By Greg Varner
Life at George Washington University Institute of Middle Eastern Studies (IMES) was sweetened recently by the award of federal grants from the U.S. Department of Education’s Title VI programs, pledging the institute a total of $2.1 million over four years to support outreach from the public and scholarships.
Housed at the Elliott School of International Affairs, IMES was founded in 2007 to support research and teaching on the Middle East. It brings together faculty and graduate students from disciplines across campus, including political science, history, anthropology, religion, and international affairs.
“To be recognized as a leader in Middle Eastern studies is a great achievement for the institute and a testament to the quality of our program faculty, our offerings and our students,” said Mona Atia, lecturer in geography and international affairs and director of IMES. “Students from all schools at our university, not just the Elliott School, benefit from these awards.”
U.S. House of Representatives District of Columbia delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton sent a letter in early August congratulating Atia on the two awards, one designating IMES as a National Resource Center (NRC) and the other providing foreign and regional language studies. (FLAS) scholarships for students studying the Middle East at GW.
FLAS scholarships allow students to take courses in area studies and learn modern languages of the Middle East. During the academic year, the grant provides funding for six graduate scholars, who receive a full scholarship of 20 credits per year plus a living allowance. In the summer, eight additional scholarships are awarded to graduate and undergraduate students to engage in intensive regional language study abroad or at US institutions.
The NRC grant will allow IMES to increase the linguistic offer in modern Middle Eastern languages and to develop a massive open online course (MOOC) in beginner Kurdish that will be free and accessible to the general public.
“The NRC grant enhances the institute’s outreach portfolio and our ability to engage with K-14 educators and the public,” Atia said, “and there is a partnership with institutions serving the minorities to improve Middle Eastern studies in their institutions”.
The majority of the institute’s outreach portfolio resources go to two thematic programs. The first, in partnership with Howard University, is called Imaginary Divides and will rethink the borders between North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East.
“We are planning a program and lecture series, a lecture series, book development workshops and course development workshops for minority-serving institutions such as Morgan State University,” Atia said. “This will allow faculty to offer new courses and, at Northern Virginia Community College, to produce an Arabic language curriculum.”
The other program, in partnership with the National Council for Geographic Education, is called Knowing the World. The focus will be on education, pedagogy and teacher education, primarily aimed at middle and high school teachers teaching about the Middle East in their classrooms. Workshops and webinars will help teachers introduce new Middle Eastern content; multimedia material relating to the region will also be created, designed to educate a wider audience and highlight research conducted by faculty, with some contributions from GW students.
FLAS and NRC grants are awarded on a competitive basis. There are 98 institutions across the United States that have been designated as NRCs, 11 of which are dedicated to the study of the Middle East, Atia said. Nationally, 112 FLAS awards were given to US colleges and universities to award scholarships in languages from various regions of the world.
“I’ve worked hard to grow our outreach portfolio,” Atia said. “We have worked tirelessly to deliver a programmatic curriculum that makes Middle Eastern studies more accessible to a wider audience, including minorities. This is one of the main axes of our work. We hope that through this programming we will be able to broaden the public’s understanding of an unrecognized region.