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Sonnleitner is a one-of-a-kind Fulbright
Photos and Story by James Hill
Portland Community College’s Michael Sonnleitner is in elite company. The longtime political science instructor has been chosen for a Fulbright Teaching Fellowship – the only community college instructor in the nation to be picked.
In November, Sonnleitner will join 25 other lecturing Fulbright fellows to India for the 2009-10 school year. He will spend about six months teaching at St. Thomas College, which is in the southern state of Kerala, bordering the Arabian Sea.
"I needed something to do," said a smiling Sonnleitner. "Aside from some horticultural skills from my youth, and the janitorial skills I picked up as a student, teaching is my only marketable skill."
Sonnleitner said he is looking forward to the opportunity to build institutional ties between PCC and St. Thomas College, which he hopes might someday lead to further cultural exchanges between the two schools. Once he returns, he intends to use his experience to contribute to PCC’s effort to internationalize its curricula across the academic disciplines, particularly with regard to an increased focus on India and other South Asian nations.
"I would like to see PCC enrich its curricula relating to South Asia," he said. "We are strong on China, but India will soon have more people than China. I expect to infuse more South Asian studies content into my political science courses, and, perhaps, even create a new political science course focused on South Asia."
Sonnleitner, a scholar of Mohandas "Mahatma" Gandhi, will teach three courses while in Kerala, including "Gandhian Philosophy: Peace-building for Social and Structural Change," "United States Government: Peace-building in a Multicultural Society," and "International Relations: Peace-building in a Multi-polar World."
Sonnleitner, who once served as an intern proofreading speeches for Sen. Henry "Scoop" Jackson in 1969, earned his master’s degree and doctorate in political science from the University of Minnesota, and embarked on a professional life dedicated to advancing the notion of nonviolence, and teaching and learning about the life and work of Gandhi. He made his first trip to India in 1971-72 as the recipient of a Watson Foundation Fellowship, and his second during the 1980s to attend a Gandhi studies conference.
After spending time teaching at the university level in Iowa and Illinois, Sonnleitner, who was raised in Seattle, returned to the Northwest in 1988 when he began teaching political science courses at PCC. He now splits his duties between the Cascade and Rock Creek campuses, and finds the time to teach a couple of graduate-level courses in conflict resolution at Portland State University. He’s also the founder of PCC’s Peace and Conflict Studies program, the largest such program at an American community college.