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Clarkson University Grad Student Returns to Middle East in Different Role

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A Clarkson University graduate student is heading to a teaching career in the Middle East, returning him to a part of the world that had a profound impact on his life.Clarkson University Grad Student Returns to Middle East in Different Role

Jim Owens of Peru, N.Y., a graduate student in Clarkson’s mathematics Ph.D. program, has accepted a position with The American University of Iraq -- Sulaimani (AUI-S), a private non-profit university in Iraq’s Kurdish region. The university, which opened in 2007, offers undergraduate and graduate degrees to students from all regions of Iraq. All classes are conducted in English.

"I am extremely excited," Owens said. When he saw the job advertised, "it seemed like the perfect job for me at this stage of my life." Owens said he applied for other teaching positions and received several requests for interviews, but turned them down in favor of the position at AUI-S.

This isn’t Owens’s first trip to the region. In April 1991, he was one of 50 members of a U.S. Air Force unit sent to Turkey to provide engineering support as part of Operation Provide Comfort. It was shortly after the first Gulf War, and the Kurds of northern Iraq were fleeing to escape bombing raids conducted by Saddam Hussein’s military forces.

"We hurriedly set up a base camp at Yuksekova, in southeastern Turkey, to support relief operations for more than 180,000 Kurdish refugees from Iraq," he said. Over the next six weeks, his unit helped stabilize the situation in the refugee camps and repaired several mountain roads for the refugees to use when they were able to return home. "That experience had a really profound effect on me," he said.

It’s been almost 20 years since Owens last visited the Kurdish region. "It’s a very different guy going back," he said. "I’m 55 now. Coming out of graduate school, my goals are different than they might be for someone 30 years younger. This is a really unique opportunity to do some meaningful work."

Owens noted that education in Iraq is more technically oriented than it is here. He said that promoting the Western notion of a broad, liberal arts education might be a good way to promote peace and stability in the region.

Owens is scheduled to move to Iraq in mid-September, about two weeks ahead of the school’s fall semester. He will be a senior lecturer in the IT/business program.

Before his graduate work at Clarkson, Owens was an adjunct lecturer at Clinton Community College, Plattsburgh State University and the Community College of Vermont. He has worked as a technical educator for a Vermont-based software company and as a teacher and technology coordinator in high schools in Vermont and Massachusetts. He served in the Air Force from 1974 to 1993.

Owens received a master’s degree in computer science from Clarkson in 2008. He also has a master of education degree from St. Michael’s College in Colchester, Vt., and a bachelor of arts from the University of Maryland University College, European Division.

Clarkson University launches leaders into the global economy. One in six alumni already leads as a CEO, VP or equivalent senior executive of a company. Located just outside the Adirondack Park in Potsdam, N.Y., Clarkson is a nationally recognized research university for undergraduates with select graduate programs in signature areas of academic excellence directed toward the world’s pressing issues. Through 50 rigorous programs of study in engineering, business, arts, sciences and health sciences, the entire learning-living community spans boundaries across disciplines, nations and cultures to build powers of observation, challenge the status quo, and connect discovery and engineering innovation with enterprise.

Photo caption: Jim Owens, a grad student in Clarkson University’s mathematics Ph.D. program, has accepted a position with The American University of Iraq -- Sulaimani in Iraq’s Kurdish region. Here, Owens holds a photo of himself (left) in 1991 with Air Force comrades in a refugee camp along the Turkey-Iraq border.

[News directors and editors: For more information, contact Annie Harrison, Director of Media Relations, at 315-268-6764 or]

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