Drury professor of political science and history, Dr. Jeff VanDenBerg, was recently named by the Middle East Studies Association as a founding member of a working committee to evaluate and connect Middle East Studies programs in higher education.
The Middle East Studies Association (MESA) seeks to promote and facilitate academic engagement and discourse about issues pertaining to the Middle East. In addition to hosting conferences and publishing academic works, MESA gathers research for Middle East Studies programs and advocates for academic freedom for professors of Middle East Studies around the world.
Dr. VanDenBerg explained that he has been an active member of MESA since his time in graduate school in the early nineties. For VanDenBerg, his work with MESA has primarily been "presenting papers at conferences, working with scholars of the Middle East on panels, or attending events on new research."
The newly formed ad hoc Committee on Middle East Studies is a product of the dialogue from a MESA conference held in Montreal in 2007, said VanDenBerg.
At the conference, VanDenBerg was part of "an organized panel to bring together directors of Middle East Studies programs at small colleges because we faced similar challenges in running our programs" such as limited professors and financial resources. The idea behind the panel discussion was to find opportunities for networking and a way to share educational resources to improve smaller Middle East Studies programs, said VanDenBerg.
VanDenBerg said the Committee on Middle East Studies is a continuation of that conversation. VanDenBerg "talked with MESA and through conversation decided to form an official committee to serve these smaller colleges and universities with Middle East Studies program in order to provide a formal venue of networking and resources."
A major part of the work being done by the Committee is to research and catalogue the different Middle East Studies programs. VanDenBerg explained that he would be collecting information such as "what courses are offered, what are the core requirements, is study abroad available or required in the Middle East, is language required, and if so, which languages are offered?"
According to VanDenBerg, the hope is to collect a broad survey of data in order to compare Middle East Studies programs across the country to determine what promotes the best educational experience for students interested in the topic.
VanDenBerg believes that the Middle East Studies program at Drury has had an impact on the community's awareness of the Middle East.
"The program has benefited the broader Drury community interested in global issues and increased awareness by sponsoring speakers, panel discussions, and classes that give students a richer perspective on understanding the Middle East," said VanDenBerg.
VanDenBerg hopes that the Committee on Middle East Studies' networks of resources and information will make it possible through for small colleges and universities everywhere to offer Middle East Studies opportunities.