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Outreach News

The Center has been commended by the Department of Education for its Outreach Program, which works with schools and colleges, community and religious groups, government and military institutions, and the general public to raise awareness and understanding of issues in the Middle East and their importance to our communities.

Middle East Center Islamophobia workshop is featured in PennNews

“Penn Experts Aid Grade School Teachers in Confronting Islamophobia in the classroom"

Media Contact:Jill DiSanto | | 215-898-4820

August 29, 2016

Blending interdisciplinary work with community engagement, two professors from the University of Pennsylvania are working with grade school teachers to address misconceptions and fears about Islam, as well as issues impacting students from Muslim communities. 

Ameena Ghaffar-Kucher, a senior lecturer at Penn’s Graduate School of Education, has spent the last decade studying the educational engagement and socialization of migrant populations. 

Jamal J. Elias, Walter H. Annenberg Professor of the Humanities and a professor in the Religious Studies Department in the School of Arts & Sciences, has focused his career on teaching others about Islamic thought, history and its role in modern times. 

In “Islamophobia: Confronting Bias in the Classroom and Beyond,” the first of what is hoped will be a series of workshops for teachers, Ghaffar-Kucher and Elias demonstrated how to identify and fight Islamophobia on Tuesday, Aug. 16. 

“There was an overwhelming interest in this workshop, which shows that Islamophobia in the classroom and beyond is a real issue and one that schools wish to address,” Ghaffar-Kucher said. “The teachers who attended want to incorporate workshops like these into their professional development in their own schools. There is a very clear need for such workshops throughout the country.” 

Organized by Penn’s Middle East Center, the three-hour workshop attracted nearly 40 teachers, social workers and leaders of local non-governmental organizations.  

Ghaffar-Kucher and Elias used common examples based on real-life bias-based bullying, such as young boys being called terrorists by their classmates or girls having their hijabs removed from their heads, to work through addressing bias-related acts in the classroom. 

As Ghaffar-Kucher referred to vignettes based on her research and news stories to illustrate bias, she asked attendees: “what would you do if you saw this?” In small groups, the participants worked through the examples with constructive ways to neutralize conflict and resolve the situation. 

“A lot of the teachers said these vignettes resonated with things that they’ve actually witnessed,” Ghaffar-Kucher said. 

Ghaffar-Kucher and Elias plan to continue to host similar workshops and have already been invited to speak at numerous public and private K-12 schools across the Philadelphia region.

 Alex Schein, Penn Arts & Sciences
Photo: Alex Schein, Penn Arts & Sciences
 Alex Schein, Penn Arts & Sciences
Photo: Alex Schein, Penn Arts & Sciences
 Alex Schein, Penn Arts & Sciences
Photo: Alex Schein, Penn Arts & Sciences
 Alex Schein, Penn Arts & Sciences
Photo: Alex Schein, Penn Arts & Sciences
 Alex Schein, Penn Arts & Sciences
Photo: Alex Schein, Penn Arts & Sciences

Article as published on PennNews.

Middle East Center Spring/Summer 2016 Newsletter Published: Check out what we have been up to!

The Middle East Center Fall 2016 Newletter has been released. It includes information regarding our diverse spring semester lecture series, details on K-12 student outreach with the Public School District of Philadelphia and the City of Philadlephia Commerce Department on World Heritage Education programming, programs completed with local community colleges and HBCUs as well as our teacher training programs throughout the summer. To download the full newsletter, please click on the link below.

For more information about upcoming events please visit the homepage of the MEC website.

Philadelphia World Heritage Lesson Plan Project

On July 11th - 22nd, ten educators of diverse backgrounds came together to design lesson plans that teach Philadelphia’s heritage and its rich relationship to the global world. For this project, the World Heritage Education Working Group partnered with two curriculum developers from the School District of Philadelphia, the South Asia and Middle East Center of the University of Pennsylvania, and the Penn Museum. The curriculum developers, who are currently working on an overhaul of the existing Social Studies curriculum, saw this as an opportune time to unpack Philadelphia’s history as well as foster a sense of global citizenship within our youth. Over the course of two weeks, participating educators researched to develop lesson plans that fit into one of four areas: World History, African American History, US History, and Civics and Government. To frame the conversation, we asked educators to consider two questions: What has Philadelphia contributed to the world and, in return, how has the world contributed to Philadelphia?

