SEPTEMBER 18, 2008

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OU Student to Use Fulbright Scholarship, Language Enhancement Award to Help Middle Eastern Children

Helping ensure greater freedom for children around the world through education and a personal desire to acquire a better cultural understanding of the Middle East were among reasons University of Oklahoma business administration and arts and sciences student Dennis Ardis applied his senior year for a Fulbright Scholarship to examine the entrance of Iraqi children into Jordan public schools.

That lofty goal – combined with a solid university career – landed Ardis, who earned dual degrees in business administration (finance and accounting) and arts and sciences (international and area studies) from OU in May, not only the sought-after scholarship, but also a Critical Language Enhancement Award from the U.S. Department of State, allowing him to study Arabic in Amman, Jordan, for six months prior to beginning the nine-month research portion of the grant.

In his two-page statement of proposed research for the Fulbright Scholarship, Ardis discussed the growing struggle of countries to meet the financial challenges posed by increasing numbers of both legal and illegal immigrants. He notes that in 2007, Jordan opened its public school system to hundreds of thousands of displaced Iraqi schoolchildren, an enormous undertaking that could conceivably overwhelm that country’s educational system. Drawing upon his educational background, including international and area studies, and his prior relationships with Critical Language Enhancement Award researchers, he proposed a course of study that would fully explore this process in the second year under the new policy. He explained that he hoped to use this study to further his personal and academic development as a basis for future involvement in issues relating to Jordan and the broader Middle East.

In his personal statement to the Fulbright Scholarship awards committee, he further outlined his ambitions, which had evolved from his early college days, when he defined achievement in terms of the movie Family Man, starring Nicholas Cage – e.g., “a cool penthouse apartment, a revolving closet with a suit for every day of the year, and nothing but conveniences to distract him from his otherwise seamless efficiency.” While pursuing that goal through rigorous academic study and numerous extracurricular activities, including serving as campus campaign manager for Teach for America, a funny thing happened: his interests moved away from that promising career in business and the penthouse lifestyle to a lifetime of study and work devoted to using his privileged background to help children achieve a greater measure of freedom and an equal opportunity to achieve success, however they define it.

“A limited world view shaped my early perspective and guided my early actions,” he wrote. “As a consequence, I realize the necessity of mutual understanding and respect. As I set out into the world, I now see achievement through a different lens. Success exists outside myself. All people deserve the same opportunities in life; all people should benefit from a clear sense of the world in which they live. Those notions underlie my current goals, personal and professional.”

As he heads back to the Middle East on the Fulbright portion of his award, Ardis says he’s excited to expand upon his knowledge of the region while gaining a better understanding of how he can use this knowledge as a professional to advance goals shared by all nations.