Turkish University Representatives Tour TJC, UT Tyler
By EMILY GUEVARA
More than 70,000 students attend Selcuk University in Turkey, making it almost four times the size of Tyler Junior College and The University of Texas at Tyler combined.
Yet top leadership from that university visited these local institutions on Monday in an effort to improve their school's programs and possibly build a formal exchange agreement with more American schools.
Dr. Hakki Gokbel, Selcuk University president; Dr. Musa Ozcan, university vice president; and Dr. Ibrahim Ercan, Gokbel's legal adviser, toured UT Tyler and TJC as part of a two-day stop in Tyler.
Today they will visit the Tyler Municipal Rose Garden and Rose Museum, Mother Frances Hospital and FRESH by Brookshire's before departing for Houston.
"This is a grassroots diplomacy," TJC professor Dr. Manoucher Khosrowshahi, who arranged the visit, said. "It's a people-to-people connection. It's a faculty-initiated program."
For more than 20 years, Khosrowshahi, or Dr. K as he is more commonly known, has been leading groups on tours to Turkey to learn about the Biblical history and archaeology in that country.
He, along with the TJC and UT Tyler presidents visited Selcuk University several years ago during one of those trips and Dr. K has been several other times.
He said during one of those visits they talked about the idea of a faculty and student exchange and Selcuk University officials showed interest in the idea. So he invited them to Tyler.
He said the visit is something that promotes peace and mutual understanding.
"We have a lot of misconceptions about Muslims -- these are Muslims -- (and) Middle Eastern people," Dr. K said. "Turkey is a member of NATO our allies."
He said on the other hand a lot of people have misconceptions and negative views about Americans based sometimes largely upon American movies and music.
"When they see the faces of people, they really change their opinion about Americans," he said.
Although Gokbel has been has been to the U.S. before, this was his first trip to Texas. He said he and the other university officials are interested in improving the quality of education and research at their school.
"We would like to work with you (American schools) to teach us about your technology and online classes," he said.
Selcuk University has an exchange program in place with European countries, but not with the United States. However, Gokbel said they want to change that.
"We want to expand the exchange and know each other better," he said. "That's the reason that we are here."
Turkey has about 26,000 foreign students studying there and the country would like to increase that to 100,000. They also would like to see faculty visit back and forth.
Gkbel said the value in that exchange comes with the ability of outsiders to make a fair judgment about the quality of the educational system.
He said it's difficult for insiders to judge their own system, but when foreign students come they can help to increase the quality of the education.
UT Tyler President Dr. Rod Mabry said it was wonderful to have the three officials from Selcuk University visit UT Tyler's main campus.
"I had the pleasure of visiting Selcuk University while touring Turkey in 2010," Mabry wrote in an emailed statement. "It is an impressive and very highly regarded university ... We are so pleased that their president and vice presidents chose to reciprocate with a visit to UT Tyler. Such international activities are important in our efforts to enhance global awareness programs for our students."
Dr. Jill Blondin, director of UT Tyler's Center for Global Education, said UT Tyler officials sought to show the Turkish visitors what their campus had to offer in terms of facilities and programs.
"I think the hope is that we can eventually establish a partnership where we could engage in student exchange," she said.
Tyler Junior College provost Dr. Butch Hayes said it's important to have visitors such as these from Turkey because the college is preparing its students for life and work in a global environment.
Hayes said the college is considering a partnership or exchange program with the Turkish university.
However, he emphasized that the college's international efforts such as travels to Turkey and Costa Rica are funded without the use of local tax dollars.
He said academic exchanges can be very rewarding for all involved.
The Turkish visitors planned to travel to Houston and New York City next. However this was the only planned part of their trip that related to academics.