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Strike While the Iron Is Hot

By Ron Wiley, PhD, Regional Leader, Central Asia


KAFU Vice President Dan Ballast welcomes REI's growing commitment to the university and to East Kazakhstan

How does a relationship grow over time? From knowing about (“info”), to meeting (“intro”), to time together (“invite”), to friendship (“involve”), to relationship (“impact”). This pathway describes the growing relationship between REI and the Kazakh-American Free University (KAFU) in Oskemen, East Kazakhstan.

When the first REI President, Paul Ronka, and I were introduced to what was then the Kazakh-American Business College in 1997, we watched with interest as this “university of international partnership” took shape and grew, while several friends and acquaintances spent short and longer terms there as faculty and visiting professors. One of those professors, Bill Bontrager, who was teaching law at KAFU at the time, eventually became my mentor in all things related to restorative justice, the focus of my PhD work. Bill encouraged me to travel to East Kazakhstan to see the work of KAFU first hand. Later, in 2011, a partner organization working at KAFU invited REI to take over their work there. But the timing wasn’t right, so we watched and waited.


Ron with two of his KAFU students visiting Colorado in 2023

It wasn’t until we moved back to Kazakhstan that our “info,” “intro” and “invite” into relationship with KAFU became “involvement.” In January 2020, KAFU Vice President Dan Ballast invited me to meet President Yerezhep Mambetkaziyev (a former Kazakhstan Minister of Education), who immediately appointed me as adjunct professor. Despite the pandemic, in early 2021 we returned and I began to teach in the Department of Law & International Relations. (For more background, see


Jeanine with When Cultures Meet certified facilitators trained by REI at KAFU

At the same time, my wife Jeanine and I began laying foundations for organizational development workshops at KAFU and other universities. Our friend, Dr. Susan Stewart trained and certified us and we launched the When Cultures Meet workshop facilitator trainings/certifications (For more information, see


Also, at the same time, Jeanine and I worked with KAFU faculty to secure funding and organize mediation training for students and educators for all of the schools in East Kazakhstan. That program led to a School Mediation Service that our KAFU colleagues coordinate in association the Ministry of Education for East Kazakhstan.

Ron and KAFU Rector Aidar Mambetkaziyev upon signing Memorandum of Understanding, which expands the KAFU-REI relationship to a new level

It's time: the KAFU-REI relationship is now at the next level: IMPACT! We are family! (Kazakh-American Family University…as they like to say!) In October, KAFU Rector Aidar Yerezhepovich Mambetkaziev and I signed a Memorandum of Understanding. We’re recruiting faculty, visiting scholars, guest lecturers, study abroad students and graduate students to come with REI to build and enhance KAFU’s commitment to expand their international cooperation. This fall, an REI short-term team will bring their expertise in business, communications and creative writing to KAFU. We’re recruiting long-term staff to REI to lead this expansion at KAFU and throughout Kazakhstan.


Join us… Help us bring the world to KAFU students and KAFU students to the world. Let’s strike while the iron is hot!

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