Professor awarded Fulbright for consulting visit to Asia
Elon University associate professor Bird Stasz has received a Fulbright Senior Specialist Award and will travel to Tajikistan this fall to work with colleagues there in the Ministry of Education to help modernize the nation’s teacher education programs.
Stasz leaves Sept. 11, 2010, for her month long visit to the country sandwiched between China and Afghanistan in the Himalayas. Working with the Tajikistan Pedagogical University, she will assist with school assessments while helping to develop training manuals that are culturally sensitive for educators.
The questions she hopes to help Tajikistan’s educational leaders address have no easy answer: How can teachers be more effective in the classroom with limited resources? And how can teachers guide students to be flexible thinkers and problem solvers?
“The interesting thing about the Fulbright is that it’s an opportunity for a West-East conversation over something that is pretty much universally agreed upon as a good thing,” Stasz said. “That’s the education of children.”
Funded by the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Fulbright Senior Specialist Awards provide an honorarium and travel costs for American faculty and professionals who spend anywhere from two to six weeks overseas working with higher education institutions on a topic with which they have expertise.
Administered through the Council for International Exchange of Scholars, eligible activities include teacher training, short-term lecturing, conducting seminars, special conferences or workshops, according to the organization’s website. Faculty and professionals apply for a five-year term during which universities outside the United States can request their services.
The Soviet Union was very efficient in educating its citizens, Stasz said. Literacy rates were near 100 percent under the Communist government. Residents of Tajikistan remember that type of system, and because of previous success, they know it’s possible to put together a strong curriculum.
What the nation lacks is modern school buildings and, in some places, adequate power, water and sewer systems.
“There is at least a memory of what a strong education system looks like in terms of content,” Stasz said. “There’s a real desire, a great national pride, that the people would like to see a good education for their kids.”
The visit to Tajikistan won’t be a first for Stasz, who joined the Elon faculty in 2002. She has made trips to the mountainous region as a lead consultant to the Academy for Educational Development, a nonprofit organization “committed to solving critical social problems and building the capacity of individuals, communities, and institutions to become more self-sufficient,” and for workshop presentations on teacher training independent of the nonprofit program.
“Because Bird represents all that’s great about Elon she makes the perfect ambassador to the countries of Central Asia, which emerged only recently from their long period of Soviet domination,” said David Cooper, dean of the School of Education at Elon. “Dr. Stasz was invited to Tajikistan based on the same strengths she brings to our university: deep and broad knowledge of schools, culture and teaching, a profound commitment to public education as a means to achieve social justice, and a tough approach to teaching college students that encourages them to think critically and rigorously.
“Her experience in Central Asia and elsewhere has made enormous contributions to Elon’s School of Education and General Studies Program. We’re proud to share her for a brief time with the people of Tajikistan.”
Stasz earned her bachelor’s degree from Middlebury College, a master’s degree from the University of Vermont and doctorate in adult education from Syracuse University. The Maine native said she hopes to take part in a Skype video chat with her global studies students while abroad.
She returns to the university in mid October.