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On the Road to Mandalay: A Fulbright in Burma (Myanmar) - 2016

David Owens, Emeritus Professor of Biology, College of Charleston

25 August 2017

The goals for this talk are threefold.  First, Dr. Owens will give his impressions on the Fulbright Program, an exceptional educational exchange program started at the end of World War II, administered by the US State Department and which has been funded continuously by our Congress for 70 years.  Second, Dr. Owens will provide snapshots of the amazing cultural and biological diversity of this, the largest country in Southeast Asia with its 54 million people, 117 distinct languages and 2200 km of coastline.  Finally, Dr. Owens will communicate through several stories what he and his spouse learned about Myanmar's energetic, but admittedly antiquated, educational system as it emerges haltingly from nearly 50 years of military suppression.  Fulbright grants can be quite variable in structure so all current Myanmar projects are set up to be 80% teaching and 20% research. The clear assignment was to teach graduate level courses about Marine Tetrapods and Conservation Biology at Mawlamyine University, which houses the only Marine Science Graduate Program in the country. The Marine Science Department's TAs and lecturers, who were working on their PhD or MS degrees, were Dr Owens’ students. While in the country, Dr. Owens was eventually able to contact scientists and conservationists interested in sea turtles and to hold an information exchange meeting on developing a Myanmar conservation strategy. After returning to the US, Dr. Owens assisted an INGO (Fauna & Flora International) in obtaining a starter grant from the US Fish and Wildlife Service to initiate a Myanmar-wide sea turtle conservation program.