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The honor comes from the University Studies Abroad Consortium, the nonprofit organization of American universities that offers international education programs around the world, ranging from short-term to year-long programs, as well as internships, service-learning opportunities and language-immersion courses. About 100 UC students participate in USAC programs each year.
USAC emeritus faculty status recognizes Durbin as an exceptional advocate for study abroad and a long-time international educator for USAC. Durbin has taught 11 times for USAC in Costa Rica, Spain, Germany, Italy and India.
The award comes with the establishment of a one-time $1500 scholarship in Durbin’s name for a UC student studying abroad. The recipient of the award is William-Isaac Beckes, who will be studying at Rey Juan Carlos University in Madrid for the 2019-20 academic year.
Durbin started at UC in 1970 as department head in the Mechanical Engineering Technology program in what was then known as the College of Applied Science, where he developed the MET baccalaureate program in 1975. He moved into the Construction Science program in the 1980s and then into Architectural Engineering, where he also developed the baccalaureate program and served as program chair. The Department of Civil and Architectural Engineering and Construction Management is now part of CEAS.
A sabbatical in Australia in 1995 led to his interest in international education. “I worked with people there at the University of New South Wales, and that really got me interested,” he remembers. He led his first of three study abroad trips for UC students to Australia in 2002.
Knowing his experience and interest in teaching internationally, staff in the UC International office steered him toward USAC. USAC actively recruits visiting professors to teach for specific programs around the world, and educators in STEM disciplines like engineering are in demand. Durbin filled out “an old paper application,” as he remembers, and the rest is history. For more than a decade, starting in 2002, he taught summer and winter break sessions and semester-long courses, primarily about energy and the environment.
He also worked in Alor Setar in northern Malaysia to help the ministry of education develop the environmental engineering curriculum that is now being taught in many of the country’s polytechnic institutes. On his return, he recalls, “My daughter picked me up at the airport in Chicago and said, ‘Gee, Dad, you only have one left.’ I was worried that I was going to run out of my nine lives or something, and she said, ‘No, you only have one more continent.’” He made a personal trip to Antarctica to get the last one in.
Back at UC, he began to work with Chris Lewis of the College of Medicine whose Village Life Outreach Project organizes service trips for community health projects in Tanzania. Durbin led a group of UC Engineers Without Borders students. “There’s a little village there, Nyambogo, and they’re now providing clean drinking water to thousands of people.” Durbin’s students did the initial quality testing to determine the best water source.
In 2014, Durbin retired as professor emeritus from CEAS but was rehired in 2016 to teach for a semester at the Joint Co-op Institute, the CEAS mechanical and electrical engineering degree program with Chongqing University in China. He was there when he got word that USAC wanted him to teach in a new engineering program at the Polytechnic University of Valencia in 2017.
Valencia is his favorite city in Spain, he says.
“I love the city," he said. "There’s a gate on the north side of the old city, and you can still see some of the Roman city walls that are preserved there. But then they have the City of Arts & Sciences, which is the most modern set of buildings you’ll find anywhere in the world.”
It was in Valencia that USAC surprised him this spring with the emeritus award and the scholarship established in his honor. Durbin, once again retired, was traveling with his wife in Germany and Italy, visiting some of the places he had taught. He stopped in Valencia where some of his old USAC resident advisors had gathered.
“Then I got the surprise of emeritus from USAC. So now I’m an emeritus twice. I guess I’m an ‘emeriti.’"
Durbin has now retired for a third time, after teaching at the JCI again this May. He’s slated to return to Costa Rica to teach for USAC again in spring 2021.
Durbin says of his USAC experiences: “It's been a very interesting relationship with USAC. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. The students are very interesting to work with. They’re people who are willing to get out of their comfort zone and go do something different.”
This month, Durbin got a chance to meet the recipient of his scholarship, William-Isaac Beckes.
Beckes is currently a biochemistry major. When he first explored study abroad possibilities, he looked at Valencia, but he had already taken the STEM courses toward his major that USAC offered there.
So he decided to change course — and very likely his major, too — by choosing instead to spend a year studying Spanish in an all-Spanish curriculum at Rey Juan Carlos University in Madrid. He hopes not to speak English at all this year.
Beckes is fascinated with languages and spends six hours a day studying them. Besides English and Spanish (his most recent language), he speaks French and German. He is also working on Chinese because he has four Chinese sisters.
“Languages are so fascinating to me, maybe because I grew up in the Midwest and it’s not a very diverse place, so languages are more like a delicacy,” he said.
He was always intrigued when he heard another language spoken on the street. He has a personal goal to speak all of the official United Nations languages (Arabic, English, French, Spanish, Russian and Chinese) before he’s 35.
After his year abroad, Beckes expects to major in computational linguistics. This summer he sought out a linguistics mentor in Kara Moranski, visiting assistant professor in UC's Department of Romance Languages and Literatures. He worked with her on a research study on metacognitive instruction for language learners, to analyze whether learners who recognize and actively self-correct their language errors have an advantage in language development. Beckes’ own focus was on whether grammatical errors caused communication breakdowns. His research provided evidence that beginner-level learners relied more on vocabulary than grammar to make themselves understood.
Beckes teaches online as a community tutor for students who want to connect with a native speaker of English. Ultimately, he would like to open his own language school and work on the reform of language teaching in the United States.
Featured photo at top: UC professor emeritus Daniel Durbin, center, with USAC resident advisors in Valencia