Islamic, Mediterranean cluster appointments to prepare students for new world

Posted on
KINGSTON, R.I.- April 9, 2013- Arabic is the third most common language in business affairs after English and Chinese, which is one of the many reasons why the University of Rhode Island has established its new Islamic and Mediterranean Studies cluster. As part of the new initiative, the University has hired three new Islamic Studies professors and a French professor.

“The new hires and research collaborative focused in Islamic and Mediterranean Studies bring an exciting and much needed dimension to the URI learning environment,” said Donald DeHayes, URI Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs. “This initiative is both timely and necessary as we prepare our students to compete in a global society.”

Katrin Jomaa, Islamic religion and politics, Alan Verskin, Islamic history and culture, Alexander Magidow, modern standard Arabic, and Leslie Kealhofer, French, were all welcomed during a ceremony at the URI Foundation Building earlier this month. Islamic and Mediterranean Studies was one of four clusters announced following a process that resulted in 13 competitive proposals. Sustainable Energy for the 21st Century, Water and Water Resources: Blue Environment & Economy, and Aging of Society: Lifespan Health Focus are the other new cluster areas.

“The URI curriculum was missing expertise of the Islamic world,” said Winifred Brownell, dean of Arts and Sciences. “These new hires add rich and critically important culture to the University and bring potential for growth and diversification, especially from an economic standpoint.”

Members of the Muslim Student Organization gathered before the ceremony, eager to see how the new hires would contribute to the University.

“When I first came to URI my freshman year, the Muslim Student Organization had little support and recognition,” said Samia Baig, a fifth year Pharmacy student from Pakistan. “A lot has improved over the years, but so far this cluster hire is the most significant and anticipated change.”

Each professor has different goals for their concentrations and for the cluster as a whole.

“Many believe that Americans have a hard time learning other languages, but the real problem is the quality of teaching,” said Magidow. “I’m excited about starting the program from scratch with other professors who are as passionate as I am.”

“There are so many voices trying to be heard amidst the drama in the Middle East,” said Jomaa during her introduction. “My research focuses on finding a modern way to incorporate religion into politics in that area of the world.”

Verskin’s class will focus on how Islamic law reflects the Muslim religion and the impact it has on daily lives. Kealhofer will be teaching all levels of French.

“I think URI will be a great fit because of its emphasis on global education and international relations,” said Kealhofer.

A wing of the new residence, Hillside Hall, on the Kingston campus, is dedicated to housing for international students and domestic students with global interests.

“Many of the international students are extremely bright, but not as fluent in English as they need to be when they arrive,” said Brownell. “This is why we created a semester-long program that enables students from all over the world to be competent in English by their second semester.”

“We want our students to be able to navigate through a variety of cultures and traditions and to become truly global citizens,” added Brownell

Victoria Antonelli, a senior journalism major at URI, wrote this press release.