Middle East-studies program grows and evolves
by MaryAlice Bitts
March 23, 2010
Leon Blosser poses with his wife and family in their backyard in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates (1969). Blosser lived and worked in the Middle East for 22 years.
It’s been two years since Dickinson established its thriving Middle East studies program. And there are changes afoot.
The program—which now offers classes in Arabic and modern Hebrew, electives taught by colleagues in eight disciplines and study-abroad options in Morocco, Jordan, Israel and Egypt—will see a new leader at its helm. David Commins, professor of history and Benjamin Rush Chair in the Liberal Arts and Sciences, will be installed as the program’s coordinator in the 2010-11 academic year.
Commins, who earned a B.A. at the University of California-Berkeley and a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan, is a specialist in Islamic thought who received Fulbright grants to study at Damascus University, in Ottoman Syria and in Saudi Arabia. He says he’s honored to build on the solid foundation created by the program’s first coordinator, Edward Webb, assistant professor of political science and international studies.
Leon Blosser: Pioneering professor
Key adjunct-faculty member Leon Blosser will launch a new life chapter when he retires this spring. Blosser—an ordained minister who lived in the Middle East for 22 years and taught Arabic to both native speakers and expatriate medical workers—began teaching at Dickinson when the college first started offering Arabic classes six years ago through the Department of Religion. He later developed intermediate-level courses when his first students reached that stage in their academic development.
“Leon Blosser deserves much credit for launching the Arabic program,” Commins says. “He did a tremendous job building student interest and putting his stamp on the program.”
Alexander Brock ’08 underscored the quality of the curriculum last spring when he earned a Fulbright Award to study Islamic philosophy in Egypt. Successes such as these make the job extremely satisfying for Blosser, who says he especially enjoys seeing the students’ enthusiasm for the language grow.
Blosser plans to travel in his retirement and looks forward to visiting his youngest son in Sicily, collaborating with his wife on a memoir about their five decades together, writing more Arabic poetry, tackling his wife’s “honey-do” list and spending time with his 11 grandchildren.
Magda Siekert: Life in the academic lane
Lecturer in Middle East Studies Magda Siekert, who teaches Arabic language and culture and U.S. public diplomacy, came to Dickinson last fall after completing 22 years as a Department of State foreign-service officer in the Middle East, Europe and Latin America. She earned a master’s degree from the American University in Cairo and completed comprehensive exams for a Ph.D. in Arabic studies at Georgetown University. She also taught at Georgetown, the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and the American University in Cairo.
As satisfying as these experiences were, she is pleased to enter her new life at Dickinson. “I find it exciting and rewarding to introduce my students to a new world and accompany them on the journey,” she explains. “I am learning from them and from our discussions, readings and thoughtful analysis.”
Blosser says that he’s confident that Siekert and her colleagues will see the program continue to grow. “Professor Siekert will now take the program to a higher level,” he says modestly, “and as I slowly ride my camel off into the dunes, I look forward to reading about exciting future contributions made to the global community by Dickinson’s Arabic students.”