For more than 30 years, the Interdisciplinary Telecommunications Program at the University of Colorado at Boulder has combined technical education with the social sciences, including economics, law, policy and finance, in a model program that has produced numerous leaders in the telecommunications field.
Now that expertise is being tapped by the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division, which has called on the program to provide training in northern Iraq to help rebuild the region's telecommunication infrastructure and systems.
Gerald Mitchell, a senior instructor who has been with the ITP for 15 years, plans to launch a four-week intensive program in basic telecommunications and traffic engineering for Iraqi engineers in Mosul as soon as Oct. 15. Mosul is a provincial capital and the third largest city in Iraq.
Jeffrey St. Pierre, a professional research assistant in the College of Engineering and Applied Science, will lead a second, two-week training program on how to manage a local area network at Sulaymaniyah University in the Kurdish Autonomous Region.
Both certificate programs will be offered in Iraq through the newly established Center for Advanced Engineering and Technology Education at CU-Boulder. Future courses may be provided through distance learning technologies, and by having some students attend classes on the Boulder campus.
"I'm totally excited about this. I think we can do some good there," said Mitchell, who recently returned from a 10-day trip to Iraq with St. Pierre. During the visit, they met with the director and chief engineer of the local telephone company in Mosul, with officials from both Mosul and Sulaymaniyah universities, and with the prime minister, president and minister of education for the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.
Lt. Col. Welton Chase, commander of the 501st Signal Battalion and a 1998 Interdisciplinary Telecommunications Program graduate, initially contacted Mitchell to request that the program provide training to Iraqi civilians. The idea was enthusiastically endorsed by Maj. Gen. David Petraeus, commander of the 101st Airborne Division, who is leading the region's political and economic reconstruction, Mitchell said.
The training programs will help to meet short-term needs, including hands-on instruction in how to size and administer the switching network and manage local area networks.
Plans also are being laid to meet the long-term educational needs for telecom managers who can lead Iraq into the 21st century. Neither Mosul University nor Sulaymaniyah University has a telecommunications program, and both would like to establish a relationship with the University of Colorado, Mitchell said.
"Northern Iraq desperately needs the kind of leadership that a master's degree in interdisciplinary telecommunications would bring," said Mitchell. "They need help with technical matters, but probably more so in how to deal with economic and policy issues. The Iraqis need to understand the dynamics of market-driven economies."
Mitchell said he did not observe any violence or anti-American behavior during the 10 days he was in Iraq. "Where I was, there was water, electricity, traffic and police on the street corners," he said. Mosul has seen much looting and vandalism, however. Mitchell said his hotel had no furniture and the university there had been stripped of all books and lab equipment.
Furthermore, the telephone system is inadequate and the service is not good, he said. The local telephone company wants to improve service and expand the system's penetration from three or four customers per 100 population to six.
"The soldiers under General Petraeus' command are doing a great job helping the Iraqi people rebuild their country," Mitchell observed. "They're doing everything they can to get this area up and running."