When a National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency employee heard from a friend in 2013 that children in Kosovo needed education more than utilities, he took leave from his NGA job at the National Air and Space Intelligence Center, left his five children with their grandparents and used his vacation time to help others.
Christopher Sultan, chief of the technical analysis division for the NGA support team at NASIC, which is located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio, flew to the heart of war-torn Kosovo to inspire fourth through ninth graders there through education in science, technology, engineering and math.
“I heard about a woman who has worked with widows and orphans in the still-devastated Albanian section of Kosovo since 2000, and I was called to action,” said Sultan, who volunteered to lead students from Cedarville (Ohio) University to Mitrovica, Kosovo, to teach STEM-based education. “She recognized the lack of foundational training for students who must be able to create their own jobs, invent something or make themselves invaluable in a country where rare jobs go to the politically connected, the corrupt or the grown children of wealthy families.”
Sultan, his wife Holly, Cedarville University staff and six university students began collaborating in October 2013 to develop hands-on projects and lesson plans for students in Mitrovica, in the northern most part of the country.
With no teaching background, Sultan used management experience gained at NGA to provide direction to the college students, he said. This helped with lesson planning, deadline management and logistics.
Preparations for the two-week trip became a full-time effort outside of work, said Sultan. He attributes his ability to accomplish the mission to an alternate work schedule and a supportive boss.
In Kosovo, the team introduced parents, native teachers and the local community to STEM, taught three different classes of children every day for two weeks and hosted a community STEM fair with interactive exhibits, said Sultan.
His managerial experience again became critical in his role as representative to Kosovo government education officials, said Sultan. The officials embraced the concept and plan to implement accredited STEM training.
The primary goal was not just to teach, but to get the students and community to think about ways to use their education to create jobs and stimulate the economy, said Sultan.
“This is a country where the schools that were not blown up entirely are still in shambles, they can only hold school for hours at a time in shifts, and utilities like electricity and water come and go,” said Sultan. “We wanted to provide hope through actionable education, not just come in to teach and leave these children behind.”