More specifically, the four overarching areas of study focus on:

● Immigration and its impact on Philadelphia and the US
● Philadelphia’s impact on government and civics home and abroad
● Philadelphia art and architecture and its connection to other cultures and countries
● Philadelphia’s contributions to the world: socially, scientifically, and economically

Using a unique lens, the educators generated 90+ historically and culturally relevant lesson plans that will positively shape the District’s Social Studies landscape. This project provided the perfect impetus to challenge our students taken-for-granted knowledge and position them to engage in a steadily globalizing market. We are grateful to our participants and partners for empowering students to think critically about their communities and heritage as well as their role in the larger world. Lesson plans are currently under review and will be accessible by fall of this year. For more information, please contact Curriculum Specialist, Shaquita Smith at  

Article written by: Nikia Brown, Global Philadelphia WHC Coordinator. Orginally posted on Global Philadlephia Association website.

The Middle East Center is pleased to announce the Master Teacher Fellows for 2016. Varley S. Paul from, Plymouth Meeting Friends School, and Melanie Manuel, from Science Leadership Academy, are the Master Teacher Fellows for 2016.

The Master Teacher Fellowship in Global Education is awarded to two K-14 teachers in the Delaware Valley who have shown substantial commitment to global studies in their school or classroom.

Each fellow receives a $500 stipend to be used for conference/training registration, travel to a conference/training, classroom materials, etc. The Master Teacher Fellows serve as education ambassadors for the University of Pennsylvania's South Asia and Middle East Centers from April 2015 to April 2016 and lead one public workshop for pre-service and current educators. Upon completion of the fellowship, a brief report will be required.

Learn More About Our 2016 Fellows:

Varley S. Paul is a 6th grade teacher at Plymouth Meeting Friends School. Varley has been teaching for 35 years. She graduated from St. Lawrence University and has a MS in Intercultural Communication from the University of Pennsylvania. She served in the Peace Corps in Costa Rica from 1980 to 1984 as a teacher of their School Gardens Program. She worked seven summers with the Windsor Mountain International Camp and Global Routes, leading community service and cultural programs for teenagers in Latin America, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. She helped establish two of their programs in Costa Rica and Ecuador, both of which are still running. More recently, she participated in a National Endowment for the Humanities Landmarks Workshop: Empires of the Wind: Pacific Maritime History, in San Diego, California. Her teaching philosophy is influenced by many amazing experiences in the United States and abroad such as participating in a college semester in Kenya, living in Costa Rica, and working throughout the years with an amazing array of people who dedicate their lives to education. An important component to Varley’s teaching is giving students experiential education opportunities. Aside from teaching, Varley is a writer and artist, is passionate about history, archaeology, and anthropology. She enjoys movies, rock climbing, and snorkeling.

Varley is interested in creating professional development workshops for teachers that

A) Introduce tech tools to connect with classrooms and professionals abroad and how to use the tools to supplement or enrich curriculum

B) Develop exchange, travel or intercultural partner programs whether in the city, across the U.S. or overseas. 

Varley plans to use her $500 award for continuing education. She is interested in courses and conferences focusing on technology, diversity training, and global education in general. She would also like to visit schools and network with peer educators to learn more about best practices and knowledge transfer. She would like to develop a way to share her findings with peer educators for further discussion and/or brainstorming. 

Melanie Manuel is a Spanish teacher at Science Leadership Academy, a partnership high school between the School District of Philadelphia and The Franklin Institute. Melanie is also a lecturer at Penn's Graduate School of Education where she teaches World Language methods courses. Melanie has degrees in International Business and Education (MS). She studied Bilingual Intercultural Education at la Universidad del Valle in Sololá, Guatemala, learning alongside Mayan educators how to teach traditional and cultural literacy in Spanish and indigenous languages. Under the auspices of fellowships and grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, she studied 16th century Spanish literature in Spain and Hispanic Caribbean literature at Hunter College in NYC. These opportunities developed her ability to teach Spanish through a more global lens, incorporating both peninsular and Latin American perspectives and resources. Every summer (and occasionally spring breaks) she leads international education programs for high school students from around the world on topics such as global leadership, language & culture, the impact of free trade on border communities, human rights, and environmental sustainability. As the recipient of a Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching, Melanie spent the spring semester of 2015 in Chile researching street art and investigating how it can be used to teach language and culture. This summer she will ride her bike through Cuba with a filmmaker to create resources she and other educators can use to teach about Cuba.

Melanie is interested in creating professional development workshops for teachers on

A) How to use Google Maps to support hands-on inquiry and data discovery for research projects 

B) "Cuba through Photography and Film" at educators conferences such as EduCon, Teachers for Social Justice, the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages and the School District of Philadelphia District-Wide PD. 

