Prioritize True Learning at the University of Rhode Island

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Dear Dean Wright,


I am writing this petition on behalf of myself and those fine students, colleagues, explorers, and big thinkers whose signatures appear below. The opinions reflected here are ours alone.

Yesterday I was made aware that Silke Scholz is to be let go from her position as Spanish IEP director, which she has served passionately and energetically for 5 years, due to “funding issues”. Having spent 5 years as an undergraduate in the SIEP and two more years as a Master’s student at the University of Rhode Island, I have become well-assimilated to the principles and way of life upheld by the University. For this reason, I was completely shocked and very disappointed with the College of Engineering to hear that this happened. Part of this disappointment comes in hearing that someone who served so well and so passionately as Silke would be let go, but I will touch more on that later. For the present, this petition shall be concerned with the implications of such an incident.

There is a fundamental question of principles and a touch of hypocrisy to be called out on an institution which does not sufficiently fund what it proudly calls its “Flagship Program”. The International Engineering Program is indeed the gem of the University of Rhode Island, producing well-rounded, culturally affluent engineers who graduate with a richness of experience that dwarfs most engineering programs in the country and perhaps the world. To learn that the program is in such dire need of funds that it must relieve one of its pillars, Silke, of her duties and thus harm the program has made me aware that the College does not recognize the importance of graduating the sort of engineer mentioned above. I understand the terms “culturally-affluent” and “richness of experience” may not be sufficiently pragmatic to write a convincing petition to a college of engineering with, but there are two very concrete reasons I would like to point out which make the IEP indispensable in the making of successful engineers and successful practitioners of life.

The first is obvious, and is that upon arriving back from their year abroad, IEP students are fluent or nearly fluent in their chosen language. There are many benefits to speaking a second language, professionally, cognitively, and beyond, but this information is readily accessible and I will not repeat it here for the sake of space. The second is the method by which IEP students have attained their fluency: failure. It seems to be a common trend among modern educational systems to teach students to be utterly terrified of failure. If a student fails an exam, he might fail his class. If he fails his class, he might get a poor GPA. If he gets a poor GPA, he’ll never get that dream job, he’ll make less money, life will be really hard, and he’ll never be happy. Only frantic memorization can result from such a method of teaching. Nothing is truly learned. The IEP is the only educational engineering experience I know of which, perhaps without meaning to, teaches its students that failure is no death sentence, and that in fact failure coupled with a rational, attentive mind is the most effective method of teaching that exists. IEP students are prepared as much as they can be in a classroom, which is never nearly enough, and sent to a foreign country where they will fail: in the language, in social situations, in the classroom, even in their internships… and they utilize their mind, not their memory, to learn from and overcome these failures. Experiencing and failing, I learned more Spanish in 1 month than in 5 years of study. I’m sure many IEP alumni have similar stories. This method is valuable, it works, and it is unique to the IEP. The program should be recognized for this, and should be prioritized, not undermined.

Now I would like to touch on the plan put in place to carry out Silke’s duties, and why this plan will harm IEP. Currently, there are 6 language options for IEP. Of these 6, 4 are directed by professors who must balance the duties of being a professor with the responsibilities of aiding IEP students throughout the entire process: from freshman to graduating senior. This is the structure proposed to replace Silke Scholz. Even in the case of exceptional professors, this is an extra burden that will never be the main focus of their job, which is to teach. An IEP language director must have time and be available to meet with students on little to no notice if it is to be instilled in the student that they represent and will have the support of URI during their year abroad. A faculty member who shares the IEP language director position with the duties of being a professor will never have the time required for this. This is a fact, and is one of the current shortcomings of the IEP. Furthermore, this is a position which goes beyond the preparation of IEP students. To do their job well, IEP language directors must pay close attention to international business and academic relationships, maintain them, and do so exceptionally so as to guarantee their continuing respect of URI and thus their continuing participation as sponsors of the program and employers of IEP interns. Above all, the success of this position depends on building and fostering relationships. This cannot be done effectively with the proposed model.

For 5 years, Silke Scholz carried out the above duties exceptionally, warmly, and with an with an enthusiasm unequaled by any IEP language director I have met during my 7 years at the University of Rhode Island. Her passion for the job was born of the relationships she formed with IEP partners abroad, and notably with the students she worked with. Silke served as a mentor for American students going abroad, and also formed close bonds with foreign students new to the United States, helping to integrate them into the IEP community and serving as a connection point between IEP students preparing to go abroad and students from abroad. As such, she helped foster an incredible sense of community within the IEP living learning community which will surely take a blow with the termination of her position. Finally, Silke’s prior industry experience proved invaluable to the program, as she traversed with ease the road to forming international relationships with sponsors in various Spanish-speaking countries across the globe. These relationships will also suffer with her departure.

Due to the numerous reasons stated above, it has been made clear that the release of Silke Scholz as Spanish IEP director and the discontinuation of her position is a choice which not only reflects poorly on the University of Rhode Island’s College of Engineering, but will directly result in the deterioration of important IEP sponsor and student relations. Furthermore, such a blow to the IEP threatens the existence of true learning at the University of Rhode Island, which is a valuable and rare thing indeed.

Thus it is petitioned by the writer and those who sign below that the position of SIEP director be continued by stable funds from the College of Engineering or the University, and that Silke Scholz be reinstated as SIEP director. Furthermore, it is petitioned that the College considers expanding the position of IEP language director to the other language disciplines of the IEP so that all IEP disciplines might be conducted with the focus and passion that drove Silke’s work during the past 5 years. Finally, it is petitioned that the above two requests be concerned with the financial aspect only, and that they be carried out with little to no change to the relative sovereignty of IEP, whose success in past years has been largely due to the program’s ability to make many of its decisions internally.

We hope to hear from you very soon.

Un saludo cordial,