Thursday, May 04, 2006

Tuesday, May 2 - Tehran's Sharif University of Technology

Each year some 1.3 million Iranian students take the college entrance examination and their scores dictate their future learning opportunities. About 200,000 will go on to college. The top 800—a very elite few—will have the choice to go to Sharif University of Technology.

Sharif is sometimes called the MIT or Cal Tech of Iran but it may more accurately be described as the UC of Iran. The President has a Ph.D. from UC Berkeley and most of the several department chairs that I met have degrees from UC Davis, UC San Diego or have done sabbatical at a UC campus. I’am truly awed by the global reach of the University of California.

Reza Abbaszadeh and I are here to meet prospective students for a quarter-long exchange at the UC Davis Graduate School of Managment. UC Davis is held in high esteem here and there is general excitement about this possibility should the U.S. visa approvals come through.

We spent a long day meeting 12 candidates: four women and eight men who are completing their first MBA year. They are uniformly bright and I am surprised at the high level of English competence of the majority. Most have not been out of Iran or have only had brief trips to Europe but they speak English colloquially and with American, not British accents. The quality of language education must be high in Iran.

Like our MBA students, they have work experience. All have technical backgrounds and they have been working as industrial engineers, doing operations and construction project management and pursuing other careers that take advantage of their technology training. They have worked in both large and small firms. One is a passionate pianist and cello player. Another has played on the national basketball team. They express their frustration with the level of management skill at their places of work and often cite that as their reasons for getting an MBA.

Sharif University is based on the American model of higher education. It is organized into semesters, the faculty members are largely U.S.-trained, they use the top U.S. textbooks and cases, and all instruction is in English. It is perhaps not surprising that they want to experience the sources of their educational experience directly.

They use the language of modern business and talk about SWOT diagrams, CRM, supply chains and performance appraisal systems.

Some have nearly memorized the Graduate School of Management’s Web site and speak about specific professors and student clubs.

I am so moved by this yearning to experience, even briefly, what is our daily life. I wonder what will happen when the words in our texts and the pictures on Voice of America television become real in a new way. Will they be disappointed in us? Inspired to make changes in Iran? Or perhaps overwhelmed by the gulf between our economies? I hope we find out.


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