Melanie plans to use her $500 award to develop curriculum, resources and materials and to support her registration fees to present her work at conferences.

MEC congratulates Natalie Au and Rachel Townzen on being named the Pulitzer International Student Reporting
 Fellows of 2016. As recipients of the fellowship they will be required to complete news articles, short videos, slideshows or other media products on the Middle East or South Asia. On their reporting trips abroad, they will receive editorial support and mentorship from Pulitzer Center editors. Their work will be published on the Pulitzer Center site and they will receive a $500 award upon completion of the deliverables.

The Campus Consortium partnership between Penn's Middle East Center & South Asia Center and the Pulitzer Center is a partnership featuring programming to foster broader discussions and nuanced analysis of concerns that span disciplines, from journalism and business to law, religion and public health. The fellows will help illuminate another part of the world for the Penn community and beyond.

Natalie is a junior double majoring in Political Science and East Asian Area Studies, and minoring in Gender, Sexuality, & Women’s Studies. On campus, she is the founder and director of the Penn Human Rights Conference, and has served on the boards of Penn for Liberty in North Korea, Seneca International, and Phi Alpha Delta Pre-Law Fraternity. Off campus, Natalie has worked with the One Country Two Systems Research Institute in Hong Kong, as well as Mother’s Choice, a reproductive justice non-profit. She is very interested in the intersection between social justice and technology, and is very excited to learn more about the topic in researching for her project, “DevelopHER: Women, Tech, and Social Impact in India.”

Rachel is a Masters of Social Work student at the University of Pennsylvania, School of Social Policy & Practice, also pursuing an interdisciplinary certificate in Global Human Rights. She is the rising president of the Social Work Advocates for Immigrant Rights, secretary of the AGBU-Young Professionals chapter in Philadelphia, and member of Penn Law's International Human Rights Advocates. Since graduating from Boston College in 2014, Rachel has worked in various capacities with refugees and asylees in the US and Armenia. She will be working as a knowledge management intern with UNICEF Jordan this summer as she completes her reporting project, which will explore issues related to obtaining civil documentation, protecting family identity, and preventing statelessness among refugees. She hopes to spend her career serving refugees and others in need of international protection, with a special interest in using data analytics to shape legislative and policy decisions to advance human rights.

We are excited to see the outcome of Rachel and Natalie’s Pulitzer project when they return from their travels this fall. To read about the work of past Penn Pulitzer fellows, please visit the Pulitzer Center website

Dr. Harun Küçük Delivers the Dean's Lecture at the Mongomery County Community College

Middle East Center continues to expand its outreach efforts to new partners. Most recently, we collaborated with the Montgomery County Community College for a major event. Our affiliate faculty Dr. B. Harun Küçük, from Penn’s Department of History and Sociology of Science, gave the Dean’s lecture at MCCC on April 12, 2016. Dr. Küçük’s lecture entitled Fleeing the Inquisition: European Refugees in Istanbul in 18th Century was well attended by more than fifty people. After discussing the plight of refugees who fled Europe for religious persecution and settled in the Ottoman Empire in his lecture, Dr. Küçük also answered questions about the Syrian refugee crisis in Turkey and Europe. 

Global Distinguished Lecture Draws Crowds to Discuss Syrian Migration

At the National Resource Center's annual Global Distnquished Lecture event, "Lessons from the Great Syrian Migration," New York Times journalist, Anemona Hartocollis, discussed her experience following a group of refugees from the Greek Island of Kos to Denmark. We had a full audience with more than 100 attendees and a vigorous discussion about one of the greatest human rights crises of our time. She explored the struggles, hopes and desires of people she met along the way and pondered the unknown outcomes of this mass exodus from the Middle East, asking what can we learn from this historic movement of people?

Ms. Hartocollis was born in Lausanne, Switzerland and grew up in Topeka, Kansas. She received her bachelor’s degree from Harvard University. Hartocollis has won awards from the Newswomen’s Club of New York Front Page Award, the New York State AP Writing Contest, the Society of Silurians and the Deadline Club of New York Award, among others. Before coming to work as a journalist for the Times, Hartocollis was a reporter and feature writer for the Daily News in New York, Newsday, The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Detroit News. She is the author of Seven Days of Possibilities: One Teacher, 24 Kids and Music that changed their Lives Forever.

