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President Ruth Simmons was nominated on Sept. 22 to the steering committee of Partners for a New Beginning, a non-partisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to improving relations between the United States and Muslim countries. A Brown program, Heritage as Bridge, will be Simmons' first initiative as a member.

Partners was founded jointly between the Department of State and the Aspen Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to pursuing common ground and deeper understanding on critical issues, according to the organization's website.

The steering committee is responsible for "operationalizing" this partnership, according to Toni Verstandig P'12, executive director of Middle East Programs at the Aspen Institute and secretariat of Partners.

"Partners for a New Beginning is the follow-up to President Obama's Cairo Speech," Verstandig said. In June 2009, Obama discussed his aspirations in Egypt to renew engagements with Muslim countries. The Cairo Speech "lays out four pillars in which that engagement can be advanced — economic opportunity, science and technology, education and exchange," Verstandig said.

Partners is first reaching out to five target areas: Egypt, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, Indonesia, Pakistan and Turkey, she added.

One of the best features of the organization is its desire to work with the countries, not to dictate what needs to be done, Verstandig said.

"The steering committee and chairs feel strongly that the partnerships will advance Muslim communities," Verstandig said. "We're not going to countries and saying this is what works best. … We're asking them what's important to them and what their priorities are."

Simmons, currently the only academic on the steering committee, was chosen because of her ability to translate ideas into reality, Verstandig said.

"I think they find her wise," said Susan Alcock, director of the Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World. "She can talk to a range of constituents — she's a very cohesive person," she added.

The first step Brown is taking to contribute is its participation in the Heritage as Bridge project, which is being led by Alcock.

The Heritage as Bridge project hopes to draw on both the economic and educational benefits that heritage sites, such as archaeological sites, parks and their museums, offer host countries and tourists, according to Alcock.

Alcock said the program will first work with Turkey. It will eventually feature an exchange of scholars between individuals at Brown and those in Ephesus and other cities in Turkey.

There will be an emphasis on encouraging young people to get involved, especially women, Alcock said. The archaeology field largely comprises women, due in part to the feminization of the humanities, Alcock added. This will contribute to the "quest for female voices in the Muslim world," she said.

Incorporating what Heritage as Bridge is doing into classes at Brown is another goal, Alcock said. The program aims to get students thinking about what it is like to work in the Middle East and what heritage sites mean.

Alcock said she also hopes to hold a workshop soon to discuss the project among academics, government officials, members of the private sector and entrepreneurs. The mixing of private and public groups by Partners for a New Beginning is another of its great features, Alcock said: "It's an amazing group of people."

Both Alcock and Vice President for International Affairs Matthew Gutmann said they are excited to hear back from students.

"This is a long-term commitment of Brown," Gutmann said. "Involvement of Brown students is a priority."

The University's involvement represents the "importance of academics" in helping solve conflicts, Gutmann said.

"Brown students, scholars and professors can tackle global problems," Verstandig said, citing past programs in assisting Haiti and Pakistan.



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