SCC Learns and Shares Lessons With Albania
While the physical distance between Pinehurst and Albania may be 5,118 miles, the instructors from Sandhills Community College and the Albanian professors see it as a "small world, after all."
In 2004, Dr. John Dempsey, president of Sandhills Community College, initiated an educational exchange program with the Technical University of Vlore in Albania to encourage the development of an international perspective in community college classrooms, to increase awareness of international development through technical education, to promote opportunities for sharing international and intercultural expertise and to form liaisons between the partnering intuitions.
That same year, Dempsey, hospitality professor Ted Oelfke and nursing professor Trish Dykeman visited the Technical University of Vlore to gain a better understanding of the challenges facing Albanian educators.
Within the past six years, Sandhills instructors and Albanian professors have been alternating flying across the globe to exchange information and methodologies that impact their teaching and their students.
Last May, Sandhills Community College entered into a five-year agreement with a second Albanian University, the University of Shkodra.
Dr. John Turner, senior vice president for instruction and student services, and Richard Gough, vice president for business and administrative services, visited the university with Oelfke last year to receive signatures and formalize the arrangement.
This March, Oelfke will be returning to Albania for the eighth time. He will be teaching food and beverage management courses and will help his foreign colleagues develop a master's degree program. The University of Shkodra also hopes to develop two doctoral programs in tourism and finance.
"I feel as if my life is coming full circle," Oelfke said. "I traveled all around the world for 25 years while I served in the U.S. Air Force, and one of my first assignments was in this region of Europe during the Cold War. Now I find myself working with a former U.S. adversary."
Not only does Oelfke, along with his colleagues, coordinate every aspect of the Albanian's American visits, but also his resourcefulness and strong community connections make it possible for the Albanians to lodge at Homewood Suites and enjoy meals prepared by Chef Warren's and Corfu Taverna.
"I am very grateful for the generosity of our business community," Oelfke said. "This foreign exchange would not be possible without such support. I feel strongly that since the Albanians have to pay for their travel, which is equivalent to three months of their salary, I am willing to do all that I can to help them with other expenses."
SCC has donated outdated but usable laptop computers and hundreds of textbooks to the university.
"Students do not have textbooks; only the instructors have books," he said. "Instructors cannot tell students to look something up in a textbook. Their emphasis is totally on teaching."
He is already developing mentorship opportunities with local restaurant and hotel managers in anticipation of the next visit in June of this year.
"After seeing how the local mom-and-pop operations run in Albania, I know how helpful it will be for them to talk to experienced and successful managers about revenue management and even housekeeping," Oelfke said.
Last October, three Albanian professors traveled to North Carolina and were guest lecturers at Sandhills Community College, Central Carolina University, the University of North Carolina at Pembroke and East Carolina University.
Oeflke said he sees student visits and exchanges in the program's future.
"I also see a great benefit in student internships that will provide experience and exposure to Western methodologies," he said.
He said he and the other Sandhills professors have been impressed and inspired by the personal interaction the Albanian professors share with their students.
"We have a real appreciation for what can be done with minimal supplies," Oelfke said. "Technology is a wonderful thing, but it's the relationship between professors and students that is needed to effect learning."
It's also about the relationships that the instructors at both institutions are developing and maintaining.
"I receive at least six e-mails each day from the Albanian professors from both universities," Oelfke said. "They are very professional and are invested in improving the education of their students and the economic status of their country. I can't help but be committed to them."
Albania is a small, mountainous country in southeast Europe on the Adriatic Sea, with a population of 3.2 million people. It is a parliamentary democracy that is slowly transforming its economy into a market-oriented system. While Albania's per capita income is among the lowest in Europe, the country's economic conditions are steadily improving.
More like this story