People around the world find themselves in the midst of one great, shared experience. Social distancing and large-scalquarantine measures became the norm in the months of March and April for many in the U.S. Colleges and schools stand empty, workplace conversations take place on laptops around kitchen tables or, in many industries, not at all. We spoke with a few of our members whose lives, work and studies have been directly impacted since governments across the U.S. took measures to slow COVID-19’s spread.

Dr. Nyla Ali Khan

Dr. Nyla Ali Khan is a professor at Rose State College, Midwest City, Oklahoma and taught as a Visiting Professor at the University of Oklahoma. Formerly, she was a professor at the University of Nebraska-Kearney. She received her Ph.D. in English Literature and her Masters in Postcolonial Literature and Theory at the University of Oklahoma. Author of several published articles, book reviews and editorials, she has edited Parchment of Kashmir, a collection of essays on Jammu and Kashmir, written four books, including The Fiction of Nationality in an Era of Transnationalism and Islam, Women, and Violence in Kashmir: Between Indian and Pakistan.

Nyla Khan

Dr. Nyla Ali Khan

How did the COVID-19 issue impact your day-to-day work?

“The transition to the virtual world has not been a cakewalk for everyone. Several people, particularly of my parents’ generation, are not technology friendly but are now having to adapt to talking with friends and family via Skype or Zoom.

“I have several students who are trying to make ends meet in the midst of this unforeseen crisis. Some of them are now working two jobs, so they can pay their bills.

“Others are working hard to support those of their family members who have been furloughed. There are some who don’t have Wifi access or erratic internet connections, and cannot participate in Zoom meetings as efficiently as they would like to. A couple of days ago, one of my students participated in a Zoom meeting from her car, because her entire family was in the house and she couldn’t concentrate. I saw determination and perseverance in these kids. Several of them pushed themselves to meet deadlines and step up to the plate. They learned to see their challenges as opportunities to grow, and, as an academic, I am here for them.

“While the transition to online classes came with its set of challenges, my students did not throw in the towel. On the contrary, they adjusted to their new reality with a newfound confidence. In the last Zoom session with one of my classes earlier today, everyone got a little sentimental while acknowledging how much we had learned from one another. I am glad that my students and I were able to create a safe environment in which we examined our locations of privilege and sought emotional empowerment in order to understand systems that have generated a culture of silence about systemic discrimination. It has been an invaluable educational experience to hear my students make presentations on their intellectual interests in a world transformed by COVID-19.”

Have there been any positives you can point to in terms of new ways of doing business or working that have come during this time?

“In the wake of the outbreak of COVID-19, bewilderment reigns supreme. Self-imposed isolation is the new social order. People are experiencing a loneliness epidemic because of social distancing. Compassion is rarely expressed, because everyone is looking out for her/himself. I have realized that we need a global response not just to COVID-19 but to humanitarian disasters that have followed in its wake. A lot of us focus on big achievements, forgetting that the small moments count as much as the big ones.

“When it comes to my students, I want to be present not just for the big moments, but for the small ones as well. There is potential for meaning in every moment. COVID-19 compels me to rethink perceptions that some of us thought were unquestionable and self-axiomatic.

“During this period, my students and I built bridges and worked with sincerity. We cannot afford to hamper progressive political and social change. We realized more than ever that we cannot afford to section off humanity into various “races” and various “worlds,” because that robs us of our power to prevent disease from destroying the world. In spite of the physical delineation of the boundaries, we all live in one zone. Our hopes, aspirations, fears, and dangers are the same.

“During this period, my students and I realized more than ever that we are all connected by the common bond of humanity, and that we can take control by holding up with dignity and resilience when adversity knocks on our doors.”

In terms of your international activities, how have those been impacted by the past three months?

“All of us are trying to adjust to the unforeseen changes brought about by the onset of COVID-19. Although traveling to other parts of the world has been incredibly difficult, my life has not been devoid of meaning.

“I have continued to write for international periodicals/ publications, and my work on issues of global import has been appearing in print as well as online editions of those publications. I was also interviewed by the Institute of Peace and Diplomatic Studies, Pakistan, which has recently launched a digital live show, “Global Women Insight,” to talk with “inspiring women leaders about their lives, struggles, and leadership.” My interview was watched by an audience comprising people from various parts of the world, particularly South Asia.”

