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Public Relations

Pinkard in Beirut

Pinkard in Beirut

 

There's No Place Like Home: World Traveler Returns to Teach in Hometown

 

(August 2, 2017)  – The name is Pinkard. Octavius Pinkard.
 
While he claims he is not an international spy, his travel schedule would fit right into a James Bond film. His work and research regularly take him from his home in Brussels to places like London, Istanbul, Helsinki, and the Kashmir region between India and Pakistan. He has sampled fermented horse milk in Jalalabad, encountered Hezbollah guards in Beirut, and was interviewed on BBC News for his perspective on ISIS and security in the Middle East.
 
This fall, however, the Danville native is taking a break from jet-setting and returning home to teach an International Relations course at Danville Community College. The course (PLS 241) will be offered on Monday evenings from 6:30 to 9:15 p.m. to fit the work schedules of teachers who may be interested in earning recertification points. Classes begin Aug. 21.
 
Pinkard is uniquely suited to the task. His work as an international election monitor for the U.S. State Department, as well as his master’s and Ph.D. research, have taken him to more countries than he can readily recall. Since 2009, he has lived in Belgium, and travels frequently to the Middle East, particularly to Lebanon, where he lived for four months in 2014. Over the past few years, he has been active in countries like Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Belarus, and Macedonia, taking part in election observation missions as part of official delegations with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
“I’ve enjoyed every adventure and look forward to whatever might be on the horizon,” Pinkard said. Traveling “really does deepen your understanding of the cultures and it helps you to understand that decisions or events that occur beyond our borders can affect us just as much as decisions made here.”
 
The International Relations class will explore topics such as global economic issues, conflict, and migration. “It’s important to understand the really complex dynamics at play within these countries. That will help you develop an understanding of why people immigrate and why conflict perpetuates itself,” he said. “There are many issues that affect conflict – economic, cultural, religious, etc.”
 
Pinkard will also draw on his many connections to bring in guest speakers from around the world, including members of foreign ministries and journalists stationed abroad, to “breathe life into these concepts.”
 
This is the first time in 20 years that the International Relations course will be offered at DCC, said Dean of Arts, Sciences, & Business Paul Fox. “In terms of a global perspective and current events in the Middle East, North Korea, etc., this is an extremely relevant social science,” Fox said, adding that he has been trying to recruit Pinkard to teach for DCC “for years,” but this is the first time his travel schedule has allowed the opportunity.
 
“I’m excited in ways that I could not possibly express,” Pinkard said. “Nothing compares to being home, especially if you love your hometown as much as I do. And institutions like DCC are an integral part of our community.”
 
Growing up in the White Rock community in North Danville, Pinkard said his interest in politics started at an early age, when his grandfather, Bennie Pinkard, would take him along to the polls on Election Day. He also credited DCC Professor Fred Lloyd, one of his childhood mentors and a deacon at his church, with inspiring his passion for teaching. An “amazing” French teacher at Dan River High School sparked Pinkard’s interest in French politics and culture. His first trip abroad, to Paris in the summer of 1994, allowed him an up-close look at the unexpected presidential victory of Jacques Chirac – and Pinkard has been on the move practically ever since.
 
Pinkard earned a bachelor’s degree in government from Christopher Newport University, a master’s degree in international studies from Old Dominion University, and successfully completed the comprehensive exams for ODU’s doctoral program in international studies. He spent eight years teaching full-time at the College of William & Mary and CNU before moving to his current home in Brussels, Belgium. He accepted a visiting scholar affiliation with the University of California, Berkeley in 2015, and spent a year there, where his research focused on the Lebanese Shi’a community in Senegal.
 
Pinkard’s graduate-level research on French politics and foreign policy led him to Lebanon, which was under French colonial rule from World War I to the 1940s. Lebanon is “a really fascinating country for a host of reasons, including the divisions in the country and the fact that it has one of the most expansive diasporas in the world.”
 
In his role as an election observer with the OSCE, he has worked missions ranging from two to eight weeks as part of a multi-national team of two, plus a driver and interpreter local to the region.
 
“It’s really an incredible experience,” Pinkard said. While monitors are not allowed to intervene in the election process, they are present to “see how well countries adhere to transparency, fairness, and legitimacy.”
 
Longer-term missions involve monitoring the media coverage of the different candidates and interviewing political officials and other stakeholders. “We try to observe whether certain groups are being disenfranchised or discouraged from participating in the process,” Pinkard said.
 
While his travels have taken him through various developing nations and regions experiencing conflict, he said, “I’ve never felt unsafe on any of these missions.”
 
However, Pinkard said his experiences abroad make him appreciate the United States and its system of democracy even more. “If you think about voting, sure, we have irregularities here and there, but by and large, we do a really good job of trying to ensure access for all,” he said. “We have freedom of the media, which is important. We don’t have the kind of sectarian conflict that has inhibited development in many countries and regions.”
 
Pinkard will leave a special someone behind in Brussels during his time in Danville. “Roscoe doesn’t like to fly,” he said, referring to his 4-year-old German shepherd. “He’s always in a bad mood and gives me funny looks after we travel. I’ll just let him relax at home this time.”
 
To sign up for International Relations, current students should contact their advisor. New students should fill out an online application at www.danville.edu/becomeastudent. For more information on the course or teacher recertification, please contact the Arts, Sciences, & Business division at 434.797.8402 or 434.797.8462.

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