Global Education and Training (GET), in partnership with Disability Resources and Educational Services (DRES), will host a second Amideast Egypt University Disability Services Study Tour at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) Feb. 5 through Feb. 16.
The Study Tour is developed in partnership with Amideast Egypt. It is sponsored by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and supported by the Egyptian Ministry of Higher Education through the U.S.-Egypt Higher Education Initiative Public Universities Scholarships program.
The tour will offer participants an opportunity to learn how to effectively manage every aspect of a successful university Disability Service Center from organizational structure and operations to policies and procedures.
Participants will also have the chance to develop a comprehensive understanding of the best practices for providing support services and academic accommodations to students with disabilities.
This new Study Tour comes after GET and DRES hosted 33 participants from 15 different Egyptian universities and three Amideast Egypt staff for a similar tour in September.
What is Amideast?
Amideast is an American nonprofit organization that is engaged in “international education, training, and development activities in the Middle East and North Africa,” according to its website, amideast.org.
The organization was founded in 1951 and has a presence in several countries including Egypt, where they have operated continuously for over 60 years. There, they provide programs and services to Egyptians interested in exploring U.S. study opportunities and enhancing their communications and managerial skills for personal and professional advancement, according to the website.
In 2015, the American and Egyptian governments worked together to launch the U.S.-Egypt Higher Education Initiative (HEI).
This multi-year initiative is a “$250 million investment (funded by the United States Agency for International Development) in Egypt’s future that provides educational opportunities for high-achieving Egyptians (from undeserved communities) to learn skills that will better meet the needs of a 21st century economy,” according to the U.S. Embassy in Egypt’s website.
Amideast is an implementing partner for this initiative, and one of the key priorities is providing equitable access to higher education and promoting the inclusion of students with disabilities. They do this through awarding scholarships to students with disabilities and partnering with universities in Egypt to establish Disability Service Centers for their students.
This initiative is endorsed by the Egyptian Ministry of Higher Education, making it a national priority for higher education not just in Egypt but in the United States as well.
Explaining the Study Tour
GET Director Matt Rosenstein said the role DRES played was fundamental to the creation and success of this new, ongoing partnership with Amideast Egypt since the first Study Tour GET hosted in September 2022.
For that tour, GET and DRES collaborated to welcome 20 disability service center managers for a 10-day program and 13 university leaders (presidents and vice presidents) for a 5-day program, all from Egyptian universities.
As noted in a report about the study tour, DRES leadership and DRES staff members who served as mentors to the Egyptian participants “effectively introduced every aspect of a Disability Service Center, including organizational structure and operations, policies and procedures,” through interactive presentations, workshops, mentor sessions, and on-site visits.
“The DRES mission, providing students with disabilities equal access to contribute to and benefit from higher education, was forefront in every aspect of program development and implementation,” the report read. “Collaborating with DRES and on campus experts in equity and access, the Study Tour participants explored many themes relating to disability services, the complex assessment for providing accommodations to students with disabilities, and best practices across the campus at Illinois.”
Additionally, the university leader sessions complemented the disability service center professional sessions while addressing broader university management topics, including faculty development, teaching and learning, research infrastructure, and campus internationalization.
These aspects of the program will continue in the February Study Tour.
What made the September tour successful?
Rosenstein said the September program was a success because they accomplished the goals that Amideast, the Egyptian universities, and GET and DRES as hosts needed to meet.
For example, one goal was to provide a comprehensive overview and in-depth introduction to disability services as they are performed at the University of Illinois.
Another goal was to help participants translate and transfer this knowledge into concrete steps that their home institutions could carry out. In other words, each university that was represented had to develop a commitment statement on how they will support and enhance access for students with disabilities as well as establish action plans on how they will establish or enhance their own disability center.
“What we were providing was a framework and structure for them to understand philosophy, policy and day-to-day operational implementation techniques and structures to support students with disabilities and increase accessibility at their universities,” Rosenstein said. “This really positions the University of Illinois to help transform higher education in Egypt. We have been given the privilege and opportunity to be able to share what we do in a way that will have significant impacts in Egypt.”
Additionally, Rosenstein said it was a learning experience for his team and the team from DRES, which was something he said was necessary because they needed to understand the context behind where the participants were coming from and what they needed to take away.
“It was a two-way exchange. There was a lot of dialogue where we were learning about everything from the population of students in Egypt to what types of disabilities are more prevalent,” Rosenstein said. “We learned about some of their challenges that they face like infrastructure and facilities and how to make them more accessible.”
A True Collaboration
Kim Collins, the interim director of DRES, echoed Rosenstein’s sentiments about the value of a two-way exchange. In her reflection about the experience, she shared how her team helped with the September Study Tour by not only doing the teaching, but also learning that it took different ways to explain certain things.
She said at times it was a bit overwhelming because her team had to take steps back and think about what all the pieces were that someone needed to learn before they could understand big conceptual pictures.
But just as Rosenstein said, Collins said it was successful. In fact, one thing she said was very impactful was the student panel.
She said students with disabilities from all different majors volunteered their time to share their thoughts and explain their disabilities to the visitors. She said some visiting Egyptian participants teared up and others listened intently.
“That was a game changer for them (the participants),” Collins said. “I can talk about students with disabilities forever but hearing it from the actual student is the best way. That was such an impactful opportunity for our visitors and when we do this again that will also be the case.”
Overall, Rosenstein said that they absolutely could not have done the Study Tour without the cooperation and investment from DRES.
“Kim Collins and her team…were so generous with their time and knowledge,” Rosenstein said. “A lot of the conceptualization of these sessions and the knowledge of what to share with the participants and what to show them and how to explain the work involved in providing accessibility services, that’s all the expertise of DRES coming through.”
Additionally, Rosenstein said that both Study Tours align with the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus Vision 2030 Global Strategy. This project and collaboration with DRES and Amideast represents one way that the University of Illinois can engage in to fulfill the vision.
“There’s a huge emphasis on access in the global strategy,” Rosenstein said. “Access to higher education, access for underrepresented students or marginalized students. Internationally, that includes access for students and researchers and participants from countries where historically the University of Illinois hasn’t necessarily engaged as much. A project like this and the partnerships we’ve developed enable us to have sustainable impacts that enhance access in higher education.”