NMU Group Returns from Middle East

With support from a $165,000 federal Title VI grant designed to strengthen Northern’s international studies and language curricula, a 14-member delegation recently visited Israel and Turkey as part of a year-long study of the Middle East. Their efforts will culminate with added or revised courses relevant to this key region of the world. The group is pictured at a two-day fall workshop on campus led by a pair of scholars from the U.S. Institute of Peace who specialize in the Middle East.

Members are: Ansley Valentine and Shuang Xie (Communication and Performance Studies), Carol Steinhaus and Charles Rayhorn (Business), Gabriel Brahm, Jaspal Singh and Peter Goodrich (English), J.D. Phillips (Mathematics and Computer Science), Maya Sen (Psychology), SaraJane Tompkins (Olson Library), Michael Loukinen (Sociology), Rebecca Ulland (Modern Languages and Literatures) and Rob Legg (Geography) and project director Tim Compton (Modern Languages and Literatures).

Compton said proposed changes to the international studies major require that students have a concentration in a global area. When he wrote the grant, he planned to focus on Latin America. But Comptson said it soon became clear that while NMU could shore up its offerings in Latin America, it was even weaker in Middle Eastern studies.

“A lot of interest in the Middle East has to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts,” he said. “We visited Jerusalem because that is a focal point for three of the world’s major religions. We were exposed to the richness of the culture and a variety of viewpoints: people who live in the controversial settlements, Palestinians, non-government organizations working on water issues and people who live near the Gaza Strip. There were limits to what we could do in four days, but we were able to grasp the complexities of Israel. The news gives a skewed view of a pretty peaceful place. I was struck by how safe I felt there.”

In Istanbul, Turkey, the delegation established an immediate connection with two universities that Compton said will hopefully pay dividends in student and faculty exchanges.  

Compton said the international studies major curriculum revision is at the heart of the project and a proposal has been passed by the Committee on Undergraduate Programs and the Academic Senate. Pending approval by the provost, it will be implemented this fall. 

“We are convinced the new curriculum will help our graduates in international studies be more prepared than ever before to take advantage of increasing global careers and opportunities. But beyond that, we are making progress in a number of other areas. The grant has made it possible to start an international film series, help finance several acts of the International Performing Arts Series and purchase materials that will be with NMU permanently. NMU is also working to create a Global Scholars designation for faculty and students to encourage people at NMU to pursue things international.”


Gratzia Villarroel, director of International Studies at St. Norbert College and the project’s external evaluator, was complimentary in her year-one report: "Northern Michigan University has made significant strides in implementing the Title VI Grant (2009-2011) for Increased Global Engagement. It has very good administrative support, excellent leadership and the interdisciplinary structure to be successful."


In the photo at left, the NMU group is on a tour of the “old city” of Jerusalem. They are wearing headphones originally purchased to provide simultaneous interpretation during a recent campus visit by Central American students. Compton said the headphones were appreciated by the Middle East guides, who did not have to yell to be heard and could continue their presentation while walking, and by NMU team members, who were able to learn more during their limited time in the region.



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Updated: March 17, 2011

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