Q & A with Russ Beard: How a trip to North Africa changed everything

Date posted: March 28, 2014

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARuss Beard, Bellevue College’s VP of Information Resources, recently took part in a delegation of community college leaders who traveled to North Africa to meet with higher-ed representatives in the Maghreb to share best practices in vocational training and workforce development and explore new education partnerships between the U.S. and North Africa.

The delegation, led by PNB’s regional initiative, North Africa Partnership for Economic Opportunity (PNB-NAPEO) and the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program, and sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, was a part of Partners for a New Beginning (PNB), a public-private partnership supporting the advancement of entrepreneurship, education and innovation in Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, the Palestinian Territories, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Mauritania, Pakistan, and Indonesia.

Given PNB’s mission to alleviate the problem of youth unemployment in the region, this delegation helped support partners in North Africa in building new models for vocational training across key economic sectors, including energy, technology and agriculture.

Beard shared some of his thoughts on the trip in a HuffPo Blog post. Below our VP of Information Resources answered some rapid-fire questions about his experience and hopes for the future:

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Q: Tell us a bit about this trip – how did you become involved and why did you ultimately decide to join? 

The purpose of the delegation was to explore similarities and differences in the higher education and vocational training systems in the U.S. and North Africa, discuss best practices, and identify potential areas of future collaboration. I was asked to participate because of my experience in strategic planning for technology, I went because it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Q: Did you have any preconceived notions about this trip prior to going?

I had thousands of them, I had almost no prior knowledge of that region of North Africa and did some research but ultimately I set them all aside and just walked in with my eyes wide open and took in as much as I could.

Q: What did you and Bellevue College bring to the table during these meetings? 

Our background in technology, all four nations we spoke to are attempting to build an infrastructure that will allow them to participate in a global economy.

Q: Have you taken any lessons or ideas from this trip to implement at BC?

I would like to see us develop exchange programs with at least Algeria and Tunisia, there is so much they can teach us.

Q: Will any of these lessons/ideas help advance the mission and vision of BC?

Broadening our vision and better understanding of the world around us must be a piece of our mission.

Q: Are there any potentials for partnerships as a result of this trip?

There are many, from our interior design program to language and technology, they are hungry to partner.

Q: How do trips like this benefit students at BC? 

At the very least it helps me be a better leader, but if our students can take these trips it will serve to expand their minds, it is an incredible experience to visit with a 24-year-old who has participated and lived through a revolution and helped to put a new government in place.

Q: What did you learn while in Africa?

We in the U.S. are very sheltered.  The world is much more of a global economy than I had anticipated.  There is much hope in the younger generation; it gives me hope.

Q: Would you make a repeat trip, should the option come up?  

Absolutely.  I will see the world in a different way for the rest of my life. It will be a part of my decision making and my view of everything around me.