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September 15, 2008

Media Contact: Beverley Golden
News and Information
The University of Texas at Tyler
903.566.7303 or 903.330.0495 (cell)

Support from Across the Ocean for UT Tyler Palestine Campus

Editor’s Note: The following article was written by the UT Tyler Palestine Campus Expansion Campaign. The “Paving the Way” campaign is led by Palestine community leaders Cad Williams, David Bernard and Phil Jenkins.


Mary Barnhart is a Palestine resident living in Iraq teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) classes. Last fall she received an e-mail from Palestine businessman Phil Jenkins asking for a contribution to the Paving the Way capital campaign in support of the UT Tyler Palestine campus expansion.  Mary responded immediately with a $15,000 pledge.

When Phil Jenkins, co-chairman of the campaign, was asked why he reached out across the ocean to Mary Barnhart for a gift, he responded with this explanation. 

“When Mary started her journey to Iraq in 2007, I was on her e-mail list and was privileged to learn and marvel at some of the amazing things she was doing as an ESL teacher. In listening to her stories about how hungry the people in Iraq are for an education and how she feels the call to reach out to these people, I knew that education was important to Mary,” explained Mr. Jenkins.   

When Barnhart was asked, via e-mail across the ocean, why she responded to the request, she responded with these words. 

“As a result of my marriage to an Aggie, my blood runs maroon. But education transcends school loyalties. Education is essential for a civilization (population) to flourish. Wherever there is an institution of higher learning in a community, there is economic and cultural growth. This growth is not just immediate, but long term as the community takes advantage of the school and the opportunities it offers. I personally am looking forward to returning and auditing various classes. As time goes by I will probably increase my financial support to the project."

Barnhart’s family came to Palestine in the early 1960’s. Her dad was with Missouri Pacific. She attended North Texas State University and on week-ends, holidays and summers Palestine became her home. After college she and her husband, Bill, settled in Dallas where they had a manufacturing business and raised their sons. In 1992 Mary’s husband passed away, and in 1996 she moved back to Palestine. 

According to Barnhart she now had time to do volunteer work. 

“Two of the most fulfilling jobs I’ve had were volunteer work at the library and the ESL program. I first started tutoring individual students and then in 2005 and 2006 started teaching ESL classes.Thus, my ESL background and the love to see others grasp a new language. Education is one thing once you have it no one can take it away from you.  Once your brain has expanded to grasp a new idea or concept, it is never the same again.”

It was almost by happenstance that Barnhart was introduced to the idea of going to Iraq to do humanitarian work. In March of 2007 at a going away party for a missionary friend, Debbie Rouse, another friend expressed a desire to go to Iraq to teach English but was afraid to fly alone in foreign airports. It was decided that Mary would accompany her friend and that was the beginning of her journey. On Aug. 8, 2007 Mary and her friend, Nell Wison, left for Iraq and returned on Dec. 14 2007. 

She is back in northern Iraq, the Kurdistan region teaching again. The town she is in is located about 20 minutes from Irbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Regional government. When her friend, Debbie, asked the people what they wanted the most, the answer was to learn English from American speaking teachers. They don’t want to learn to speak English with a British accent. They also want to know about the American culture, more than what they see on TV. 

Barnhart was asked, “why do you go to Iraq to teach?” 

“Americans have so many programs available to them at little or no cost. There are programs like Head Start, continuing education, library enrichment programs and many more. In Iraq, they have so little. Saddam Hussein burned/bulldozed the libraries in this country. Books, with the exception of textbooks, are virtually non existent. Many of the textbooks are 20-30 years. old. Teaching methods here are very rigid, it is all memorization. Consequently, there is much they don’t comprehend. The students go to school in shifts for 4 hours a day,” Barnhart said.

“It is refreshing to see the passion Mary has for her mission in Iraq and certainly easy to understand her commitment to education”, said Jenkins. “We are so pleased to have her support from so far away and look forward to her being here to celebrate the completion of the campus expansion,” he added.

Jenkins also reported that the UT Tyler Palestine Expansion Campaign has raised approximately $2.2 million dollars to date from individuals and businesses in the area. The campaign goal is $2.6 million leaving about $400,000 still needed to be raised from the local community. 

Two years ago the Texas Legislature allocated $7 million for the expansion of the UT Tyler Palestine Campus with additional funds from the local community needed to insure the expansion process.  According to Jenkins, “a committee of local citizens has been hard at work raising the funds needed and we are getting close to reaching our goal.  We need the support of our local communities who benefit from the UT Tyler Palestine campus and we encourage everyone to join us in being a part of making this important project a reality for our region.”

For additional information about the UT Tyler Palestine Campus Expansion project, contact any of the three co-chairmen Cad Williams, David Barnard, or Phil Jenkins. 

Susan Harris, at the UT Tyler Palestine Campus, is also available for questions at 903-727-2308.

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