ATHENS, Ga. - The University of Georgia is using federal money to bring in instructors from the Middle East and southeast Asia in an effort to offer more classes in languages deemed critical for national security.
The federally funded Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistants Program allowed UGA's religion department to hire four scholars - Akbar Cheraghi from Iran, Betul Tarhan from Turkey, Zaki Nuraeni from Indonesia and Abdelkader Ben Rhit from Tunisia - to teach their native tongues. The programs are training students to take government and other homeland security jobs both here and abroad.
Katie Baker applied to UGA because she wants to move to Afghanistan.
"I want to travel and work in the schools," said the freshman from Philadelphia. "It's something I've wanted to do for a long time."
As the United States becomes more involved with Muslim countries, college graduates need familiarity with those countries' cultures and languages, said Alan Godlas, a religion and Middle Eastern culture professor at UGA.
"Language is the key to learning a culture," he said. "It makes students cultural ambassadors for what the State Department calls 'public diplomacy.'"
Colleges across the country are beefing up their language programs as part of a growing trend to offer degrees in homeland security.
Some focus on man-made threats, while others, including Savannah State University, train students to help with natural disasters.
More than 300 colleges offer some type of instruction in homeland security, a trend that began soon after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, according to the Ohio-based National Academic Consortium for Homeland Security.
The federal Homeland Security Department spends about $50 million a year on grants to colleges for research in national defense and for science and engineering scholarships.