Dr. Sara Bryant, far left, Dr. Melody Wehrung, back to camera, and Dr. John Kooti during a meeting in Baghdad.
SU officials reflect on recent
trip to Iraq, plan next visit
Three members of the Shippensburg
University community are already planning their return visit to Baghdad as part of
the university's efforts to help improve finance and banking education in Iraq.
Dr. John Kooti, dean of the John L.
Grove College of Business; Dr. Melodye Wehrung, executive director of social
equity; and Dr. Sarah K. Bryant, professor of finance and supply chain
management, left the United States Jan. 3 and returned on Jan. 12 to begin work
on a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) grant. USAID is an independent agency that
provides economic, development and humanitarian assistance around the world in
support of the foreign policy goals of the United States.
The grant is funding three
projects; a feasibility study to establish a Center of Excellence in Finance
and Banking at Baghdad University; establish a Center for Teaching Excellence
for Iraqi Colleges of Management and Economics; and foster quality assurance,
development of administrative capacity and guidance through the Association to
Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) accreditation advising.
Kooti, said the trip was very
successful. “The project itself is going very well. We made more progress that
we anticipated,” he said.
He said that the group
visited the stock market in Baghdad, met with that organizations chief
executive officer and discussed the needs of the newly established exchange.
The team is looking into needs of finance and banking sector versus what the
colleges of business offer, specifically, Baghdad University. “We want to help, in terms of matching or
filling, the gap between the two,” said Kooti.
Dr. Sarah Bryant said
Shippensburg is spearheading establishment of a Center for Excellence in
Finance and Banking. “We’re just
beginning and we are putting together a report on our next steps and on our
next trip we will collect data.”
Bryant said the goal is not to
tell the Iraqi’s what to do as they rebuild and strengthen their financial
industry and related higher education, but rather make recommendations for them
to build upon.
Both Kooti and Bryant said
that the university officials were very enthusiastic about the effort. “The professors at the University of Baghdad
were really asking for help,” said Bryant, including getting Arabic
translations of textbooks used in Shippensburg’s courses. “What I needed to do was get copies of their
syllabi and understand what they are doing. That is paramount to making good
recommendations later on. We want to help and assist rather than replace.”
Traveling to Iraq and staying
in the war-torn country was unsettling at times but the group learned to cope, Kooti
said. Bryant added that you learn to
appreciate what we have here and “We are very blessed.”
Wehrung said that every
university wants to be acknowledged for where they are on their journey and that
is the same in Iraq. “They are proud of
their accomplishments,” said Wehrung, who noted that the university had
sustained damage from the shelling and bombing “and academics were a target and
they are getting out of that.”
She said that the library
sustained a lot of devastation. “All the books were on the floor and because
it’s a desert it’s quite dusty. They had cleaned up the books and put them back
on the shelves which was a huge undertaking.”
All three noted that security
was ever-present during their time in Baghdad, but that the compound in which
they stayed was a comforting place. “I felt safe there,” said Wehrung.
Wehrung and Bryant said they
were particularly aware of what is expected of women in the male-dominated
country. “We stopped in Istanbul prior
to making the final trip to Iraq,” said Wehrung, “There we noticed that all the
women had their hair covered. We had
scarves with us, so we covered our heads as well.”
Even though covering their
hair was not expected of foreigners, they did their utmost to be respectful of
the culture, Bryant said.
While each day of the trip was
filled with meetings and work, Wehrung said it is the relationships that were
formed that will help move the project forward.
“In my opinion, a lot of work is respecting each other as individuals,
not just as experts. How are we going to collaborate if we don’t know each
other’s lives, but I found out we have so much in common,” she said. “It’s
quite thrilling to be part of this. I think when you have a mission and
everyone is on the same team in regards to the goals, it is quite gratifying.”
According to Bryant, “For me
a lasting impression for me was how much the people want to improve their
The team will return to Iraq
this spring to continue their work.