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UALR magazine

Spring/Summer 2008 • Vol. springsummer No. 2008

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Learning from a Worldview

By Angela Parker

At ground level, Dr. Krista Lewis’ excavation site in Yemen looks like a jumble of fallen stones. From the sky, however, you see streets, outlines of buildings, and irrigation systems — the bigger picture of the ancient city of Maryah.

Dr. Lewis, UALR assistant professor of anthropology, well understands the role context plays in preparing students for the globalized world of the 21st century.

“Global curriculum teaches students to be more culturally sensitive by focusing on human commonalities from big picture universals like religion, politics, and economics to day-to-day realities like making a living, social systems, and marriage and kinship,” she said. “Understanding why things foreign to our culture work in other cultures is at the heart of global curriculum.”

Lewis conducts archaeological and ethnographic research on the relationship between food, politics, landscape, and environment from early centuries to the present. Her primary area of study is the Middle East, especially Yemen, where she spent more than three years living and working.

Her archaeological work investigates the role of the people of the Arabian Peninsula in international Indian Ocean trade routes and the spread of agricultural techniques and culinary innovation in pre-Islamic times. She looked at the outlines of ancient houses, irrigation channels, dams, water cisterns, graveyards, and ancient roads. Additionally, the professor researched what citizens ate by examining animal bones and carbonized seeds.

Following previous excavations in Maryah, abandoned in the fifth century, Lewis’ team returned this summer to create a three-dimensional map and make a controlled surface collection. “We did a lot of work with the local community and Yemeni government authorities to ensure the protection of the site and to begin its development as a tourist destination,” she said.

Teaching global values and tolerance, along with developing foreign language skills and knowledge of world history, cultures, and geography, is a hot topic in education. Harvard University, ranked by Newsweek as the top global university in 2007, released a curriculum review in 2004 concluding that all of its students must develop global competence and be able to function as global citizens.

This fall, the University System of Georgia will require a core curriculum with a greater focus on science, quantitative reasoning, and exposure to globalization through classes in foreign languages or culture. Carnegie Mellon University will offer new programs in global politics and innovation, entrepreneurship, and economic development.

The Committee for Economic Development, a group of business and education leaders focused on policy research on major economic and social issues, has reported that the educated American of the 21st century will need to be conversant with at least one language in addition to his or her native language and knowledgeable about other countries, other cultures, and the international dimensions of issues critical to the lives of all Americans.

UALR has made educating students for the 21st century its first pledge in its five-year strategic plan.

Dr. Michael Gealt, UALR dean of the College of Science and Mathematics, said scientists have long been connected globally: “I don’t know what borders mean, especially when it concerns graduate students.

“When things began going badly leading up to World War II, German scientists were the first to leave the country because they were so connected to other scientists around the world.”

The connectivity is even greater today, Gealt said, when many of the countries’ brightest science and math students study at international universities as well as at home.

While it’s important for students from UALR and other universities to study in other countries, Gealt also sees an advantage in having international students enrolled at UALR.

“For instance, electricity is on 24 hours a day here, not so around the globe,” Gealt said. “That is a real problem in waste water treatment plants. Students need to be able to design systems that we can use here and over there. It is an important problem to solve here because many other countries use treated or processed waste water to water plants whose fruits and vegetables are then imported to the U.S.”

Studying scientific global issues together is also productive, Gealt said. “Protecting the environment is a much bigger problem than just Arkansas ecology. Genetics is global. Trying to find a solution to watershed problems led to joint projects like the one we are working on at Lake Maumelle.”

He explained, “Our problems are too big to be limited to one state.”

UALR Chemistry Chair Dr. Jeff Gaffney and Dr. Nancy Marley in the UALR Graduate Institute of Technology form the Gaffney/Marley Research Group to help solve some of the world’s big problems. They conduct research in atmospheric and environmental chemistry (air and water), currently focused on the role that atmospheric aerosols play in climate — particularly the role of carbonaceous aerosols and black carbon or soot. Dr. Gaffney has been the lead scientist for the Department of Energy’s Atmospheric Science Program’s Megacity Aerosol Experiment in Mexico City (MAX-Mex).

Gaffney and Marley also lead the Global Change Education Program at UALR, which promotes undergraduate and graduate training in support of the Department of Energy’s global change research activities. They worked on a 10-week program this summer called SURE that offers students research experience with a mentor at a Department of Energy facility.

With global companies in Arkansas like Acxiom and L’Oreal that need employees who can interact and work with others around the country, UALR must provide its students with skills that will find solutions for global problems, Gealt said.

This year’s UALR faculty/staff exchange program took a group to the Karl-Franzens-Universität Graz, Austria. Participants stayed with a host family and were assigned to a faculty/staff liaison who performed similar work at the university. The two-week program, subsidized in part by UALR, started in 2002 as a way to internationalize UALR’s curriculum and stimulate innovation in its delivery of services to students.

Academic programs across UALR’s seven colleges give students many chances to get a world-view education. The ethnic studies minor program in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology is designed for students whose career options involve working with ethnic groups and is especially appealing for those interested in international studies and the humanities.

The College of Business’ international business degree helps students understand the major trends in international trade and investment patterns among major groups of nations. They learn about the United Nations, World Bank, and World Trade Association.

The UALR Bowen School of Law teaches courses in international law, international business transactions, international environmental law, legal and political responses to mass violence, and public international law.

Many UALR graduates now have careers with a global focus, including Jeffrey Dutton, a 1996 alumnus who received a degree in Spanish and international studies. While at UALR, he participated in summer study programs in Mexico and Spain, and he attended Waseda University in Tokyo on a Century Scholarship administered by the Arkansas Economic Development Commission.

Dutton is now director for Korea and Taiwan Affairs in the Office of the Pacific Basin with the International Trade Administration, a U.S. Department of Commerce agency.

Molly Peters-Stanley, who took global issues classes at UALR, recently began working in Australia with its federal office of Sustainability and Climate Change Research. She is also pursuing her master’s degree through the Carnegie Mellon University campus in Adelaide.

“I want to tell you what an amazing impact your class had on my life, probably more than any other class I took at UALR,” she said in a recent email to her former instructor, Dr. Jacek Lubecki, UALR assistant professor of political science.

David J. Skorton, president of Cornell University, said that “higher education is the most important diplomatic asset we have.”

Fernando Reimers, director of the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s International Education Policy program, wrote in a recent journal Prospects about young people growing up in a globalized world:

“In order to assess global events such as the war in Iraq, they need to understand global politics; in order to have an informed perspective about global warming, they need to understand global economics, environmental sciences, and geography; and in order to communicate successfully with their neighbors from other cultures, they need to appreciate cultural differences and have skills that allow effective and respectful cross-cultural interactions. In order to engage as citizens, to vote at the local and national level, they need to understand how local issues — such as the rising cost of gasoline or environmental degradation — are shaped by world events.”