The excitement that Bob Ives and Kathy Obenchain feel for Romania’s education is palpable, and their passion has attracted the interest of University faculty and graduate students who are contributing to - and benefiting from - research and educational partnerships in the country.
“This relationship is atypical of some international efforts,” said Ives, assistant professor of education specialties. “It’s become a long-term effort with outstanding collaborative results in research, and service.”
The College of Education faculty members first organized trips to Romania to teach research courses with University graduate students as a study abroad program. Within two years, the burgeoning scholarly and collegial relationship has stimulated ongoing work with Romanian K-12 and university educators to develop standardized testing and assessment instruments, collaborate on scholarly research among faculty and graduate students from both countries and develop strong service and outreach projects.
“It’s been a pleasure to see Bob and Kathy achieve such ambitious goals in an international arena,” said William Sparkman, College of Education dean. “Their efforts to introduce and improve standardized testing in the country’s public education system are complemented by their scholarly achievements and dedication to graduate student development. They have helped extend the reach of college faculty beyond traditional borders and brought an impressive level of service and outreach recognition to the department of Educational Specialties.”
Ives and Obenchain have helped graduate students implement teaching and research projects during consecutive four-week trips to Romania in 2006 and 2007. The students complete course assignments related to Ives’s and Obenchain’s academic research, collect data for projects suggested by other University faculty or develop original projects.
To express appreciation to the participating host schools, or as part of a service project, the students may conduct workshops for the Romanian teachers or teach lessons in the schools. Students have also donated materials and raised funds to support Romanian educational programs that have limited resources.
As a result, the students have made essential connections with Romanian educators and university faculty. More importantly, they learn about educational research while actually performing it.
“All of our students have met impressive objectives for teaching and research,” said Obenchain, education specialties associate professor. “One student has collected research from 700 participants and applied those data to her doctoral dissertation. These trips allow students to collect huge amounts of data in a relatively short period of time and then apply it toward the advancement of their degrees.”
Ives and Obenchain have made it possible for University faculty members who do not travel with the group to develop and send research projects with students for implementation.
“We are recruiting other faculty to become involved with this opportunity,” Obenchain said. “The collaborations that are taking place are significant. And, we are an incredibly special opportunity to work in a wonderful country that is struggling to redefine itself in the post-Cold War era.”
Students of Rod Case, associate professor of educational specialties, collected data on Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages and other students collected data for Mike Robinson, professor of curriculum, teaching and learning, which looked at science instruction and the environment in Romanian schools.
To promote original projects, students have written academic papers and presented their work at conferences, a rite of passage in an academic environment.
During their recurring trips, Ives and Obenchain have collected volumes of data that Ives and Obenchain have used for their own publications. Last April, their paper was published on the history of special education in Romania. Two additional papers are under review and others are in various stages of development.
Ives received a Fulbright fellowship and will return to Romania in spring 2008 to continue to teach and perform scholarly research.
“It’s important to us is that students and faculty recognize the amazing opportunity that these trips represent to carry the quality of University education and collaboration into an international platform,” Ives said. “We hope that faculty from disciplines across the University and teachers from Washoe County School District and other communities in Nevada are able to participate and benefit from the creative and scholarly work that is being advanced.”