With the establishment of the Center for Middle East Studies and Partnerships, the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay is expanding its academic focus upon one of the most compelling areas of the globe.
University officials recently gave their approval for the establishment of the Center, which will officially begin with the 2010-11 academic year and bring together academic programs that already exist within the University as well as several overseas activities, said Prof. David Coury, Humanistic and Global Studies, who will serve as director.
“President Obama in his (2009) speech in Cairo challenged us to learn more and understand more about the Middle East and Islamic Worlds,” Coury said. “Creating this (center) is not about an ideological bent, but about teaching about an area of the world where a lot of our students are interested in going.”
The Center’s goal will be first and foremost to promote and serve as a resource for the cultures and languages of the Middle East. Academically the Center will assist and help promote Arabic language courses, serve as a resource for the infusion of greater Middle Eastern content into pre-existing courses and in conjunction with the Office of International Education, help build and maintain ties to academic institutions in the Middle East, particularly the University of Jordan.
Faculty members from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the College of Professional and Graduate Studies proposed the Center, which dates back several years to when UW-Green Bay hosted Ibtesam Al-Atiyat, a visiting Fulbright Scholar-In-Residence from the University of Jordan. In November 2006, a memorandum of understanding was signed with the University of Jordan.
That memorandum of understanding has allowed the University to receive several federal grants, including the Journey to Jordan, and this spring’s Young Entrepreneurs program, that provided entrepreneurship training for five professional women from Jordan and five from Israel and linked them with mentors from the local business community.
Recently it was announced that Coury and staff member Jay Harris, international projects coordinator, received a Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad award to lead a contingent of select faculty and students from UW-Green Bay as well as K-12 educators from across the state to spend a month in Jordan in advance of formally establishing the Center for Middle East Studies and Partnerships.
The UW-Green Bay group includes: Coury, Harris, Associate Prof. Jolanda Sallman (Social Work), Assistant Prof Heidi Sherman (History/Humanistic Studies) and Assistant Prof. Jill White (Anthropology/Human Development). UW-Green Bay students who will be participating are Cory Miller, Michael Jacob and Jeremy Wildenberg.
The K-12 educators include: Katherine DeWall (EAGLE School elementary, Madison), James Patrick Hill (Beloit Memorial High School, Beloit), Sarah Sallmann (Eisenhower Elementary, Wauwatosa) and Aurora Shimshak (Oshkosh North High School, Oshkosh).
The Department of Education award of $76,905 will cover over 80% of the program’s cost, with the remaining funds from the Jordanian government and UW-Green Bay. While in Jordan the group will study Arabic and the history and culture of the region. Each participant will also pursue individual projects involving schools and universities, governmental organizations and NGOs, with the goal of infusing greater content about the Middle East into their professional fields.
The Fulbright-Hays Project has a two-fold purpose: increase the teaching of Arabic language, and infuse the curriculum at the University and K-12 levels with non-Western and Middle Eastern content.
To prepare for their month in Jordan several UW-Green Bay faculty members are already taking Arabic lessons.
Next fall the University will host an educator from the University of Jordan who will teach Arabic language. That instructor will not only be offering Arabic courses to UW-Green Bay students, but through the UW-System Collaborative Language Project, students from UW-La Crosse will also be able to benefit from his teaching through compressed video conferencing.
The importance of developing a clearer understanding of the Middle East also has sound economic underpinnings, say Harris and Coury.
The U.S.-Arab Chamber of Commerce recently noted that U.S. exports to the Arab world are expected to increase by 20 percent this year, to nearly $75 billion. And that translates into about 740,000 U.S. jobs. In the last six months Wisconsin governor Jim Doyle has signed a trade agreement with Israel, and led a trade mission to Tunisia.