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Academic Program Brought Iranian Students to U.S.

By Phillip Kurata, Staff Writer, IIP Digital (Managed by the U.S. Department of State)

Then UT President Ayatollah Abbasali Amid Zanjani, center, flanked by Iranian and U.S. academics
Washington - A university in Indiana and the University of Tehran (UT) have completed a student exchange program that brought 45 Iranian engineering students to the United States.

Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) accepted the UT engineering students, 45 percent of whom were women, for their third and fourth years of undergraduate study after they had completed their first two years at UT.

The program, known as 2+2, stipulated that the Iranian students return to UT to complete their academic requirements for graduation. The students then were granted bachelor of science degrees from both IUPUI and UT. Of the 45 participants, 40 of them completed the program successfully.

The program got under way in fall 2007 with the arrival of five Iranian students on the IUPUI campus. IUPUI’s former associate vice chancellor of international affairs, Susan Sutton, called the arrival of the Iranian students an event of “historic significance.” She said that the Iranian revolution of 1979 “did not erase the strong academic bonds between the two countries.”

“Even today, a survey of faculty at Iranian universities shows that a significant percentage received their education in the U.S. They and their students are eager to reopen scholarly collaboration with U.S. faculty and students,” she said.

The UT president then, Ayatollah Abbasali Amid Zanjani, hosted a delegation from IUPUI in 2007 and endorsed the partnership as an exercise of “academic diplomacy,” according to Sara Kurtz Allaei, IUPUI’s assistant dean for international affairs. Allaei was a member of the IUPUI delegation to Tehran.

“He talked about bringing students and faculty together across different cultures and about promoting an exchange of ideas that will foster mutual understanding,” Allaei said.

The UT hosts took their IUPUI guests to Kish Island, where UT was constructing an international education center, Allaei said. Kish Island is the location of an Iranian free-trade area across the Gulf from Dubai, which is a regional trade hub and the site of the American University in Dubai. “They wanted us to see it,” Allaei said.

William M. Plater, then the executive vice chancellor of IUPUI, left, and M. Nili, then UT's dean of the College of Engineering, discuss the exchange program.
The IUPUI-UT program ended in 2011 because of an inability to obtain necessary approvals from the Iranian and U.S. governments. The Iranian Ministry of Education wanted to expand the program to include graduate-level study. The U.S. government refused because of concerns about transfer of advanced technologies.

“I’m sure that we changed the lives of each of those students who participated in ways we don’t fully realize now,” Allaei said. “There will be opportunities for them to be leaders in bridging the gap between the United States and Iran in the future. Beneath the politics, there is friendship. This was truly a unique program.”

Several Iranian engineering students who participated in the program have made glowing comments about it. One said before returning to Iran that he was warmly received by the people he met in Indiana, even if some of them confused Iraq with Iran. He was quoted in an IUPUI publication as saying, “People here are somehow the same as in Iran. I feel free here, good here. It is like living in my own country.”

Another student who returned to UT and went back to IUPUI on her own for a master’s degree said, “Living in [the United States] helped me improve the level of my thoughts and perspectives about other people and their critical thinking. For me, this was even more valuable than being educated in a highly ranked school in Iran.”

“I found that the human values are very well respected here. Now I communicate and make friends with the people around me very easily,” she said. “The professors at UT believed in the program and were sure it would be a big step toward the improvement of the academic relationship between the two countries.”

An American student at IUPUI said that her friendship with a UT student helped her to correct misperceptions about Iran that she got from the media.

“One of my big misperceptions of Iran was from the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center. This happened when I was 14 years old and subjected to what the news had to say about people of the Muslim faith,” she said.

“From befriending a UT student and learning more about her and her culture, my view of the people of the Muslim faith changed completely,” she said. “Now I can tell you about their culture, religious beliefs and some of their business practices. I have learned a lot and have made a new friend who can teach me even more.”

Related Story: IUPUI Partnership with University of Tehran of Historical Significance

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