State Department Official Lauds UNCW’s Contributions to U.S.-Pakistani University Partnership

Monday, November 30, 2015

A cultural and educational partnership between the University of North Carolina Wilmington and its counterpart in Pakistan will benefit both institutions and further U.S. diplomacy goals, said Richard Boyum, coordinator for the State Department-funded collaboration between UNCW and the International Islamic University, Islamabad (IIUI). Boyum was on campus recently as part of the three-year partnership, which already has seen the two universities sharing resources and ideas. 

Bringing together scholars from the U.S. and Pakistan is part of the State Department’s strategy to further mutual understanding, promote international cooperation and strengthen national security. Vibrant universities, arts and cultural institutions fuel economic development and help societies reject radicalism, Boyum explained.

“On the one hand, what we get out of it is contributing to a safer, more secure South Asia region,” he said in an on-campus interview. “Prosperity is a damper on extremism.” Boyum oversees the State Department’s university partnerships in Afghanistan and Pakistan and emphasized that the agency sees the program as a means to strengthen relations between the two countries.

The approximately $1 million grant to the UNC Wilmington-IIUI partnership is the largest award from the State Department to a UNC system school. Boyum said UNCW’s proposal rose to the top because the institution already had programs in place to encourage a global focus, noting cross-cultural visits that occurred in advance of the grant and enthusiasm for the program already in place.

The partnership involves a diverse cross-section of disciplines at UNCW. Cara Cilano, professor of English, is the program director and was joined by faculty members Jess Boersma, Diana Ashe, Carrie Clements and Karl Ricanek in implementing the partnership. The proposal originated with the Team for Interdisciplinary Global Research (TIGR), and involves the Departments of English and Public and International Affairs, the Center for Teaching Excellence and the Center for Faculty Leadership.

Last month, UNCW welcomed six Pakistani scholars for a three-week academic visit. “The exchange of persons is extremely important,” Boyum said. “Both our countries suffer from bad impressions in the press. Americans tend to think of Pakistan as where we got Osama bin Laden and where the bombs go off, and Pakistanis tend to think of America as [a place] not friendly to Muslims … What’s valuable about these programs is the fact that our Pakistani visitors come here and discover they’re welcome, they have good relations, that things are not as they seem.”

Goals of the partnership include professional and curriculum development, collaborative research and community engagement. Faculty and student exchanges will allow the two universities to share resources, ideas and learning experiences, and community outreach aimed at bridging cultural differences and changing perceptions.

The program was initiated under the Fulbright-Hays Act as a way to enhance the State Department’s diplomatic mission. “The program will enrich faculty and students at both UNCW and IIUI,” Cilano said. “By collaborating to strengthen education and bring different perspectives to our campuses, we also strengthen our academic goals.”

Chancellor, faculty and DOS officials

-- Tricia Vance