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Impacting a Culture, Transforming a Nation

By Randy Vernon, Country Leader, Uzbekistan


That sounds ambitious, but that is exactly what REI is seeking to do in Uzbekistan. We launched the second chapter of our work here in 2021 at a new university, Samarkand International University of Technology (SIUT). (Our first chapter here ran from 1992 to 2008; if you are interested in more of the background of our service, you can refer to the article under the “Highlights – Uzbekistan” tab on our website:


Celebrating the New Year - Navruz - the first day of spring

So how are we going about doing that? As always, by investing in people—nationals who can have a greater impact on their country than we, as foreigners, ever will. At this juncture, the majority of our efforts are channeled into academic teaching and training at SIUT. The heart of our work consists of preparing students to be competent engineers and business professionals, using the current lingua franca of English. SIUT is aiming high, and aspires to be a world-class university, providing an education second to none. We have yet to reach that lofty goal, but REI staff do contribute to its attainment through our daily and weekly regimen of teaching. My wife Jill and I, along with Titus Dallmann teach several English courses, while Seth Vidrio and Zabdiyel Tan teach “Engineering Foundations,” “Information, Communication, and Technology,” and “Logic Design.”


New SIUT campus under construction

But we also aim for impact on the ethical dimension of education, as well as the academic.  Dr. Ron Wiley, REI Central Asia director, with the help of Seth and Zab, teaches a course on “Human Values and Ethics” to our more advanced students. Case studies range from the hypothetical to some potentially thorny issues right at home, all of which help guide students into being people of integrity, people of character, people who personally apply the moral guidelines which may have been implicit but never clarified in their own thinking. Being present at the university’s inception, and being in a position to impact its corporate culture from its earliest days, was one of the reasons we accepted serving at SIUT in the first place.


SIUT's nature group fi
SIUT's Nature Club figuring out how to use the scope

Another area of impact is that of cultivating respect for the environment, seeking to enlarge our students’ appreciation of, and commitment to, good stewardship of their country’s natural resources. Uzbekistan has been the unhappy scene of some environmental calamities, from the disaster of the Aral Sea to the desertification of previously fertile farmlands. SIUT has a program that seeks to give more weight to renewable energy, even as it trains future petroleum engineers. I also launched the SIUT Nature Club, which seeks to promote a greener view of things through watching videos such as the BBC’s “Planet Earth” series, discussion on such topics as invasive species, and visiting nearby nature reserves, to foster this environmentally-friendly perspective.


Jill's class preparing a debate

We would be remiss if we failed to mention the power of modeling in the areas of attitude and relationships. Any job will have its own set of ups and downs, and SIUT is no exception, but we have sought to maintain a positive, we’re-here-to-serve attitude as well as cultivate healthy relationships with both staff and students. We have heard comments from other faculty about REI members, such as “I’ve noticed that you don’t gossip or backbite the other staff.” Or “It doesn’t seem to bother you that this insert negative situation here is happening.” Or from a student: “You guys are different. I’ve never been around people who are so encouraging.” Well, we certainly don’t claim perfection in these things, but we do, I think, provide a certain stabilizing effect in the occasional stormy seas, and help others raise their own behavioral standards through how we live our lives.


Shah-i-Zinda, one of Samarkand's jewels

Ancient wisdom tells us not to despise the day of small things. We are, admittedly, a small team here in Samarkand, but we have a compelling vision. Impacting a culture, transforming a nation? Not in a week, not in a year, but over time—absolutely!





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