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ROTC students learn language through cultural immersion

Project GO allows ROTC students to study critical languages abroad.
The hardest part about Project GO? Coming home. — ASU AFROTC cadet Parker Smith
Applications are now being accepted for Project GO for summer 2016.
November 6, 2015

Project GO helps ROTC students expand their world view through language learning

Extensive international travel is a given for many members of the armed forces.

But imagine being a young college student, having never been away from home and suddenly finding yourself in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language and know little to nothing about the culture.

That’s the position Michelle Bravo found herself in during her first-ever deployment to Germany as a 19-year-old ROTC student.

“They dropped me off and there I was. I had never been away from home, I had to figure out how to get a driver’s license, I didn’t speak any foreign languages,” she said.

That uncomfortable situation is now happening less and less to our ROTC students thanks to Project GO, a nationwide training program sponsored by the Defense Language and National Security Education Office within the U.S. Department of Defense that provides the students with the opportunity for intensive study of critical foreign languages and the chances to use that knowledge abroad.

two men standing outside of a yurt

ASU Air Force ROTC cadets Forrest Babbitt (left) and Parker Smith stand proudly outside of the humble yurt they built in Kyrgyzstan. Top photo: Babbitt (right) and Smith prepare to explore the expansive Kyrgyz mountain ranges. All photos courtesy Parker Smith.

For four years, Bravo served as Project GO’s executive officer for the Army ROTC at Arizona State University.

“Having gone through those experiences, and through the ROTC experience, I understand what it’s like to be a college student seeking academic experience but also being involved in the military,” she said. “It’s amazing what they’re doing now with Project GO.”

ASU is one of 25 universities in the U.S. that offer the program, and it specializes in Russian, Turkish and Indonesian. The languages offered by each university vary based on each institution’s capacity to teach them.

Through Project GO, ROTC students from any university in the country can apply to participate in a three-month summer program during which they spend time both at ASU learning the language and abroad using the language and being immersed in the culture daily.

“Most of the universities, students just go to the university and study or they go abroad. But ASU does both,” said Kathleen Evans-Romaine, director of ASU’s Critical Languages Institute who oversees its summer and academic-year study-abroad programs.

Evans-Romaine explained that because ROTC students often have service-related obligations to fulfill during their summers and rigorous schedules during the academic year, taking advantage of study abroad opportunities can be difficult.

“For many students this is their only chance, which is why we give them both; that is, we train them [at ASU] and also take them abroad. So they get the language and then they go over and they can get an insider’s view of the culture since they know the language to some extent,” she said.

“It’s a very different experience than going over there and being a tourist or having somebody take you around and living with a host family but speaking English the whole time.”

man on a horse near mountains

Smith and his noble steed "Lenin"
prepare for a trail ride through the
mountains of Kyrgyzstan.

For Parker Smith, a cadet in the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFROTC) who spent two months in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, the chance for that kind of cultural immersion was the best part.

Smith said he and his host family “spent many hours discussing each other’s cultures, traditions, beliefs and just life in general — all over tea and a variety of national dishes, of course.”

During the week, Smith and fellow ASU AFROTC cadet Forrest Babbitt would attend class every morning, where they studied grammar and expanded their vocabularies.

The course, Babbitt said, was rigorous: “I was busy, and it took a lot of effort and energy out of me … but it was all worth it.”

According to Smith, though, the “true learning experience … came when we met with local youth that were assigned to us as tutors.”

Along with their tutors, Smith and Babbitt would often spend their weekends in Kyrgyzstan swimming in the pristine waters of Lake Issyk Kul with the austere snow-capped Tian Shan mountain range visible in the distance.

Or they would explore the city, perusing museums, shopping at bazaars and sampling local cuisine. They went on hikes that ended at the top of roaring waterfalls, excursions to villages where they constructed yurtsportable dwellings of the nomadic Kyrgyz people, similar in concept to the Native American teepee and listened to traditional Kyrgyz folklore “while drinking fermented horse milk and gnawing on sheep meat,” Smith said.

