Christian Engineering Education Conference

Salt Lake City, Utah
June 23-25, 2004

Christian Perspectives on Rebuilding Engineering and Computer Science Higher Education in Kurdistan of Iraq

Benjamin S. Kelley, Cynthia C. Fry, David B. Sturgill, J. Brian Thomas
Baylor University, School of Engineering and Computer Science

In December 2003, a group of eighteen Baylor University faculty members conducted a two-day workshop for four different groups of Kurdish faculty (Colleges of Engineering, Medicine, Arts, and Law) from several universities. The workshop was hosted by the University of Dohuk, in Dohuk, Iraq.

Over the past fifteen years, the Kurdish region of Northern Iraq has thrived in comparison to the remainder of Iraq, especially when contrasted to how this region suffered at the hands of Saddam Hussein in the 1980s. Since the establishment of the no-fly zone in the early 1990s, Kurdistan of Iraq has prospered, despite being isolated from Central and Southern Iraq and surrounding nations.

Iraqi Kurdish faculty members are well educated, receptive to external and Western ideals, and extremely hospitable. Travel and communication restrictions have limited their access to technological developments, including those associated with engineering and computer science education. The mail service is non-existent, and internet access is sparse and slow.

Four Baylor engineering and computer science faculty members worked as a team to develop and prepare the workshop. Because of limited and sporadic information about Iraqi engineering and computer science education, the team’s preparation was intent on flexibility. Suitcases full of books, syllabi, and educational materials taxed our endurance. The reception by the Iraqi faculty, staff and students was warm and eager. The scope of exchanges and learning were often unexpected and illuminating, especially when the discourse involved students as well as faculty.

While this demonstration of outreach had definite Christian vocational origins, its outcomes were aimed at professional content. To help underpin the faculty’s commitment to this experience as vocational calling, daily scripture and reference readings were prepared for the trip (several copies were confiscated at the boarder). Although Kurdistan Iraq is overwhelming Islamic, their government is intentionally secular and their ideas relating to faith tolerant. Impromptu occasions to share faith experiences were rich for the deliver and recipient.

Follow-on efforts as a result of this project are continuing. For example, Iraqi undergraduates will spend five weeks at Baylor this summer gaining a deeper understanding of US society, culture, values and institutions. Stranded Ph.D. students will be offered the opportunity to continue at Baylor. An electrical engineering faculty member from the University of Mosul will spend six months at Baylor involved in the study and research of field programmable gate arrays. Funding has not been identified to allow for broader coordinated efforts.

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