By Nita R. Fulford
Special to American Forces Press Service
Nov. 26, 2008 - In a country with a desperate need for engineers, two 402nd Army Field Support Brigade contractors are bridging an Oregon university with Iraqi students and faculty thirsty for knowledge. About 200 students and teachers from Dhi Qar University are the beneficiaries of new engineering textbooks from the Oregon State University College of Engineering delivered during a Nov. 11 ceremony that marked the beginning of an exchange program to enhance higher education.
Joshua Mater, president of the Michael Scott Mater Foundation, and Jesus Quispe, vice president of the foundation, presented Chancellor Ali Ismael Obeidi al-Snafi of Dhi Qar University with the books, worth $20,000, as well as English-as-a-second-language materials from the Book Wish Foundation and Oxford University Press. The English materials are from the Headway Program, which teaches English as a second language.
Mater credited Army Col. Robert P. Sullivan, 402nd Army Field Support Brigade commander, and Army Lt. Col. Joe Hart, commander of the brigade's 2nd Battalion, with facilitating the donation.
"Thanks to the support of Colonel Sullivan and Lieutenant Colonel Hart of the 402nd AFSB, we are one step closer to making this partnership a reality," Mater said.
The brigade is part of the Army Sustainment Command's global logistics support network. Sullivan requested the support of leadership and approved the manpower to execute the mission, and many members of the 2nd Battalion worked in various capacities to facilitate the project.
Mater is the 402nd AFSB's operations officer, and Quispe is the redistribution property accountability team administrator for the brigade's 2nd Battalion logistics function. Both work for Honeywell Technology Solutions.
The Michael Scott Mater Foundation is a nonprofit group that aims to provide better education for poor students and communities around the world by providing education, life skills, equal rights, values and a caring environment, according to the foundation's Web site.
With the Iraq project, the foundation worked with representatives of both universities to develop a relationship that will benefit both through cooperative learning, Mater said. The primary initiatives are to develop an exchange program that will target engineering and English language majors at the master's degree level and develop professional training seminars focused on Iraqi city planners, engineers and public servants, he added.
Mater, an OSU graduate and former Army captain who spent eight months helping to rebuild Iraq, drew on his alma mater to continue his work.
"More than any other time in recent history, Iraq's destiny is of its own choosing," he said. "The youth of this country did not seek, nor did they provoke, strict limitations on what they are able to achieve. They did not expect, nor did they invite, a confrontation with fundamentalism. Yet, the true measure of a people's strength is how they rise to master those moments when they do arrive.
"This is a time for Iraqi heroes. They will do what is hard and achieve what is great."
The foundation is named for Mater's father, Michael Scott Mater, who was president of Mater Engineering of Corvallis, Ore. He was at the forefront of community development and improvement projects, and died of cancer in 2002.
The textbook exchange was a collaboration of multiple entities, Mater said. In addition to OSU and Dhi Qar University, it also included the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the U.S. State Department, the Book Wish Foundation, Honeywell Technology Solutions, and the 1st Cavalry Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team from Fort Hood, Texas, as well as officials at Contingency Operations Base Adder and 402nd AFSB leadership at Joint Base Balad, both in Iraq.
"This exchange program represents a new trend in partnering between American and Iraqi universities," Ali, the chancellor, said.
Where traditional relationships usually rely on national government intervention, this program will bring the two university leaders together at Oregon State in early 2009 to discuss curriculum structuring and formalize an agreement that will enable students from Dhi Qar University to study at OSU, Mater said.
"We are bound together by centuries of commitments by those who came before us to a love of learning, an abiding search for truths and a sense of duty to find solutions for the problems of humanity," OSU President Ed Ray wrote in a letter to Ali for the textbook exchange.
(Nita R. Fulford works at the 402nd Army Field Support Brigade.)