The library at the University of Mosul was once among the finest in Western Asia, housing more than a million books, maps, and rare historical materials. But in 2014, when Islamic State forces captured the Iraqi city, the grand library and about 80 percent of the sprawling, tree-lined campus were destroyed. Many faculty members were slaughtered or forced to flee.

Today, more than three years after the militant group was finally ousted from Mosul, students are returning, the library and other buildings are being rebuilt, and faculty members are re-establishing links with the international community.

The Virginia Tech Language and Culture Institute is contributing to that staggering task by helping launch an English language center at the University of Mosul. The institute is providing virtual training in English language instruction and assessment and relevant administrative procedures to faculty members in Iraq.

“The goal is for our Iraqi colleagues to learn what they need to be able to open and operate a center that will serve their university community,” Director Donald Back said. “We also hope to build lasting relationships with faculty members there, especially around academic publishing.”

Improving the English proficiency of faculty and students in Mosul will allow the university to better engage with the world and develop academically, scientifically, and culturally, said Rawaa Qasha, director of the Department of Scholarships and Cultural Relations and an assistant professor of computer science.

Mosul has long been home to a large number of people from diverse backgrounds, ethnicities, and religious beliefs. The university, founded in 1967, is one of the largest educational and research centers in the Middle East, and the second largest in Iraq. The new center will help “consolidate a culture of coexistence and peace between different groups of society by offering English language education programs that focus on spreading a spirit of tolerance and solidarity,” Qasha said.

People walking and standing on a campus square
Today, students are returning to the University of Mosul, about 70 percent of the campus buildings have been rebuilt, and faculty members are re-establishing links with the international community. Photo provided by the University of Mosul.

Increasing the University of Mosul’s international visibility and reputation is one of its major goals, according to Mohammed Nihad and Mohammed Osama, both participants in the program. One way to do that, they said, is by improving faculty members’ English skills so they will be better able to publish their research in respected English-language journals and participate in international conferences. For students, learning English means an increased chance of being admitted to graduate programs at English-speaking universities abroad.

“Virginia Tech professionals can convey their wide experience to universities in Iraq — particularly in English language, communication, staff development, and strategic planning. Further, both the University of Mosul and Virginia Tech have expressed willingness to develop collaborations on several levels that will be of high value for both universities,” Qasha said.

The English language center will be the first of its type in Iraq, said Wafa Al-Daily, associate director for global initiatives at the Language and Culture Institute, part of Outreach and International Affairs. “Through this project, Virginia Tech will be one of the first universities outside Iraq to really leave its footprint in the rebuilding of the University of Mosul.”

Liz Bowles is leading a yearlong series of online workshops to improve Mosul faculty members’ skills in teaching English to speakers of other languages. The sessions will also include courses on curriculum development and assessment. Additional workshops cover such topics as intellectual property, research commercialization, and grant writing. Pamela Smart-Smith, meanwhile, is leading workshops for the administrators who will run the center, focusing on developing management and leadership skills.

“The participants are enthusiastic and bring a variety of backgrounds and experiences to the sessions, which makes for great discussions,” Bowles said. “They have exceeded my expectations in terms of their participation and contributions to the program.”

A recent workshop on "Negotiating the Publication Process," led by Sudipta Sarangi, department head and professor of economics in the College of Science, drew more than 150 participants from across the University of Mosul.

Al-Daily said the Iraqis are particularly happy to have access to the resources of Virginia Tech’s library while theirs is being restored.

“I’m so proud to be able to play a part in the rebuilding of this great university, one of the major destinations for students in the Arab world,” Al-Daily said. “We are helping to rebuild the capacity of faculty members who are going to run this English center, and we’re helping the university restore its capacity and position itself where it was before the occupation.”

Administered by the nonprofit IREX, the program is being funded by a grant from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and the U.S. State Department.

The project follows the Language and Culture Institute’s Iraqi Kurdistan Rural University Partnership Program, which provided technical assistance to strengthen university administration, reform English language curricula, and enhance instructional methods in English departments across the autonomous region in northern Iraq.