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Ivy Tech prof advises in Afghanistan

Sunday, April 12, 2015   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Melinda Dorning

When Ron Sloan was asked to recommend an expert in teaching accounting to go to Afghanistan to help a community college there prepare for international accreditation, one name immediately came to his mind.

Karen Tower, chair of the accounting, business administration and entrepreneurship department at Ivy Tech in Richmond.

“I knew that Karen had the right stuff,” said Sloan, vice chancellor of the East Central Indiana division of Ivy Tech Community College. “She was delighted to be asked.”

For her part, Tower didn’t hesitate.

“To be able to potentially be part of rebuilding the education system — that’s huge,” she said. “It’s a chance to make a difference.”

So for two weeks in late February and early March, Tower worked with faculty at the National Institute of Management and Administration in Kabul, going over curriculum and credentials, helping make sure everything is up to the standards of the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs. NIMA expects a visit from the council in August. The two-year school offers business-related courses in English.

The campus wasn’t exactly an easy place to work. Windows were barred and sometimes broken. Electricity was available on an average of about two hours a day. The only source of warmth was kerosene heaters carried from classroom to classroom.

“But students want to be there,” said Tower. “They’re so excited about education.”

Young women students thronged to Tower and her colleagues from Ball State University, also working on the accreditation. Ball State has a contract with NIMA through a World Bank grant and included Ivy Tech for its expertise at the community college level.

Tower and Christine Burns, an English-as-a-second-language teacher from Ball State, had their photo taken with those young women innumerable times, but the photos could not be published. Women and men are segregated in class, something Tower thinks the accreditation council will not consider appropriate.

“The women need to be allowed to work in groups with men,” she said.

Tower said male faculty showed some resistance to her advice, but not as much as she expected. In fact, the whole experience wasn’t as daunting as her orientation before the trip had led her to believe.

Going to the war-torn country was surreal, Tower said. “We’re really in Afghanistan?” she kept asking herself.

Not that there weren’t constant reminders. Each time Tower and her colleagues returned to their hotel from the campus, they had to go through a series of checkpoints with pat-downs and X-rays.

One day, she opened the blind of her room to admire the beautiful day and the view of mosque towers and mountainside homes, only to make eye contact with an armed security guard on the roof of another wing of the hotel.

Tower admits she might have been naive. “I didn’t feel scared at all,” she said. “I trusted the people I was with. ... I did not feel that these people hated us.”

She saw a beautiful country that intrigued her. “It would be wonderful to go one day when it would be safe to go,” Tower said.

But she won’t have to wait that long. Tower continues to work with NIMA through weekly Skype conferences with the accounting department head there, and she plans another visit to the campus before August.

She’s looking forward to it.

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