Indeed, the executive director of NIU’s Center for P-20 Engagement and Fulbright scholar experienced a welcome measure of self-discovery.
“I got a good feel for the region, its students and some of their drive to play a bigger role in the global community,” Watson said. “It was refreshing because they have some of the wonderful values that we used to hold so closely, like community and looking after each other’s children. And it just came so naturally to them. They don’t have much, but what they do have, they share.”
Now Watson is making plans to return to the former Soviet Union, this time to study how graduates of the Georgian Institute of Public Affairs (GIPA) shape public policy and inform public opinion.
Watson, former dean of the NIU College of Education, has been selected for the 2010-2011 Embassy Policy Specialist Fellowship by the International Research & Exchanges Board.
He will spend six weeks in Georgia, making the U.S. Embassy there his research headquarters from Sept. 15 through Oct. 30. Afterward, he will draft a report with recommendations on how the United States can build a better relationship with Georgia.
The work is centered at GIPA, created after Georgia became a free state in 1991 as a national center for the development of the best practice in public administration and journalism.
According to its website, the non-profit organization brings together “successful leaders from business, media, civil society and public services” to contribute “developing effective governance at state, municipal and local levels as well as independent and viable media in Georgia.”
“I will look at specifically how its graduates are influencing democracy and policy and creating a civil society in Georgia. I’m looking at data bases of the graduates and where they’ve gone, how policy is being made and what groups are making policy,” Watson said. “I also will interview a number of the graduates, and the public in general, about what I see the graduates doing and what the public sees the graduates doing.”
For example, he will examine Georgia’s transition from a close-knit society to a free market society and the level of “economic stamina needed to create a system of democracy that works for voting and equal rights for individuals.”
He also will explore the various groups with the potential to hold power in that country.
“I’m comparing it to Belarus now, which is not, by any means, what the West would consider a free market society. According to the president of Belarus, if they were suddenly a free market society, they would not have any wealth because the residents could not afford to buy their own land,” Watson said. “Of course, I’m approaching this from a Western standpoint. I won’t know the details until I get there, at least not from a Georgian standpoint.”
Watson already is sure what to expect from the students and graduates, who more than likely are similar to their counterparts in the rest of Eurasia.
“Young students know two or three different languages. They know more about U.S. history and movements than many of our students do,” Watson said. “I’ve experienced this first-hand. They are very eager to make a different in the world and to be part of a capitalist and free market society.”
This fall’s opportunity came from Deb Pierce, associate provost for International Programs.
Pierce distributed an announcement regarding nine fellowships available through the International Research & Exchanges Board. Founded in 1968, the non-profit organization provides leadership and innovative programs to improve the quality of education, strengthen independent media and foster pluralistic civil society development.
Already possessing some fluency in Russian – Watson had taught himself the language before he journeyed to Belarus – and an academic interest in higher education, he applied.
“I love being a scholar. It’s what I do,” he said. “I’m doing what I need to do to be a good citizen for my college and department.”