North Central College to establish program in Middle Eastern and North African studies

Nov 06, 2014

North Central College is establishing an innovative academic program in Middle Eastern and North African studies that will include language courses in Arabic. The new program is partially funded by a U.S. Department of Education grant.

Beginning in fall 2015 the College will offer a minor in Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) studies, significantly expand Oesterle Library’s holdings in MENA studies and introduce students to cultural experiences in the Chicago area and abroad.

North Central College will be among the first in the Chicago area to offer a program in Middle Eastern and North African studies.

“Following a decade of changes and additions to its curriculum and international programs, North Central College is now ready to take another major step in the ongoing process of globalizing its campus,” says John Shindler, the College’s director of international programs and a professor of English. “It is now time to further expand the international dimensions of student learning by adding a focus on the history, language, religion and culture of the MENA region.”

The new MENA program will be coordinated by the Office of International Programs in cooperation with other offices and programs on campus. In addition to adding language courses in Arabic, the College intends for the MENA studies program to benefit students by promoting greater understanding of MENA cultures, developing experiential opportunities in urban and suburban Chicago and creating stronger international links for students interested in studying MENA language and culture abroad.
North Central College plans to promote a campus-wide, multi-dimensional understanding of MENA cultures through several co-curricular activities, events and workshops with a MENA focus. These will include a public documentary film and lecture series, interfaith workshops with leaders of a local Islamic Center, Verandah courses (short-term, one-credit courses) that expose students to MENA culture in creative ways outside the classroom, workshops and lectures with invited faculty experts from the University of Chicago’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies, and internships at organizations with MENA-focused missions.

Visiting Arab-American neighborhoods in the Chicago area will enable North Central College students to make sustainable connections to communities that can enhance their studies of Arabic and MENA issues. Opportunities to interact with native Arabic speakers, dine at Middle Eastern restaurants, visit mosques and other places of worship, and tour centers and institutes that display MENA art and culture will give North Central College students an effective, experiential way to expand their understanding and appreciation of cultural diversity of the MENA region.

By expanding study abroad opportunities in the MENA region, students interested in Arabic and MENA studies will have opportunities for academic immersion experiences. North Central faculty and administrators will work with partner institutions in the MENA region to formalize meaningful short-term and long-term study abroad opportunities.

The U.S. Department of Education recently announced that North Central College will receive a two-year grant to help fund the new MENA studies program. The College was awarded $73,530 for the first year and $78,105 for the second year for a total of $151,635.
The grant is one of just 31 awarded to undergraduate programs through the Undergraduate International Studies and Foreign Language (UISFL) Fiscal Year 2014 Awards and among 269 grants totaling $63.4 million authorized by Title VI of the Higher Education Act of 1965 to institutions of higher education to strengthen the capacity and performance of American education in foreign languages, international and area studies, teacher preparation and international business education.

“Life in the 21st century means adapting to the most hyper-connected, interdependent world we’ve ever seen,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a news release announcing the grants. “To help keep America safe, partner effectively with our allies and collaborate with other nations in solving global challenges, we need professionals with solid cultural knowledge and language skills that cover all parts of the globe. These grants will enable more students and educators to gain global competencies that equip them with an understanding and openness to cultures and languages around the globe, as well as the 21st century skills needed to preserve a rich, multicultural society and thriving democracy right here at home.”