Through the agency of Michael Sweetland ’88, this Kosovar Albanian biology teacher has been able to offer his students experience with a functioning microscope for the first time in 30 years.
Sweetland passes out school supplies at a Serbian School.
Alum's Kosovo initiative fosters science education across cultures
Michael Sweetland ’88 is passionate about education. Most days he lives that out as a chemistry professor at Penn Valley Community College in Kansas City, Mo. But in June 2008, the focus of that passion landed 5,000 miles away in Kosovo, a small, newly independent country in the Balkans. Now Sweetland is raising money to fund a chemistry course meant to bond Serbian and Albanian youth in learning.
Sweetland was deployed to Kosovo with the Missouri National Guard. As an infantry company commander, Capt. Sweetland’s mission was to maintain peace between ethnic Serbians and ethnic Albanians.
“I was there to provide security, and that’s not just with a gun, in my mind,” Sweetland says.
In talking with the people of Kosovo, he discovered they wanted the same things we all do. “They want their government to help protect them, they want to be able to send their kids to good schools, they want to be able to put food on their table, and they want to live in peace,” says Sweetland.
Driving down a two-lane Kosovar highway no wider than a Green Bay side street, Sweetland saw parents walking their kids to school, even in the dark. “It just screams ‘help,’ ” says Sweetland.
With his education background, Sweetland began to hone in on improving Kosovo’s rudimentary schools. He and his troops handed out school supplies and in one instance saved a rural school by providing a new roof and windows.
When Sweetland learned the Kosovar schools had no equipment for science experiments, a spark ignited.
“I knew upon my return back home that my school was going to have me reorganize our stock,” he says. “I knew there was equipment we were going to get rid of that they could certainly use.”
Sweetland made a promise that when he got home, he would send the science equipment.
In October 2009, he hand-delivered two complete sets of glassware and other lab equipment – one to a Serbian school and the other to an Albanian school.
Sweetland hopes to raise enough money to go back to Kosovo. He wants to teach a chemistry mini-course for Albanian and Serbian students, to be held at a school in a neutral Catholic town. His goal: The kids will work in pairs, one Serbian and one Albanian, to improve relations – or chemistry – between ethnicities.
That’s significant, since the kids don’t speak the same language, go to the same schools or live in the same towns.
Sweetland says: “It would promote communication and start to dissemble this idea that Albanians are bad or that Serbians are bad, because here they are solving problems together. I feel that it would be breaking down those barriers. I feel that it would be supporting the idea of Kosovo as a country.”
Sweetland recently learned of an upcoming deployment that will put his goal on hold. He hopes to resume the project in 2013, a timeline that gives him the opportunity to secure funding.
To learn more about this project, e-mail Michael Sweetland.