Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Professor changes focus to new program

By Courtney Westlake

Most people would consider getting a Ph.D. something of a "stopping point" in regards to formal education. But not Dr. Hilary Frost-Kumpf.

While Frost-Kumpf was on the faculty in the department of public administration at UIS teaching arts management three years ago, she began to have a change of heart about her educational focus, which eventually led to a change in her education.

"I realized that I wanted to get back to my roots in a way – I have a doctorate in cultural geography, and I wanted to get back to that – and I wanted to internationalize myself," she said. "I wanted to take what I was doing, particularly in arts management in the U.S. and ask, 'how I can look at things more broadly? How can I ask questions in other places outside of the United States?'"

So Frost-Kumpf applied for the master's program in international studies at the University of Iowa and took a leave from UIS to complete her studies. Since her degree was much like the Individual Option program at UIS, Frost-Kumpf was able to choose what she wanted to focus her education on.

"I love being a student, love the opportunity to be a student fulltime and to study things I didn't have time to do when working fulltime as teacher," she said. "I decided I wanted to focus on the arts in Africa: history, film, theatre and literature of Africa."

During her pursuit of a new master's degree, Frost-Kumpf jumped at the opportunity to travel in Africa and study one of its many languages, Swahili. Her Swahili teacher in the United States put Frost-Kumpf in contact with her cousin in Tanzania, a former director of the ministry of culture who provided important resources for Frost-Kumpf’s research over the course of her 9-week stay in the country.

"I had always had a long-term interest in Africa; I became fascinated with the diversity and complexity of it," Frost-Kumpf said. "There are hundreds of cultures and languages - 128 languages in Tanzania alone. It was a wonderful experience studying in Tanzania."

And not only did her new educational focus stimulate some of her lifelong passions, but Frost-Kumpf returned to UIS after the completion of her master's degree to use her new education to benefit the university.

"When I told Dean Pinky Wassenberg that I wanted to get another master's degree, she said 'A redesigned Hilary! You can come back and teach in our new major in international studies'," Frost-Kumpf said. "She told me that UIS was looking into expanding our current international studies minor to a global studies major. My new focus will allow me to work in that new degree."

Currently the proposal for a new global studies major is working its way through campus governance to see if the degree can be established. Dr. Stephen Schwark is heading the proposal for the major, which will allow students to "explore global issues and look at the world from a more global perspective," Frost-Kumpf said.

"The idea of a global studies degree fits very well with the direction the university is going in terms of our general education curriculum requiring all students who graduate to have a global awareness," she said. "This expands that further so students who find those topics interesting will be able to major in the subject."

Frost-Kumpf said she has high hopes for the global studies program and for students to discover the passion and thrill she has found in other cultures and languages.

"My hope is that students will come away from the program challenged to learn broadly about global issues and more specifically, about a particular topic that they're interested in," she said. "And as a geographer, my hope is for them to leave the program with a much better understanding of world geography and a more nuanced idea of different cultures throughout the world."