Peabody College to help American University of Iraq–Baghdad design, launch new college of education and human development

AUIB campus

By Jenna Somers

In 2022, the U.S. State Department awarded a two-year, $2.5 million grant to Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of education and human development and the American University of Iraq–Baghdad to design and launch a new college of education and human development at AUIB focused on teacher training and development. The goal is to improve higher education and build a stronger teacher workforce in Iraq.

During the grant period, Peabody College and AUIB leaders are focused on achieving three objectives:

  • building institutional capacity based on three critical components: designing and launching the college with a K-12 pre-service teacher training curriculum; hiring and developing faculty and administration; and designing and piloting a strategy to promote an educational system modeled on evidence-based and culturally responsive teaching and learning;
  • establishing progress toward accreditation by U.S. and Iraqi accrediting organizations; and
  • supporting women and minorities in Iraq with scholarships, recruitment, course offerings highlighting gender equity, and services to increase graduation and retention rates.

Peabody College’s efforts in this partnership are led by Xiu Cravens, professor of the practice of education policy and associate dean for international students and affairs, and Nancy Dickson, director of the AUIB project. The Peabody team includes Ellen Goldring and Erin Henrick of the Department of Leadership, Policy and OrganizationsBrian KisselKristen Neal, and Emily Pendergrass of the Department of Teaching and LearningChris Vanags of the Peabody Research Office; and Jacci Rodgers, associate dean for data analytics.

“Throughout its history, Peabody College has made important contributions to shaping educational outcomes and policy around the world by training educational leaders and teachers to transform learning environments and improve learning outcomes. This grant provides a unique opportunity for our faculty and students to deepen our understanding of educational issues and strengthen our global engagement in today’s increasingly complex and volatile geopolitical landscape,” said Camilla Benbow, Patricia and Rodes Hart Dean of Education and Human development.

Portrait photo of Camilla Benbow
Camilla P. Benbow

AUIB President Michael W. Mulnix also noted the importance of this partnership. “AUIB is partnering with top universities around the world to develop an American-style university that will lead the way in Iraq’s rebirth and renaissance as a cultural and intellectual center for the Middle East,” Mulnix said. “Vanderbilt is one of the top universities in the United States and the world, and with Peabody College guiding the development of AUIB’s college of education and human development, the impact on teaching and education from kindergarten through doctoral studies will be felt in Iraq for generations to come.”

“…the impact on teaching and education from kindergarten through doctoral studies will be felt in Iraq for generations to come.”


Through the partnership with AUIB, Peabody College hopes to contribute to rebuilding the education system in Iraq. Conflicts and severe teacher and school shortages, compounded by the difficulties from COVID-19, have reduced the amount of time that Iraqi children spend in school to just four years by the time they reach age 18. Iraqi educators are in urgent need of training and support to promote student engagement, critical thinking, problem-solving skills, and community building.

The partnership aims to design a culturally responsive college of education and human development at AUIB that will train a new generation of educators and school leaders committed to evidence-based practices that promote a more just and prosperous society for Iraq.

“It is both humbling and invigorating to think about the challenges ahead,” Cravens said. “Our collective research and practice in different parts of the world have taught us the importance of being learners ourselves first and always. Our partnership with AUIB is focused on engaging Iraqi expertise and building local capacity in designing and delivering teacher education. This two-year grant is just the first step, but you know what they say about a journey of a thousand miles.”

To ensure that AUIB’s college of education and human development is inclusive, a significant portion of the grant funds scholarships. In addition to focusing on supporting women, Peabody and AUIB will make a concerted effort to recruit people historically denied access to higher education due to financial, gender, ethnic and religious reasons, as well as those whose lack of English proficiency has prohibited enrollment in college-level courses. AUIB plans to begin recruiting new students to the college of education and human development this fall. Most of them will first enroll in English proficiency courses in spring 2024 and then academic courses in fall 2024.

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

In April and May of this year, several Peabody’s representatives made their second visit to AUIB since the partnership began and Benbow made her first. 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 and human development.

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.

“Working with our AUIB colleagues to design their college of education and human development 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.

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 and human development 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,” Cravens said.



This article combines and republishes two prior news stories: the original press release and an article on a visit from Peabody representatives to AUIB.