The Collegian
Friday, August 14, 2020

Faculty members visit Eastern Europe during faculty seminar

The University of Richmond promotes its undergraduate study abroad programs, but the lesser-known Faculty Seminar program provides the same opportunity to faculty members.

Ten faculty members -- led by Uliana Gabara, dean of International Education -- traveled to Russia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan last May for 2.5 weeks and toured cities, museums and universities during the 15th Faculty Seminar.

Gabara said the goal of the seminar, started in 1989, was for faculty members to visit and learn about a country, see how it appeared through different interdisciplinary prisms and either apply their research to their classes or develop new courses.

"Faculty need the experience of learning something completely new," Gabara said.

This idea appealed to Dan Roberts, associate professor of liberal arts and history, and the host of the radio program, "A Moment in Time." Roberts, who went on the most recent seminar and the faculty trip in 2001, said the program had given him the opportunity to prepare for future radio programs.

"Whenever I go somewhere, I also go with an idea of experiencing the flavor of the international experience, experiencing the international culture," Roberts said. "But I also have in the back of my mind how I can use that experience for future broadcasts on radio."

Gabara led the first Faculty Seminar to Yugoslavia, Poland and the Soviet Union in 1989. Since then, the two- to three-week seminars have gone to 26 countries spanning six continents. As of 2007, one-fourth of the faculty had taken part in the seminar, according to the Office of International Education.

For those faculty members involved in the program, Gabara said, the seminars provided memories every bit as transformative as those of undergraduates.

Margaret Denton, associate professor of art history and a two-time seminar participant (1998 and 2009), said the seminars helped serve as reminders of the world's complexity.

"The experience reminded me that a complex world requires multiple perspectives, and that exposure to other perspectives enhances our own teaching and research," Denton said.

To ensure a diverse field of faculty members, the seminar's application and selection process aims to include professors from as many different disciplines, schools and levels of teaching experience as possible, Gabara said. Thirty-two different departments and offices have been represented in the 15 seminars, according to the Office of International Education.

Denton said it was these interactions with her colleagues from different disciplines that made the seminars most rewarding.

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"We are a liberal arts college," Denton said, "but often faculty have little time to understand what their colleagues in other disciplines teach and research. The different strengths of individual members benefit the whole group in its effort to better understand the countries we visit and the people we encounter."

Faculty members also helped each other in more practical ways during the most recent seminar to Russia.

Roberts said the faculty would have struggled in Russia had it not been for the Russian speakers in the group.

"It was terrific being able to go with them," Roberts said. "To have three Russian speakers on the trip made it a much richer experience."

After the seminar, faculty members are encouraged to incorporate their time abroad into their courses, Gabara said.

Denton co-taught a course on Indian politics, history and culture after her 1998 seminar in India, and said that after this year's trip to Russia she would be better able to describe to her 20th-century art class the quality of the modern paintings she had seen in person.

Roberts, who has classes that include students in his research for "A Moment in Time," said that passing-on the lessons from his time abroad would go beyond just his students.

"The results of this faculty seminar, multiplied by the experience of my students in future classes, will be even more multiplied by the number of people that will listen to 'A Moment in Time' and benefit from it, not just in my classrooms, but also in a much wider radio, television and video audience," Roberts said.

Contact staff writer Stephen O'Hara at mailto:stephen.ohara@richmond.edu

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