Humphrey Fellows study higher ed to help their countries' universities

April 29, 2011

University Park, Pa. – Having sat in the classroom of his higher education graduate classes this year at Penn State's University Park campus, Karma Thinley has seen first-hand the practice of American democracy.

“Students have more freedom to argue with professors, Google a statement they made and challenge it,” said Thinley, a senior program officer from the Department of Higher Education at the Ministry of Education in Bhutan. “I think it’s a great way to learn and the core of American democracy.”

Thinley, along with 12 other international professionals, is finishing his time as a Hubert H. Humphrey Fellow at Penn State. The program brings accomplished, mid-career professionals from specific countries around the world to selected universities in the United States for public service, advanced study, professional training and work-related experiences.

Thinley helps oversee the development of higher education in Bhutan, specifically planning and funding. During his time here, his focus has been studying U.S. systems of higher education. He has found that having a niche market attracts more students. In Bhutan, their niches focus on the environment, tourism, spirituality and gross national happiness, a phrase coined by Bhutan's king in 1972 to measure quality of life. Thinley hopes that Bhutanese universities that offer a diverse array of studies will attract more students.

Thinley isn’t the only Penn State Humphrey Fellow learning about higher education systems in the U.S., with the hope of enhancing efforts of their native countries' universities.

“This year all the fellows are in higher education administration in their own country, so the College of Education is their home here,” Leila Bradaschia, director of Penn State’s Humphrey Program, explained. “The fellows have been attending graduate courses in higher education at Penn State, interacting with the students and professors and volunteering throughout the community. So this program is a huge benefit to us as well as the fellows.”

Mateo Estrella-Duran, dean of the faculty of hospitality at Universidad de Cuenca in Ecuador, spent his first eight weeks in the U.S. in an intensive English language learning program in Arizona, then came to Penn State to take graduate classes in the College of Education, as well as in the Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Management.

“The differences between Penn State and our university are remarkable,” he said. “The infrastructure is much bigger. There are so many resources in the library, the labs are much bigger and the system of teaching is very different. There is a lot more interaction in the classroom. I think it has its good and bad points, but I would like to see more interaction at my university.”

Estrella-Duran said that he has learned a lot during his time in the U.S., which he hopes to take home to Universidad de Cuenca. For instance, he said he’d like to see Ecuadorian graduate students engaging in more research work, with help from government and corporation funding. Educational funding is a problem in Ecuador, he said, because recently the government passed a law that higher education would be free to anyone who wants it. Estrella-Duran and his colleagues are busying themselves trying to figure how to make a free education work, while offering competitive salaries to faculty. His area of focus while in the U.S. has been learning more about administration, finance policy and management.

Jacqueline Austin, director of industry services at Barbados Community College in Barbados, said that thanks to her year as a Humphrey Fellow, she has been able to meet with key professionals and practitioners in the field of higher education and critically examine best practices in the U.S. It also has given her the opportunity to network and build opportunities for future collaboration.

But it hasn’t been all work for the Humphrey Fellows. Austin has enjoyed the social aspect of living in State College as well.

“Penn State is certainly located in Happy Valley with many social opportunities,” Austin said. “The year was filled with meeting people, learning more about American culture, sharing delicious meals and, of course, embracing the football culture of Paternoville.”

The Humphrey Fellows program also allows participants to travel to other universities throughout the U.S. so they can gain more perspective on additional institutions’ business plans. Romina Avila is the coordinator of accreditation for Santa Maria La Antigua Catholic University in Panama. She has visited universities in Massachusetts, Georgia, California, Florida and Virginia to collaborate with North American peers who also are responsible for customized curriculum design, business planning, workforce development, staff management and student affairs.

“I’ve been able to make an academic network here that my university and I can use to create international projects or prepare conferences with international speakers, focused on improving the Panama Higher Education System,” Avila said. “I also learned about different projects in technology and community services that my university can use as a guideline in order to prepare similar projects in Panama.”

While it’s evident that the Humphrey Fellows learned a lot during their time in Happy Valley, the same is true for those who worked with them.

“I think that interacting with such a diverse group of people with such different backgrounds gives a great perspective on global issues and different cultures and countries of the world,” Bradaschia said.

  • Romina Avila, of Panama, a 2010-11 Humphrey Fellow focusing on higher education studies at Penn State

    IMAGE: Penn State
Last Updated May 05, 2011