the trip with any other university than Baylor," she said. "Everyone was wholly committed to the journey and were happy, patient, generous and kind at all times in all situations, even though there were instances when things could have gone one way or the other."

The foundation for Baylor's delegation to Iraq was laid in August 2003, when Mitchell and Long, with Arabic language professor Bill Baker and Tyler physician Dick Hurst, traveled to Dohuk to conduct needs assessments for Dohuk and Mosul universities.

On that trip, they interviewed professors, often American-trained, who were limited by a lack of books, journals and other educational materials. On their return, Baylor began planning how they could make a humanitarian educational contribution to the reconstruction effort in Iraq.

Mitchell said Baylor plans to visit the university again in 2004 and is considering semester-long faculty exchanges between the two schools.

Below are the Baylor University professors who participated in the Iraq workshops:

Dr. Michael Chandler and Dr. Lyn Prater, "Trends and Methodologies in Health, Human Performance and Recreation;"

Dr. Rene Massengale, "Advances in Medical & Environmental Microbiology, Molecular Biology & Biotechnology;"

Dr. Larry Lehr, "Environmental Studies--Human Life Quality;"

Engineering and Computer Science Dean Ben Kelley, Dr. Brian Thomas, Dr. David Sturgill and Cynthia Fry, "Responsive and Targeted Engineering & Computer Science Education for the Kurdistan Region;"

Dr. Amy Hubbell, "New Methodologies in Foreign Language Education (French);"

Dr. Bradley Owens, "Basic Reporting & Editing for the News Media;"

Dr. Jimmie Burrell and Dr. Carolyn Bishop, "Teacher Training for English: Methodology & Content Development;"

Professor Bill Hair, "The Academic Library of the 21st Century;"

Dr. Carol King, "Origins of Western Ideas and Culture;"

Dr. Walter Wilcox, "The Open-Text Concept & Supporting Materials in Physics Education;"

Dr. John Vasut, "Teaching Introductory Physics;"

Dr. Mark Long and Justin Page, "Modern Political Theory;"

Joshua Verbout, "Contemporary International Relations & Politics;"

Dr. Bill Mitchell, "Contemporary International Relations & Politics" and "Leaderships Skills for Administrators;"

Cynthia Sutter-Tkel, "Social Work Education: Developing a Curriculum for Helping Professionals;"

Education Dean Robert Yinger and Dr. Terrill Saxon on "Advances in the Science of Teaching and Learning."

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