You can follow Ms. Hartocollis' work at the New York Times here

International Women's Day & Yazidis after the Trauma

During the week of March 15th the Middle East Center co-organized two fantastic events with our partners at the South Asia Center. “International Women’s Day 2016: Global Perspectives on Women, Food Security and Agriculture,” was a great success with 130 guests in attendance. The audience enjoyed a dynamic panel that explored the importance of women in agriculture around the world. Panelists included: Betsy Teutsch, author of 100 Under $100: 100 Tools for Empowering Global Women, Kirtrina M. Baxter, Community Organizer for Garden Justice Legal Initiative and Katera Y. Moore, Ph.D., Urban Geographer focusing on sustainability and agriculture at Penn’s Netter Center. 

Our second event on March 17th, “The Yazidis After the Trauma,” featured a lecture by Pulitzer journalist Emily Feldman that focused on her reporting work on Yazidi recovery after attempted genocide by ISIS militants. Her talk was followed by presentations from our 2015 Pulizer Reporting Fellows Priya Ramchandra and Farzana Shah who detailed their reporting stories and experiences as fellows of the program. Click on our their names to read their stories. If you would like to learn more about becoming a Pulitzer Reporting Fellow, click here.

Spotlight: Speakers Bureau Program Visits Moorestown Friends School to Discuss Islam

The Speakers Bureau program provides a great opportunity for K-12 schools in the greater Philadelphia area to receive free lectures from the University of Pennsylvania’s advanced graduate students. Our speakers can cover a wide range of topics including politics, culture, religion, art, and gender issues related to the Middle East and North Africa. These sessions can be tailored to meet the needs of your classroom or organization.

This year the Speakers Bureau program will reach 15 schools and has been expanded to include diverse student populations from South Philadelphia High School, Philadelphia High School
for Creative & Performing Arts, Science Leadership Academy, ASPIRA Schools
of Pennsylvania, Boys Latin Middle School in West Philadelphia and Neshaminy High Schools in Langhorne, PA.

Recently, Carolyn Brunelle a CTL Fellow of the Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations department, presented multiple lectures to the Moorestown Friends School.

On Wednesday, February 3rd, Carolyn Brunelle visited Moorestown Friends School to give two presentations to students regarding the Muslim world. The first lecture was presented to more than three hundred Upper School students and faculty and covered topics on terrorism, Islamophobia, and interpretations of Islam.  She also delivered personal stories about her experiences in Egypt allowing students to connect and understand more about the Muslim world. Brunelle’s second lecture entitled Islam: Unity and Diversity was presented to two hundred Middle School students and provided insight on Islamic principles, basic Arabic phrases, and a context for the images and information our students consume in the media. After each presentation, students asked great questions that allowed Brunelle to explore more ideas about the topics.

If you are a K-12 teacher and would like to book a speaker to come to your school, please email the Middle East Center at

Teacher Training, "Turkey: Then and Now", successfully completed
August 21, 2015
3907 Spruce St, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6031

On August 21, 2015, the Middle East Center conducted a teacher-training workshop called, “Turkey: Then and Now”. The center hosted thirteen teachers from a wide range of schools across Greater Philadelphia, for an intimate and engaging workshop on teaching Turkey in K-12 classrooms. The event was also an opportunity for participants of the Middle East Center 2011 Fulbright-Hays Group Project Abroad , “American Issues in a Global Context: Turkey in the World”, to report back on teaching tools gained from their six week teacher training trip in Turkey.

The workshop started with a lecture from Labaron Palmer. Labaron is currently a doctoral student in the department of Geography and Urban Studies at Temple University. His most recent academic interests have been focused on the confluence of theory and practice as it relates to the distinctive issues that are impacting major cities in the U.S., Middle East and Africa including the intersections of social equity, economic development and environmental awareness. For his portion of, “Turkey: Now and Then”, Labaron added spatial contextualization to conceptions of borders, migration and politics in Turkey, based on his experiences as a participant in the Fulbright-Hays Group Project Abroad and his doctoral research at Temple. He concluded his presentation by demonstrating how teachers can use cognitive mapping as a technique to incorporate geography of the Middle East into K-12 curriculums.

The workshop concluded with a talk by Julie Lenard. After over ten years in education, primarily as an English teacher in Philadelphia, Julie Lenard founded The Storyologist, LLC. The Storyologist provides writing consulting, writing coaching, workshops and helps educators use stories as a powerful education tool for teaching global curriculums. For her part of, “Turkey: Now and Then”, Julie examined different Turkish stories and perspectives from the summer of 2011, based on experiences as a participant in the Fulbright-Hays Group Project Abroad trip. She also presented strategies for using stories in the classroom to teach and learn about cultural identity.