CGE Plans to Sponsor Iraqi Doctoral Students

Posted: January 6, 2004 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Fran Rensbarger

George Mason will invite two Iraqi doctoral students to complete research on their dissertations under the auspices of a new initiative from the Provost’s Office and the Center for Global Education (CGE). The students from the University of Baghdad will begin work as early as the fall semester, or as soon as visas and security clearances can be arranged.

The idea grew out of Julie Ryan-Silva’s second trip to the University of Baghdad in June 2003 with an independent group of American academics from around the United States. “We went to Iraq to learn more about the postwar situation and to see what we could do to help Iraqi universities through our personal and university affiliations,” says Ryan-Silva, program officer in the CGE.

The faculty and students in Baghdad expressed a desire to re-engage with the international academic community after 12 years of sanctions when they were isolated from Western countries. Their academic materials are mostly from before 1990, and during the war and the looting that followed it, many libraries, laboratories, and other university resources were destroyed, Ryan-Silva says. “Iraqi universities need assistance in rebuilding and obtaining updated materials, but, in the meantime, we want to help students continue their studies.”

Provost Peter Stearns and Yehuda Lukacs, associate provost and director of the CGE, developed the plan to host two doctoral students for up to eight months to complete research on their dissertations. “After they finish their research, they will return to the University of Baghdad to complete their dissertations and obtain their Ph.D. degrees,” Ryan-Silva says.

CGE will accept applications from students studying in any of the fields in which Mason has a Ph.D. program and the resources available to support the type of research the students are conducting. The selection will be coordinated with Jamal Abaychi, director of the Cultural Relations Department at the University of Baghdad. “We hope to select the students by February 2004 and have them arrive in August 2004. However, to acquire U.S. visas, they will need to obtain security clearances, which can take from 2 to12 months. Therefore, we are not certain when they will arrive,” says Ryan-Silva.

The goal is to help two Iraqi students and to enrich the Mason community, Ryan-Silva says. “I hope that some day Mason will be able to establish an ongoing exchange with Iraqi universities. At this point, we only have plans to bring two students. The Iraqi professors and students that I met are eager for opportunities for international exchange. I hope that other departments will be able to develop efforts to engage with and support Iraqi academics.”

The university is looking for volunteers to provide housing for the students. Housing should be near the Fairfax Campus, accessible by public transportation, and large enough to provide the student with his or her own bedroom. Those providing housing will need to allow a university staff member to visit their home prior to the students’ arrival. Also, to support the students’ visa applications, they will need to provide documents to the U.S. Embassy including a letter confirming their offer of housing and financial documents showing that they have adequate means to provide housing. Security clearances can take time, so those providing housing will need to be flexible regarding the students’ arrival dates. For more information, please contact Ryan-Silva at the CGE at jryan9@gmu.edu, by phone at (703) 993-2170, or fax to (703) 993-2153.

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