As unusual as it may sound, one of my professional goals throughout my many decades in the academic world has been to help others move their professional careers along. When I was invited to consider a Fulbright-sponsored professorship at the University of Vienna during the fall of 1990, I chose to do that rather than to continue my deanship responsibilities at the City College of New York of the City University of New York, as I figured this experience could offer me further opportunities to support faculty and students. (I resumed the deanship for another ten years in the spring of 1991.) My presumption proved to be correct. Aside from the seminars and lectures I held during that semester at the University of Vienna, a group of school psychologists also asked me to meet with them on a weekly basis, as they felt that I could provide some support for their professional responsibilities. My initial reaction was that they may have incorrectly selected me because I am not a psychologist. They explained that unlike in the United States, Austrian school psychologists are basically responsible for assisting teachers with improving their instructional programs. They further indicated that they had difficulty helping elementary-school teachers with mathematics instruction. When I met with them, I inquired what their primary needs were. Initially they mentioned that helping teachers teach subtraction to youngsters had proved to be quite frustrating. In short order, I discovered that although they knew the algorithm quite well, these school psychologists had no idea as to why the algorithm actually “worked.” When I showed them the US method of subtraction, they were amazed how simple it was to understand the algorithm. However, they were not able to justify the Austrian algorithm. After I explained why the Austrian method of subtraction worked, they understood it and very much appreciated this enlightenment, as it solved their professional challenge.
In addition to the program of instruction I was asked to conduct throughout the semester, Fulbright scholars were also asked to offer a presentation on a topic of interest to the general public. I prepared a talk entitled “What is New York City Really Like?” The talk was scheduled for an evening at the Amerika-Haus in Vienna, and it turned out that twice as many people wanted to attend the presentation as there was physical space to accommodate attendees. I, therefore, was asked exceptionally to provide a second presentation on another day, which I did. Clearly, it was not I who was the attraction, but the topic.
More importantly, the Fulbright experience during the fall 1990 semester provided me the opportunity to meet with all levels of decision-makers for public schools and universities. I also had the privilege of meeting the Austrian minister of education and higher education—and I have met with all Austrian education ministers for the past 30 years. These connections enabled me to provide quite a few opportunities to enhance education programs, particularly in mathematics on a variety of levels. Some of these included about 20 years of annual mathematics-education conferences that were usually held at the Vienna University of Technology and sponsored by the Austrian government, the Siemens Corporation, the Manner Company, and many others. My newly formed friendships, especially with the president of the Vienna Board of Education, resulted in the founding of the Austrian American Educational Corporation Association, sponsored by the Austrian government and a variety of private firms. Many students were supported for over two decades through this association, where exchange programs of various types were initiated, and I was able to arrange US master’s degree programs in Austria for mathematics teachers and English teachers. This association also facilitated other professorial exchange programs across the Atlantic Ocean. Another noteworthy program was a teacher exchange program—initially for mathematics and science teachers—that from 1998 to 2008 enabled over 750 teachers from Austria to teach in the New York City public schools. Today, there are still about 25 Austrian teachers teaching in the New York City system. The New York City public schools also benefited from our close connection with Austria when I took the New York City high-school superintendents on ten annual trips to Austria to inspect the local school system. Several favorable results emerged. Perhaps the most noteworthy is the Virtual Enterprise International program, which is run in over 500 high schools throughout the United States and was founded based on the superintendents visiting him and on the Austrian program of Übungsfirmen (practice firms).
Aside from the aforementioned faculty-exchange programs, I was able to facilitate opportunities over the past 3+ decades for many Austrian academics to be able to secure book publications, either as co-authors with me or individually with top-rated publishers. These are just some of the wonderful opportunities that have their basis on my fall 1990 semester, when I was fortunate enough to experience as a Fulbright sponsored professor at the University of Vienna.
I have also been able to counsel/encourage quite a few US Fulbright scholars to spend their international experience in Austria. In short, having a Fulbright experience is of incredible value to academics, students, and many aspects beyond. If you are interested, you can read more information about my academic life.