Vanderbilt delegation holds workshops at American University of Iraq–Baghdad, advances new college of education design

Campus of American University of Iraq - Baghdad

By Jenna Somers

Peabody College representatives on AUIB campus
Chris Vanags, Nancy Dickson, Ellen Goldring, Emily Pendergrass, Camilla Benbow, Jacci Rodgers, Xiu Cravens

Representatives from Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of education and human development visited the American University of Iraq–Baghdad in April and May to advance the collaboration between the institutions on improving Iraqi higher education and strengthening the teacher workforce. In 2022, the institutions were awarded a two-year, $2.5 million grant from the U.S. State Department to design and launch a new college of education at AUIB focused on teacher training and development.

This was the second trip for Peabody representatives visiting AUIB and the first for Camilla Benbow, Patricia and Rodes Hart Dean of Education and Human Development. The Peabody delegation engaged in workshops with AUIB leaders and faculty, Iraqi Ministry of Education officials, and school leaders from public schools in Baghdad to discuss the American style of education and to understand Iraq’s education needs at all levels of schooling and within public, private, and international schools. They also discussed Peabody’s teacher preparation program, with a focus on content knowledge, pedagogy, and professionalism, which will inform the approach to designing AUIB’s college of education.

Benbow led a presentation with AUIB deans, many of whom are new to their roles. Drawing on more than 25 years of experience as Peabody’s dean, Benbow provided insights on excellence in leadership of a college. She also spoke with AUIB’s Board of Trust about achieving and maintaining excellence in higher education. The AUIB college of education’s dean and faculty, once hired, will participate in a multi-week residency program at Peabody College, in Nashville, Tennessee.

“Working with our AUIB colleagues to design their college of education epitomizes Peabody’s commitment to applying knowledge and expertise to advance educational opportunity around the world. Together, we are building the foundation for excellence in education at all levels and for all Iraqi students,” Benbow said.

Dawn Dekle, AUIB’s vice president for academic affairs, coordinated with Peabody representatives to organize the events of their visit, including the workshops. “The interactive workshops allowed the attendees to share and learn from each other with the goal of bringing best practices, innovative techniques, and tailored approaches in education to the next generation of Iraqi students,” Dekle said.

group of people standing outside for group photo
Peabody College and AUIB collaborators met at AUIB in April/ May 2023

Discussions with peers in Iraq allowed Peabody’s team to think more expansively about education beyond the classroom, including how educators are needed to lead and support various types of organizations, such as nonprofits, government, and international development. These needs inform the collaborative work of designing the college’s first program of study, which will focus on both teacher training for the traditional classroom and developing a professional pipeline of educators to work in the broader field of education and human development.

“Our project is making excellent progress thanks to the support from the leadership teams of both Vanderbilt and AUIB. The long-term success of this new college of education relies on ongoing mutual learning and collaborative inquiry with the very people we aim to serve. Coming back to Baghdad and spending time with Iraqi educators was an invaluable learning experience for all of us on the Peabody team, as well. There is so much exciting work ahead. We cannot wait for the next trip,” said Xiu Cravens, associate dean for international students and affairs and the principal investigator for the State Department grant.

Along with Benbow and Cravens, Peabody’s delegation included faculty and staff throughout the college:

AUIB plans to begin recruiting new students to the college of education this fall. Most of the students will first enroll in English proficiency courses in spring 2024 and then academic courses in fall 2024.


The grant proposal was supported by Research Development and Support (RDS) which offers proposal development assistance for both private (foundations) and federally funded opportunities. RDS is in the Office of the Vice Provost for Research and Innovation.