Professor Profile: Bringing the Middle East directly to the students
Published: Sunday, January 27, 2013
Updated: Sunday, January 27, 2013 22:01
If you ever thought that life’s most rewarding experiences come only from deliberate preparation, you may want to think again. For Ikram Easton, an Arabic professor at Boston College, a casual visit to our beautiful campus unexpectedly became one of the most significant moments in her teaching career.
Easton had been living in Cedar Rapids, Iowa when her husband decided to interview for a position in the Graduate School of Social Work, and when she traveled with him to Chestnut Hill, she did not plan on becoming so attached to the school that she decided to stay as well. After meeting with Atef Ghobrial, a professor in the department of Slavic and Eastern languages and literatures, and taking a tour of the school, Easton immediately fell in love with everything BC had to offer. Luckily, a position was available for an Arabic instructor, and after two years at BC, Easton can confirm that this is the place for her.
But home for Easton extends even farther than the state of Iowa. Easton was born in Lattakia, Syria, a small city on the coast of the Mediterranean. After receiving her B.A. in English Literature and Humanities with a focus on Arabic translation from Tishreen University, she moved to the United States in 1996, where she obtained her B.S. and M.S. degrees in Education from Indiana University in English, ESL, and World Civilizations.
Recognizing the need for students to learn Arabic, which is considered by many to be a critical language, Easton devoted her time to developing optimal programs for teaching the language. Her efforts were rewarded with national recognition—she was the first female Arabic teacher for K-12 to become certified in the U.S., and only the second Arabic teacher overall to gain certification in the nation. Her certification opened up doors for her in a new realm of teaching: online instruction. Easton was responsible for designing and developing the first online Arabic course for high school students in North Carolina through UNCChapel Hill, and ever since she has been a strong proponent for integrating technology into the classroom.
“Because I teach online, I know the power of online resources, and I try to provide that for my students,” Easton said. For her Elementary Arabic students, Easton has created numerous ways for them to practice their speaking outside of the classroom, which is essential when learning a language as difficult as Arabic. For example, she sends weekly voice emails in which students are asked to read passages out loud, which are recorded and sent back to her via email. In this manner, she can provide direct attention to each student’s pronunciation.
Adobe Connect is another means through which Easton can create a virtual classroom for students, and she hopes that other professors adopt this technology as well. “Because I only teach three days a week, I don’t think that’s enough with a language course, and I think students need to have more access to the language professor,” she said. With her “virtual office hours,” students can join in to an online discussion from the comfort of their sweatpants in their dorm rooms, and they have the options of viewing PowerPoints, writing on a virtual message board, listening to music, and discussing culture. “The students love it—they feel connection to the 21st century, to compete globally, and they think it’s a lot of fun.”
While teaching is her greatest passion, Easton also has an eclectic mixture of hobbies and travels. She is an avid open water scuba diver—her latest dive was 130 feet, and she recalled her surprising yet memorable encounter with a hammerhead shark. Easton also played volleyball for the national team in Syria for nine years, and traveled extensively with her team to countries such as Tunisia, Morocco, Jordan, Albania, Greece, Turkey, and Egypt. After moving to the U.S., she also coached the sport at the varsity level for students in Indiana.
Most of all, Easton is fully devoted to her own little BC Superfans—her 7-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son. “BC has been incredible to my family,” she noted. “They are very family-oriented, and they don’t just say that—they really live it.” The focus on family and community was one of the first things that attracted Easton to the campus, and she fondly remembers that very first visit two years ago.
“My second year of teaching confirmed everything I felt the very first day,” she said. “I just fell more in love with the students, and I’m not just admiring the campus and the buildings anymore.”
While her vast cultural perspective is certainly an asset to her teaching ability, Easton readily explains that her strength is drawn from the challenges presented with providing new and exciting ways to engage students every day.
“I believe that the high quality of the students really is helping me become a better teacher,” she said. “That’s the quality of students you want—to raise you up, to make you feel like you want to work harder for them.”