The University of Texas-Pan American is doing its part to further international communication by teaching World Wide Web skills to a group of 14 telecommunications professionals from 12 nations in Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe.
The engineers and senior telecommunications professionals from Bulgaria, the Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Guyana, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Peru, Russia, Tanzania and Zambia are on campus through Thursday (May 14) to attend a training session conducted under the auspices of the nonprofit United States Telecommunications Training Institute.
Sammy Musau Ngwili, a senior assistant manager for Kenya Posts and Telecommunications Corp., from Nairobi has 26 years of experience in telecommunications in everything from radio and line transmissions to microwave systems and satellite communications. He said the Internet was first introduced in his country about three years ago.
"The Internet is now being introduced in my country...with small, small ISPs (Internet service providers) coming up," he said. "Now we are seeing the Internet grow very fast in my country."
Ngwili attended three other USTTI courses in Washington, D.C. - "Configuring, Managing and Maintaining Internet Services," "The Internet and Satellites" and "The Internet Course at INTELSAT" - immediately before the course at UT Pan American, "Developing a Web Site." The training was designed as a series of courses that began April 19 and concluded with the UT Pan American class, and most of the participants at the UT Pan American course took all four classes.
The organization where Ngwili works is in the process of becoming an Internet service provider, and he said he plans to conduct training sessions within the organization and act as a consultant to people outside the organization when he returns.
"When I go back home, I intend to try and teach what I've learned here, and I can assist other people wanting to establish ISPs," he said.
"I hope I remember everything that I learned here," he added with a laugh. "It will take me some time to go through all this information, because it's a lot, and I couldn't assimilate everything in this short time. But I have a lot of good notes, so I can do a lot of reading to try and polish my knowledge of this."
Ngwili said he benefited from the program not only professionally but also culturally.
"I have met people who are from developing countries like mine, and also many U.S. citizens," he said. "It has been a very good experience."
Maria Tzvetanova Ivanova is a research associate in information technology for the Bulgarian Telecommunication Company's Research Telecommunication Institute in Sofia. She said the Internet is a particularly wonderful innovation for people of her generation, who started their careers in the times of closed boundaries and the Cold War.
"In Bulgaria, we were a closed society," Ivanova said. "For the people of my generation...it (Internet) is really like a miracle. You can communicate and make connections with people all over the world - what we couldn't do before.
"This is maybe the most important for us, for our society, but as professionals it's also very important because we can exchange information with our colleagues. It's the fastest way to get in touch with people in other countries, and for us it is also the cheapest way, cheaper than telephone connections."
Ivanova is responsible for information technologies implementation and development at her company, which is poised to become one of the largest ISPs in Bulgaria. In the last year, Ivanova has oriented her efforts toward the Internet and web technologies. She said the infrastructure in her country is not well developed.
"I think the experience I get here will help to increase the level of quality, especially because my work is connected with developing web servers and new services for customers," she said.
Ivanova, who also attended the other training sessions in Washington, D.C., said she will be taking a lot of important information back to Bulgaria.
"I got basic information of how an Internet network is designed and very good information about IP addressing and establishing Internet service provider infrastructure and, from the first two courses, information about using satellites and the Internet.
"It's a new point. I did not have information on this. I feel that this (Internet via satellite) is a great possibility for the countries that do not have a well-developed network infrastructure," she said.
She had high praise for the course taught by UT Pan American faculty and staff members, in which she and her classmates learned to install and configure a World Wide Web server, publish web pages using the latest tools and set up mechanisms to manage and update their sites, and she also praised the quality of equipment available for their use. The participants went through a step-by-step process to create a well-designed web site.
"Here we are doing what we didn't get to do (in the other training), to get practice. This is maybe the best, to see how things really work. The other classes were only theory and a little bit of demonstrations, but not experience," she said. "I think this combination of classes is very good."
The students in the course spent the majority of their time doing hands-on work in the Computer Science Advanced Studies Laboratory in the university's Engineering Building, but also heard lectures from faculty and staff members on different aspects of web site design, toured the Academic Services Building, including the Network Operations Center used for distance learning and other telecommunications functions, and attended a reception at the home of UT Pan American president Dr. Miguel A. Nevárez.
The UT Pan American course is one of a number of courses operated by the United States Telecommunications Training Institute, a nonprofit joint venture between leaders of the U.S. communications industry and federal officials. USTTI's goal is to share U.S. communications and technological advances by providing an array of tuition-free telecommunications and broadcast training courses for qualified men and women who manage the communications infrastructures in the world's developing countries.
The UT Pan American course was co-sponsored by UT Pan American's Multimedia Teaching and Learning Lab, the Department of Information Resources and the Center for Entrepreneurship and Economic Development.
Dr. Wendy Lawrence-Fowler, director of the Multimedia Teaching and Learning Lab and director of distance education at UT Pan American, said the university was asked to conduct the class by the chairman of the board of USTTI and is one of only three universities involved in the program; the remainder of the courses are conducted by corporations. "This is wonderful outreach," she said. "It shows that we can extend our reach beyond Mexico and provide services to the whole world.
"We need to share our knowledge with the rest of the world, and we gain from them," Lawrence-Fowler said. "This is a remarkable opportunity to gain knowledge and interact with people from very different environments and very different cultures. We can see how communication really has connected the world, because all these people are interested in the same kinds of things we are, and we all have a chance to share our experiences and share our knowledge...and build positive relationships with people in other countries."