This fall, Portland State will be one of 20 schools nationwide to be designated as a National Resource Center for Middle East studies. The accompanying $1.6 million federal grant will expand the Middle East Studies Center and make possible the appointment of three new professors, provide Foreign Language and Area Studies [FLAS] fellowships to undergraduate students and enhance resources for K–12 teachers statewide.
Part of Title VI of the Higher Education Act, the four-year grant is awarded to universities with outstanding international studies programs distinguished by public outreach and relevant curriculum. The accompanying FLAS scholarships are meant to encourage students to study languages that are not commonly taught but are becoming increasingly important in global economics and politics, according to James Grehan, an assistant professor of history at PSU.
PSU's MESC currently provides educational resources to both students in the International Studies programs and teachers in the greater Portland area. With the additional grant money, the MESC will be able to expand its own resource library, purchase subscriptions to new academic periodicals for the PSU library, attend and present at conferences statewide, arrange for guest speakers and host events to educate and inform students, faculty and citizens, according to Jean Campbell, associate director of the MESC.
Additionally, some of the grant money will be used by the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences to hire professors of Arabic, Islamic studies and Middle East geography, Campbell said.
The MESC, which is overseen by the Office of International Affairs, was among the first undergraduate programs in the U.S. to receive this prestigious grant over 50 years ago when the federal government began apportioning funding under the National Defense Education Act, according to press release. PSU retained its status as a national resource for foreign studies until the 1980s, when the department's budget was cut due to economic hardship, Campbell said.
Now, after a 20-year rebuilding process, PSU is once again ranked with Ivy League institutions as one of the leaders in preparing students and educating citizens in Middle East languages and cultures.
Campbell called the grant an "extraordinary honor." In addition, PSU president Wim Wiewel said in a press release hat "the grant confirms on a national level the excellence of our faculty and the significant contributions of the center since its inception over a half a century ago."
The grant will not only prepare university undergraduates for future careers in international arenas, but will also positively affect the university's ability to serve the public.
Currently the CLAS offers a bachelor's degree in International Studies focusing in multiple regions, including Middle East Studies. Turkish is the only Middle East language degree offered at the moment, but with the addition of a third Arabic language professor through the grant, students will now be able to major in Arabic as well.
These students, along with those studying Hebrew, Persian, or Kurdish, will be eligible for generous fellowships, Grehan said. According to the Department of Education's website, PSU will be able to offer 10 scholarships per year for the next four years to students in these foreign language programs.
The Title VI grant was introduced in 1958 as a result of the National Defense Education Act, a congressional project that attempted to educate a generation of students who would be able to compete with other leading nations in the epic "space race" ignited by the launch of the Russian satellite Sputnik, according to the U.S. Department of Education's website. Millions of dollars were funneled into science and technology programs at all educational levels, and the call for diplomats also drove financing of foreign language, public policy and international business programs.
The grant was most recently reauthorized under the Higher Education Act in 1998. This year, the Department of Education will give away 127 Title VI grants totaling over $33.7 million.
Through this grant, elementary, middle and high school teachers in particular will have access to guest speakers, curriculum planning tools, documentaries, seminars and language classes, all offered free of charge. For more information about how to request the use of these resources or for student scholarship questions, contact the MESC at 503-725-4704. ■