ACIE grant to Fairfield University professors to assist Central Asian universities




Image: Dr McFaddenFairfield University professors David McFadden, Ph.D., professor of history and director of Russian and East European Studies, and Kathryn Nantz, Ph.D., associate professor of economics and director of core integration at the Center for Academic Excellence, have been awarded a $150,000 American Councils for International Education (ACIE) grant to help enhance the business and economics curriculum and pedagogical training at universities in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

The grant project represents a partnership across the College of Arts and Sciences, the Dolan School of Business, and the Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions (GSEAP). A team of faculty from across these three schools will work together to plan and implement a series of interdisciplinary junior faculty development workshops in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan over a two-year period, beginning in June 22, 2010, and ending in summer 2012, supplemented by online communication and sharing of curriculum and course materials between workshops.

The two countries are rich in cultural and intellectual history. Kazakhstan is the ninth largest country in the world and is considered the dominant state in Central Asia. Kyrgyzstan is a smaller mountainous country just south of Kazakhstan. Both countries are former republics of the Soviet Union. Fairfield was the only university to be awarded the grant through the Central Asia Educational Foundation.

Image: Kathryn NantzA planning trip was conducted in February 2010. Drs. McFadden and Nantz were joined by Dr. Larry Miners, professor of economics in the College of Arts and Sciences and director of the Center for Academic Excellence, and Dr. Elizabeth Langran, assistant professor of educational technology in GSEAP. The team worked with staff from ACIE to establish goals and objectives for the project and to learn more about the institutional cultures of the universities involved in the grant - the Kazakhstan Institute of Management, Economics and Strategic Research (KIMEP), in Almaty, Kazakhstan, and the American University of Central Asia (AUCA), in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

As a result of that trip, Professor Ajara Beishembaeva, acting chair of the MBA program at AUCA, was invited to attend two conferences this spring at Fairfield University: one on "Daily Life in China, Russia, and Central Asia" at the Critical Languages International Studies Eurasia Faculty Seminar, May 25-27, where she presented on "Daily Life in Kyrgystan," and the 10th annual conference on Innovative Pedagogy and Course Redesign presented last week by Fairfield University's Center for Academic Excellence.

While at Fairfield, Beishembaeva admitted she had had some skepticism about the grant project between the countries, but after the planning trip she tried implementing a mid-term assessment program the Fairfield University professors had introduced. "The students loved it," she said. "You can complain, and whine about everything," she assured them. She then visited the classrooms to see for herself what problems the students had described and brought general descriptions of the critiques before the faculty. The faculty, faced with real situations that they had experienced, began to offer very good solutions.

The June 2010 workshop will be led by Dr. Nantz and Dr. Patrick Lee, from the Department of Information Systems and Operations Management in the Dolan School of Business.

The winter 2011 team will include Dr. McFadden, along with Dr. Donald Gibson, professor of management and chair of the Department of Management, and Dr. Ahmed Ebrahim, assistant professor of accounting, both in the Dolan School of Business.

The summer 2012 team will include Dr. Nantz, along with Dr. David Schmidt, associate professor of management in the Dolan School of Business and director of the Applied Ethics Program, and Dr. Betsy Bowen, professor of English and director of the Writing Center in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Each workshop will be organized around the disciplines of business and economics and will focus on sharing Fairfield's most effective teaching strategies from all disciplines, including active learning, writing as a means of thinking and reflection, appreciation of diversity, and integrating ideas, methods, and content across various fields. An emphasis will also be placed on writing techniques, business ethics, and cultural factors.

An important component of the program will be the use of technology as a learning tool, including basic course management systems, spreadsheets, statistical software, web-based tutorials and simulations, and database tools that enable sophisticated assessment of student learning outcomes. These technology applications will be used during the training, and, with the help of Dr. Langran, faculty trainers and participants will engage, using this software in the periods between workshops.

A capstone workshop in the winter of 2012 will concentrate on establishing sustainable models of faculty development at the participating institutions in Central Asia. A permanent structure, the faculty learning community, will provide a structure in which conversations about teaching and learning are nurtured and rewarded, allowing sustained conversations with colleagues and continual innovation around teaching, mentoring, and peer review.

Fairfield has a rich history of cooperative educational interaction in Central Asia. Since 1999, twenty-three junior scholars from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Georgia, and Armenia have been hosted and mentored through ACIE's Junior Faculty Development Program. Last fall Dr. McFadden received a continuation award that brought an international scholar from Macedonia to Fairfield for the spring 2010 semester as a junior teaching assistant.

In a related project, Fairfield is completing a three-year U.S. Department of Education FIPSE grant focused on critical languages and international studies in Eurasia, which strengthens Fairfield's teaching of Russian and Chinese languages and provides faculty seminars focused on the Central Asian region and Russian-Chinese borderlands. All of these initiatives have helped prepare Fairfield's faculty for participation in these important workshops on business education in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

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Media Contact: Nancy Habetz, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2647, nhabetz@fairfield.edu

Posted on June 7, 2010

Vol. 42, No. 309