Fulbright professor headed east
The winter temperatures in Belarus can average between 17.6 and 23.9 degrees Fahrenheit, according to converted figures from the country’s official website.
Jerry Koehler, a professor in USF’s college of business administration and Fulbright Award winner, will be teaching at Belarus State University starting in February. He won’t escape the cold during his four-month stay, and it’s not something he is looking forward to.
“It’ll be amazing on February first to step off a plane and go from the temperature in Tampa, Florida to the temperature in Belarus,” he said. “I’m sure it’ll be below zero.”
Koehler isn’t too worried about it, though. In fact, the Fulbright Award winner was the one who picked Belarus in the first place. The Award allows scholars to visit institutions across the world using U.S. government funds.
USF’s Muma College of Business has had three Fulbright Award winners since 2015, including Koehler. His award will have him travel to Belarus to teach in an Executive MBA program at Belarus State University. He will stay in Belarus from February to May. Afterwards, he will return to his post at USF.
Dean of the Muma College of Business Moez Limayem said Koehler’s receiving the Fulbright Award is an honor that will help USF down the road.
“When he comes back, he will bring an amazing story and new type of examples and case studies and anecdotes that frankly, I don’t know many professors of management who would have that type of experiences,” he said.
Limayem said the other benefit goes to the students, who can learn about another country. The experiences play into a global literacy goal that goes beyond just sending students abroad, according to Limayem.
“Now, all the sudden, they’re having and they’re being taught by a professor who actually went to a very interesting place like this one and who (will) tell them about the culture there, about doing business there, about some companies or how many operate leadership there,” he said.
Koehler’s choice of Belarus came down to limited options as a Fulbright Award winner teaching business. He said he feels he found a “perfect fit” in the program at Belarus State University.
“They were looking for someone with my background, who’s got an academic background, business background and a lot of experience,” he said. “So, they were very interested in having me and vice versa.”
Koehler also visited the country in 1986 with his wife and two children when Belarus belonged to the since-dissolved Soviet Union. Koehler said he feels that Eastern Europe differs from the U.S. in both politics and education.
“Many things are quite different than in the U.S., and that’s always interesting and exciting to understand and comprehend how these countries go about their business day to day,” he said.
He also missed a few planned stops in that 1986 trip, one of which was the city of Minsk, which he could not visit due to the meltdown of Chernobyl, a nuclear power plant in Ukraine that sat near the Ukrainian-Belarusian border, in April of that year.
He will now get the chance to see the city as the university he is teaching at is located in Minsk.
“I’m just excited to go to someplace I really wanted to go to in ’86 and to see how things have changed,” Koehler said.
His worry outside of the weather patterns is the lack of English speakers outside of the university. The program he’s joining is taught in English, and neither Koehler nor his wife- — who will join him on this trip — speak Belarusian. Belarus isn’t much of a tourist attraction, Koehler said, meaning that unlike the more-often-visited countries in Europe, English isn’t spoken by a lot of people.
However, Koehler said the couple was in a similar situation when they traveled in 1986 and said the two never felt uncomfortable.
Koehler will be teaching organizational theory, organization behavior and organization development in business, which are his specialties. He also hopes to teach executive leadership.
He said he is most looking forward to faculty interactions in the business discipline, the life and culture of the university itself, and the chance to interact with members of the community.
“The Fulbright is (when) … you’re an academic ambassador and your job is to do more than just what you teach but to learn, understand and comprehend their environment, and communicate things that you think that can be helpful to them,” he said. “At the same time learn as much as you can to come back and share with the students you have at USF.”
The Illinois native joined USF in 1976 to assist the president after working at American Express in California and at the University of California-Irvine. He became the chairman of the management department before taking a sabbatical at Honeywell and serving as Deputy Secretary of Labor for four years.
As a colleague, Limayem said Koehler is eager to learn and willing to go out of his way to help his students.
“We’re very blessed at the Muma College of Business and at USF to have great faculty,” he said. “Faculty that are willing to go out of their comfort zone to learn more, faculty that believe that learning is a journey, not a destination, and they’re always hungry to learn more so that they can go back to the classroom and help their students more.”
Limayem said Koehler is the essence of that ideal. Koehler himself agrees with Limayem’s observation of his willingness to learn, and emphasizes the importance of always being open to opportunities to learn.
“Learning is fun,” he said. “Learning is exciting. If you’re not learning, you’re probably not enjoying life as much as you should. Some people think … learning is work. If they think of learning as work then they’ve made a mistake. Learning is just an opportunity to enjoy yourself.”