Baku, Azerbaijan, May 16
Invited by BHOS Rector Elmar Gasimov, Dr. Thomas John Glass Hochstettler, President of Abu Dhabi Petroleum Institute, the United Arab Emirates, shared his view on cooperation perspectives between two higher schools, relations in the field of education, visit in Azerbaijan and his impressions about our country.
Born 23 July 1947, Dr. Thomas J. Hochstettler was educated in the United States and Germany at the University of Michigan, the University of California/Berkeley, and the University of Würzburg, in the fields of history, economics, and business administration.
He has held faculty appointments at the University of Michigan, at Bowdoin College, where he was also Dean for Administration, and at Stanford University. He subsequently served as a senior economic advisor in Finance and Administration at Stanford University, as Associate Provost at Rice University, as founding Vice President for Academic Affairs at Jacobs University in Bremen, Germany, and as President of Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon. Since 2009, Dr. Hochstettler has worked in the UAE, first as Provost and later as Acting Chancellor at the American University of Sharjah, and now as the President of the Petroleum Institute in Abu Dhabi. Dr. Hochstettler has sat on many boards and served formerly as chair of the Oregon World Affairs Council. He currently serves on the Board of Directors of the International Student Exchange Program in Washington, D.C., which he chaired from 2012 to 2015. He also serves on the Steering Committee of the Abu Dhabi International Research & Development Conference and Exhibition (ADRAC) and on the Executive Steering Committee of the Abu Dhabi International Petroleum Exhibition & Conference (ADIPEC).
Mr. Hochstettler, what do you think about the relations in the field of education between Azerbaijan and the United Arab Emirates?
I think this area is open for exploration and it is full of potentials. We spent the last two days having some in-depth conversation on potential linkages and I think we have found many details in the area we know we can collaborate, the areas we have complimentary programmes and benefit each other. Now our institute is 15 years old and I think we have a little more experience in the areas particularly graduate education, master's programmes, potential doctorate programmes than you do. I think they are rich and critical fields in which we can collaborate.
What perspectives do you expect to come from the signed Memorandum of Understanding?
Well, Memorandum of Understanding is an agreement to agree. It does provide solid basis for collaboration, conversation between faculties and administrators. It provides basis for building programmes bringing students of Abu Dhabi Petroleum Institute to Baku, Azerbaijan and bringing students of Baku Higher Oil School to Abu Dhabi Petroleum Institute. In fact, we have had very fruitful conversation with the students who want to visit Abu Dhabi Petroleum Institute this summer and we can facilitate it very well. That is the advantage of the Memorandum of Understanding. It allows us to find the areas of collaboration.
You have said you met with BHOS students? What are your impressions relating to them?
I am very impressed by BHOS students. You know, students are the most exciting part of educator's life. I had no idea that I would meet so many students. I think they are very forthcoming students and they are very articulate. I noticed that their communication skills are superb. They were asking very pointed and right questions. I realize that they are some higher scoring students in the country in terms of their academic qualifications. It is natural, you can see the intelligence on their faces. It was wonderful opportunity to meet with them. I am sure they will do very well and some of them will be able to come to the Petroleum Institute.
Could you elaborate on similarities existing between BHOS and the Petroleum Institute?
I think similarities are many. We are both institutions serving the purposes of the national oil companies of the respected countries. Actually, the said companies founded both institutions. That makes us look similar: the kinds of skills we provide students with, the kinds of research coming forward from the faculties of the Petroleum Institute and from BHOS are serving the purposes of SOCAR and ADNOC, Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, UAE.
You are representative of western culture, could you tell us what kind of challenges you face being the head of the university situated in the oriental country?
You know, I lived in seven different countries. I taught in three continents, worked as administrator in Europe, Asia and USA and the one thing that I have learned that there is no right way to do anything. For instance, I come from particular tradition. It is not the best one however in many ways it is good tradition. We have very much our own way of doing things. For example, we start training children at the very early age, at preschool. When they turn 12 we send them to high school, and these are common high schools we have few specialized schools on art, science and technologies. Most US high schools are very much the same. Then we expect them to be admitted to the undergraduate degree programme. In fact, during first 2-3 years this degree programme is general one. It becomes specialized on the 4th year. It is that kind of education that has been incorporated to the Petroleum Institute. The first 2 years of undergraduate programme of the Petroleum Institute is coming from tradition other than engineering. So we have the humanity, the social sciences, physical sciences we also have Islamic studies. All our students are required to take courses in these areas. Before the students begin to specialize, before even they decide on their majors within engineering we think of keeping students alive to different traditions of knowledge as long as possible. I think that is the difference from Russian and even European model envisaging immediate specialization of the students right after secondary education. If you study engineering in German university you don't take courses on history or sociology or philosophy as there is a certain prejudice against that. I think it is not bad at all to allow student to explore. It is advantage and peculiarity in American system to invite students to investigate other ways of knowledge. When I was in charge at American University we introduced the theatre programme and music performance. This was purely engineering school by the way. So, when you want your students to do the theatre and music you just get them do it and you will really enjoyed that. I play piano myself and I believe that human brain improves in almost anything that it does. That is my personal belief. Allowing students to become musical not professional but simply explore music, explore theatre, explore poetry, explore other knowledge traditions is not bad at all. There is a German word 'Fach idiot' which literary means 'discipline idiot' - someone who knows only his discipline and nothing outside it. Many things that any of us do in educating young people is to produce 'Fach idiots'. At the same time, we want our students to be well-rounded, analytical, creative and curious individuals who know how to ask questions, who are not afraid of asking questions, who are not afraid of finding right solutions.
You have mentioned music by the way who is your favorite composer?
Johan Sebastian Bach. I love many musical traditions. My elder son learned to play many instruments. He plays saxophone. Now he is learning to play 'ud', musical instrument of Middle East. It is hard to play as it has many strings but he is teaching himself.
You have tough schedule. How do you spend your leisure?
I play the piano and I do read a lot. I read all the time. We need to teach young people enjoy the literature. It is just so wonderful to read what comes from other people's mind on pages. We need to encourage young people to do it. In electronic age it becomes very difficult, students do not have enough patience and for many students siting down and reading 300 page book is a challenge. We graduate students who have never read 300 page book and I think it is a tragedy. It is a lost opportunity. We should encourage young people to become engaged with a written work.
Our last questions concern our country, Azerbaijan. What impressions are you leaving our country with?
In America my knowledge was limited by the Caspian Sea, that is I knew where the Caspian Sea was but I have never heard about Azerbaijan. When I was a student in Vienne I took a course on political science. Professor who taught this course once started talking about Azerbaijan and how important it is, what a wonderful crossroad of cultures your country is. More than 30 years have passed when I finally came there. I was existed because everything he said was true. This country is the crossroad of many cultures. People here are so warm. I tried to figure out why, and found out that you have to be warm because you are in touch with all the countries around you, from the west, from the east, people from Asia, from Europe. This is the gathering point. It is wonderful experience. I will certainly come back and bring my family here. All what I said about warmth is true and I am very grateful for that.
Thank you very much.