Students and Innovation Ambassadors

Students and Innovation Ambassadors for the United Arab Emirate’s Ministry of Education traveled to Huntsville to take part in a high-impact, short-term “Earth–Sky–Space”-themed program hosted by UAH’s Office of International Services

Dr. Andrea Word-Allbritton

More than three dozen students from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) spent the latter half of July in Huntsville, where faculty members and students from The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) served as both their hosts and guides. Invited to the Rocket City to participate in a summer program administered by UAH’s Office of International Services (OIS), the Emirati youth are Innovation Ambassadors for the UAE’s Ministry of Education, which seeks to inspire innovation and foster global awareness in participants through engagement in workshops and field visits at reputable institutions, colleges and universities in the U.S., Switzerland, the Netherlands, and many other countries.

The Three Penny Opera

Students in the program participated in a balloon satellite launch led by members of UAH’s Space Hardware Club.

Dr. Andrea Word-Allbritton

"The UAE’s Ministry of Education has the goal of providing their students with experiences that broaden their awareness of global opportunities and challenges related to innovation. In the case of Huntsville and UAH, connections to NASA and the U.S. Space & Rocket Center make it possible to explore the potential for innovation in key areas, including Earth systems and space exploration," says Dr. Andrea Word-Allbritton, academic director of the program and a clinical assistant professor in the College of Education’s Department of Curriculum & Instruction. "We, in turn, have the goal of exposing participants to complex contexts within which these challenges exist to help them visualize innovations that will benefit humanity and the systems we inhabit."

Thus, in addition to hearing from guest lecturers and participating in discussion sessions, the students also visited select destinations across North Alabama that both reflected this year’s program theme of "Earth–Sky–Space" and highlighted the UAE’s national focus during its Year of Tolerance. The experiences, delivered by program faculty members Dr. Ryan Cate-Gibson, Ms. Kerrin Ramachandran, and Ms. Evdoxia Tsimika-Chronis, included:

  • The Little River Canyon Center, the LEED-Silver-certified Jacksonville State University building, and the adjacent Little River Canyon National Preserve, to learn about environmental policy and natural resource protection;
  • The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, the 16th Street Baptist Church, and Kelly Ingram Park, to learn about the importance of the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S and the broader sociopolitical context in which the Space Race unfolded;
  • UAH’s Severe Weather Institute – Radar and Lightning Laboratories and Baron, to learn about the importance of data and information surrounding weather events;
  • UAH’s Space Hardware Club, to participate in a balloon satellite launch;
  • ADTRAN, Hexagon, and Polaris, to learn about innovation cycles, technology advances, and environmental challenges;
  • The UAH Department of Physics & Astronomy, to learn about the importance of conservation and recycling by taking part in hands-on experiments in water filtration and electricity led by Dr. Themistoklis Chronis, a clinical assistant professor;
  • The U.S. Space & Rocket Center’s Space Camp, to take part in a Pathfinder Mission simulation and discuss the future of space exploration.

While engaging in these experiences, the students had the opportunity to improve their English language skills. "Their communication skills definitely improved as a result of these activities as well as the students’ engagement with UAH peer facilitators and others in the community," says Dr. Word-Allbritton. To develop other soft skills, like professionalism and collaboration, students were divided into teams and worked on a project with the guidance of UAH student advisors. Those skills were put to use at the end of their two-week stay, when each team presented a video log of their experiences.

As part of the program, students visited notable landmarks like the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and the U.S. Space & Rocket Center.

Dr. Andrea Word-Allbritton

"The presentations focused on the themes of tolerance and innovation," she says. "Afterward, we had a closing ceremony that included a certificate presentation by Dr. David Berkowitz, director of the OIS, and a luncheon in their honor." In return, the students shared their likes, dislikes, and impressions with the program’s staff. "The visit to the Civil Rights Institute was one of the best experiences of my life," said one. Adds another, "It was an amazing place to learn about how African Americans survived and overcame segregation." One cited the visit to Space Camp as especially memorable, saying that "it was a wonderful place that I didn’t know existed!" And perhaps speaking for all of the students, one summed it up as "a special journey."

With the students now safely back in the UAE and on to new adventures as Innovation Ambassadors, Dr. Word-Allbritton and her team are turning their attention to next year’s program and a whole new cohort of international students interested in learning more about UAH and the Rocket City.

"Dr. Berkowitz and Dr. Yeqing Bao, the associate director of OIS, are hopeful that this year’s experience will serve as a model for similar offerings for groups from countries like Argentina, Peru, Thailand, China, and Bulgaria, in addition to the UAE," says Dr. Word-Allbritton, adding that interest in these types of high-impact, short-term programs is expanding globally. "With their combined focus on innovation, exploration, and diversity, these programs are in perfect alignment with the university’s mission – and they provide a great opportunity to increase awareness of UAH and Huntsville within the international community."



Dr. Andrea Word-Allbritton