Modernizing Higher Education Systems – From Delaware to Basra

Maher Talib Abdulzahra Al Shamkhani serves as Director of both the Continuing Education Center (CEC) and the Career Development Center (CDC), as well as a lecturer, at Southern Technical University in Basra, Iraq. In 2019, he traveled to the U.S. as a participant of the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), focusing on academic and industry partnerships in the oil and gas sector.  While in the U.S., the group traveled to Washington, DC, Pittsburgh, Tulsa, Oklahoma City, and Houston.
Creativity needs opportunity and the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) was the key in making my dreams come true. With the current challenges to reach and collaborate with American experts and officials on global challenges and opportunities, IVLP connects you with the right places and best people to talk to.
In 2016, I completed my Fulbright Visiting Scholar Program of ten weeks at the University of Delaware, in which I explored the best practices of engineering schools in the United States. Upon returning home, I shared my Fulbright experiences and observations with my colleagues, and I used my newly-acquired skills to implement as much as I could in the areas of teaching methods, grant proposals, and developing university–industry linking relationships. Current circumstances in the Basra province pose serious challenges against activating and implementing some of the most common industry practices in higher education systems. Participating in IVLP was just a start in the opportunity to correct some of those challenges.
CRDF Global displayed its strong commitment to harnessing each minute of our being in the states and introducing us to the right people, including officials, academic researchers and faculty, private sector representatives, NGOs delegates and training center experts. With each visit, we learned different strategies and methodologies to reach our pre-set objectives. We shared our challenges with those helpful and friendly people, and they showed us their continued commitment to ensuring a memorable and educational experience for us in the states. For me, it was an unforgettable journey from which I have learned that nothing is impossible. It inspired me to take the initiative to collaborate with proper decision makers on the best methods to modernize our higher education system, rather than waiting for the right time to start.
My experience with IVLP helped me to see that the only thing I need is the right people to talk with while I am here in Basra. From my first day in the states, I was filled with an optimistic feeling to embark on a new mission. A mission to show our ability to change for a better future. The lessons learned from my visits to different states helped me to examine my own country in the context of planning for future generations, community developments and the chance for young adults to explore different opportunities.

Although the meetings with other IVLP participants were sometimes short, the program leaders placed a great emphasis on allowing us to create lasting relationships with the people we would get to know very well over the course of the program. After many different meetings, we received emails asking us to keep in touch, and this is the strong point. I firmly believe new initiatives will soon take off with the help of CRDF Global and officials to maintain connections between our institutions and these we had visited so far. The brainstorming will never end on how we can implement what we have seen and observed through our time in the program.
In short, IVLP is about more than exchange visits. It is about different countries coming together to tackle new challenges that will pave the way for a better future. IVLP is the door to a new world of challenges to show our humanity through exchanging our ideas and implementing the applicable concepts for better higher education and economic systems. A big thank you to the U.S Department of State for giving us this opportunity, and to CRDF Global for providing a well-designed program with educational activities and helpful professionals to accompany us during our stay.