“All of these experiences helped me to understand the rich history and diverse lifestyle of the Kyrgyz people,” he said.

The most challenging part of the experience for Smith? Coming home.

Now he’s looking forward to attending med school after graduation and hopes to eventually become a doctor in the Air Force. He plans to use the Russian he learned to help him provide humanitarian aid in the parts of the world where the language is spoken.

Babbitt has designs on becoming a pilot in the U.S. Air Force, which he points out would include a lot of traveling, something that makes being multilingual crucial. But he also observes that learning about other languages and cultures is about more than increasing job prospects.

“Part of becoming a better person is learning more about other people and putting yourself in their shoes,” Babbitt said. “This is exactly what study abroad teaches.”

Bravo would be proud. One of the biggest rewards for her, as a leader in the Army and of ROTC students, she said, is “watching them blossom into leaders themselves.”

Applications are now being accepted to participate in Project GO for the summer 2016 sessions. To apply, visit the Project GO website. To learn more about Project GO at ASU, click here.

The deadline for applications for the summer 2016 sessions is Jan. 29, 2016.

Emma Greguska

Editor, ASU News

(480) 965-9657

ASU alleviates physics-teacher shortage, strengthens STEM pathway

November 6, 2015

Seventy high school physics and chemistry teachers from around the world took seven graduate-level courses at Arizona State University over the summer to enhance their teaching capabilities. 

The graduate-level courses, including modeling instruction workshops, take a hands-on approach to instruction, helping teachers integrate physics or chemistry with technology, engineering and math to teach students how to design experiments, analyze data and defend conclusions. Teachers in an ASU Modeling Workshop collaborate to build a scientific model from their lab investigation data. Photo courtesy of Jane Jackson, Arizona State University. Download Full Image

Teachers can implement these techniques to overcome traditional classroom hurdles, such as student passivity.

“I can already tell the difference my first day back,” said Isabel Pak, a chemistry teacher at Chandler High School. 

The Department of Physics modeling instruction program in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the only one of its kind in Arizona, encourages lifelong learning for teachers and students. Nearly 1,000 teachers have taken the workshops, which directly benefit 100,000 students annually in school districts across the state.

Beyond improving student engagement, the program addresses the shortage of physics teachers in Arizona.

Seventy-five percent of the 180 physics teachers in Phoenix don’t hold a physics degree. Often, schools are forced to retrain teachers from other subject areas to teach physics, or go without.  

The shortage of high school physics courses has a direct impact on the number of students likely to pursue science, technology, engineering and math majors in college. According to research at the University of South Florida, Harvard and the TIMSS Center at Boston College, physics is the chief pathway to STEM majors and careers.

Students who receive hands-on instruction in high school are three times more likely to earn a STEM degree, research from the University of South Florida and the TIMSS Center shows.

It’s a challenge that Jane Jackson, the program’s co-director, sees as the essential mission of the program.

“The ASU modeling instruction program is crucial. Arizona’s economic health depends on a strong K-12 education that includes robust physics courses,” Jackson said. “Physics is STEM. Critical and creative thinking are essential to meet our looming 21st-century challenges.”

Since 2003, the modeling instruction program has helped 70 teachers earn master’s degrees in natural sciences. 

Two major donors, Boeing and Salt River Project, provide partial tuition scholarships and programmatic support to help make it affordable for teachers to advance their education and improve their teaching capabilities.

For many of these teachers, the ASU modeling instruction program is a lifeline for their careers.

“I have been teaching physics and mathematics now for over 20 years, and was fortunate to be trained in modeling instruction as a pre-service teacher in 1993,” said Kelli Gamez Warble, a teacher-in-residence in the Department of Physics at ASU. “If not for modeling pedagogy and its supportive community of instructors, I would likely have left teaching within my first five years.”

Learn more about the ASU modeling instruction program at

Amanda Stoneman

Senior Marketing Content Specialist, EdPlus