Two faculty members at Stephen F. Austin State University recently learned that their long-held dream of an overseas sabbatical will be realized within the year.
Dr. Theresa Coble, associate professor of forest recreation and interpretation, has received a Fulbright award to teach and conduct research in the Graduate Institute of Environmental Education at the National Taiwan Normal University in Taipei, Taiwan. And her husband, Dr. Dean Coble, associate professor of forest biometrics, will work with the forestry faculty at National Taiwan University to develop ecophysiological models for Taiwan's "cloud forests."
Both have been granted faculty leave from the Arthur Temple College of Forestry and Agriculture for the Spring 2010 semester to pursue their respective professional development opportunities. The couple's children, 6-year-old Ivan and 2-year-old Ila, will accompany their parents on the sabbatical.
"We could not be more excited about the professional opportunity to conduct research overseas, and we are thrilled to also be able to expose our kids to another place and another culture," Theresa Coble said. "We are so grateful that the dean and the provost were willing to work with us to make all this possible, and we look forward to sharing what we learn in Taiwan with our students and colleagues when we return."
Theresa Coble said she applied for the Fulbright last August at the encouragement of a colleague, hoping to build upon relationships established in June 2006 when she received an invitation to lead manager training sessions in Taiwan. Last fall, both professors applied for faculty development leave from SFA, so that if the Fulbright were awarded, they could go to Asia together.
"The whole idea was not for me to go away for a semester and leave my family," Theresa Coble said. "We were really hoping to all go together, but we just didn't know if everything would work out."
Both professors were granted the requested faculty development leaves, which were contingent on Theresa Coble receiving the Fulbright award. She received official word of her selection as a Fulbright scholar in April.
"This is an amazing opportunity for us to combine our love of the outdoors and our love of the Asian culture with a unique family experience," Dean Coble said. "It is extremely exciting and a little scary at the same time, uprooting your whole family and being immersed in a completely different place, a completely different culture."
He said he is counting on his wife's Chinese language skills and her familiarity with the country to lessen the family's culture shock. Theresa Coble taught English in China for four years after earning her bachelor's degree in biology in 1986. The experience led her to pursue a master's degree in Chinese upon her return to the United States.
"I just really came to appreciate the people and the culture during those years, and after Dean and I both visited in Taiwan in 2006 we really started to think seriously about going back for an extended stay," she said.
Dr. Michael Fountain, interim dean of the College of Forestry and Agriculture, said the faculty is already making plans to minimize the impact of the Cobles' temporary absence on students through some "creative advising and scheduling."
"I sincerely appreciate the combined efforts of our faculty and staff in assisting the Cobles with this wonderful opportunity," he said. "The work they are undertaking in China will greatly enhance the visibility of the high quality programs in forestry, environmental science and agriculture that we have here at SFA."
Those sentiments were echoed by Dr. Richard Berry, provost and vice president for academic affairs at SFA.
"We are very pleased that this opportunity developed for Dean and Theresa," he said. "I know it will be a wonderful adventure for their whole family, and it will yield enormous benefits for SFA and the Arthur Temple College of Forestry and Agriculture."