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Mining an Educational Partnership

professor khalil standing and smiling with CELT director kathi kern and UDL specialist deb castiglione

Professor Abdul Khalil with Kathi Kern and Deb Castiglione of CELT

By Nicole Martin
August 3, 2016

The University of Kentucky and the Center for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching (CELT) have left a lasting first impression on Professor Abdul Khalil.

“[It’s a] very, very beautiful place in Kentucky, very green. Very good, very relaxed,” he says with a laugh. “[A] good place…I [am] happy.”

Professor Khalil is an instructor of mining engineering at Balkh University (BU) in Afghanistan. In May, Khalil completed a semester residency at UK funded by a multi-year grant through the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Financial support for the grant developed out of an initiative called the U.S.-Afghan University Partnership. The program launched on UK’s campus in the fall of 2014 by the College of Engineering’s Department of Mining Engineering. Through this collaboration, Afghan professors traveled to the U.S. for a teaching exchange program focused on enhancing the academic programming of mining engineering at BU.

The government funded partnership developed, in part, as response to the withdrawal of U.S. armed forces from Afghanistan following years of war. Balkh University is located in Mazar-ē Sharīf, an area of the country known for its expansive and unexplored mineral terrain. Successful extraction of the region’s natural resources promises to improve Afghanistan’s economic viability. The undertaking will, however, require an increased number of engineers trained in estimation and mining.

While in residency, Professor Khalil attended a series of curriculum and instructional workshops led by CELT along with intensive ESL (English-as-a-Second-Language) courses. According to Khalil, the language component is critical due to the fact that all classes in mining engineering will soon be taught exclusively in English.

The focus on instructional design is based on two additional objectives: First, grant stipulations require that all visiting faculty are trained in modern teaching approaches. Professors at BU are currently relying on a geology curriculum developed by the former U.S.S.R., which is both dated and heavily theoretical. Second, and perhaps most important, participants are provided training in how to better navigate some of the most regularly encountered technological difficulties. For instance, in addition to the lack of security at mining sites (which makes conducting field research nearly impossible), faculty and students also lack access to a well-sourced library and are routinely without electricity or working internet.

Bill Burke, Associate Director of CELT, credits his department for helping Professor Khalil maneuver around these obstacles. “Fortunately,...there are teaching strategies and practices that CELT shared with Professor Khalil that require no or low technology support.”

Burke goes on to share, “Creating explicit learning outcomes, writing better exam questions, and engaging students in class using simple collaborative learning exercises are [all] examples of activities that are technology-independent.”

After years of war, Professor Khalil hopes that—alongside increased security at the mining sites—incorporating new teaching and learning strategies will yield better postgraduate opportunities for his students. Rather than needing to leave Afghanistan in pursuit of a career, BU’s mining engineering students will be able to complete their degrees and find locally-based jobs exploring the region’s terrain.

Doing so will be mutually beneficial for both the country and BU’s graduates because, as Professor Khalil explains, “Mining engineering very good.”

U.S. Embassy constituents in Kabul are hopeful the U.S-Afghan University Partnerships will last beyond the initial three-year grant period. The program is led by director Rick Honaker, chair and professor of UK’s Department of Mining Engineering; Drs. Joseph Sottile and Jhon Silva-Castro act as co-directors.

Cover Image: Kate Collins, "Abdul Khalil with Kathi Kern and Deb Castiglione of CELT." All Rights Reserved. Used with permission.