Governor Kevin Stitt issued a gubernatorial citation to the Oklahoma Governor’s International Team for its role in organizing the 2019 International Student Recognition Day at the state capitol.

The OKGIT partnered with Representative Mark McBride to bring more than 40 students from around the globe who attend Oklahoma higher education institutions to see the state government at work. In addition to remarks by Governor Stitt and Representative McBride, students had the opportunity to hear from Secretary of Native American Affairs Lisa Billy about the distinct role that the state’s 39 tribal nations play.

International Student Recognition Day is one of many cultural, educational and diplomatic events that the OKGIT organizes each  year to grow the state’s international ties. The group consists of professionals in the private, public and non-profit sector interested in developing a more international Oklahoma. For more information email

Representative Mark McBride talks with students at the Oklahoma State Capitol.

Representative Mark McBride talks with students at the Oklahoma State Capitol.

What looked unlikely a few months ago came to fruition on April 3 as international students from universities across Oklahoma joined Governor Kevin Stitt, Secretary for Native American Affairs Lisa Billy and more than a dozen state legislators for International Student Recognition Day at the Capitol.

Former State Legislator Travis Dunlap was the point person in organizing the event at the capitol in prior years. With his departure coinciding with a changeover in OKGIT leadership at the start of 2019 made the task of organizing the event – taking place the same day as the Oklahoma World Trade Conference – seem unlikely.

Fortunately for the OKGIT, Representative Mark McBride heard about the event and stepped into the preparations. With OKGIT Chair Douglas Price of Tulsa Community College and OKGIT member Jared Scism of the University of Central Oklahoma, the 2019 event came together on a very tight timeline. More than 40 students from 37 countries who are currently enrolled at six Oklahoma higher learning institutions visited the statehouse and heard about the business of governing from speakers like Governor Stitt, Secretary Billy and Representative McBride.

The day offered an opportunity for all. Students hailing from governing systems across the political spectrum got to see the day-to-day legislative process of representative government while in session. Meanwhile, Oklahoma’s elected leaders got to meet individuals who have left home to live and study in the Sooner State.

To learn more about the Oklahoma Governor’s International Team partnerships with international student and study abroad programs, please visit

Some of Oklahoma’s best export markets and partners come from it’s agricultural sector. Supplementing those connections are vital agriculture education programs at many of the state’s institutions of higher learning, where future farmers, agriculture producers and scientific experts hone their skills.

According to a recent release from Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, the Robert M. Kerr Food & Agricultural Products Center assisted an international company meet American compliance standards in the production of a South African beef jerky. The firm was not allowed to produce this South African staple until received USDA approval.

Researchers at OSU assisted Stormberg Foods, a family-owned South African company, with the validity process of producing biltong, a novel version of beef jerky.

The Kerr FAPC is part of OSU’s Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, It provides technical and business information that stimulates and supports the growth of value-added food and agricultural products and processing in Oklahoma.

Read the full release from FAPC’s Tori Lock here.

If you’re interested in learning more about Oklahoma’s export potential in the agriculture sector, or an international agriculture business interested in Oklahoma, please contact us at and we will connect you with one of our members from the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture.

The Oklahoma Governor’s International Team has three primary focuses in developing commercial, diplomatic and cultural ties between the Sooner State and partners around the globe. While higher level business and governmental relations form a core part of these relations, the foundations of many international partnerships begin on campus at Oklahoma’s many universities.

Friendships and opportunities to meet those from different cultures and backgrounds are a vital part of developing an international Oklahoma, and there are few better arenas to foster those interactions than in classrooms, dorm rooms and college libraries.

OKGIT member Mark Stansberry’s recent op-ed in The Oklahoman notes the vital role that the state’s regional university system plays in helping develop Oklahoma’s workforce and society. Stansberry, of Edmond, is chairman of The GTD Group and chairman of the Regional University System of Oklahoma Board of Regents.

“As the largest four-year university system in the state, RUSO governs six public universities: East Central University in Ada, Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Northwestern Oklahoma State University in Alva, Southeastern Oklahoma State University in Durant, Southwestern Oklahoma State University in Weatherford and the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond. Combined, they enroll more than 40,000 students who come from diverse geographical and economic backgrounds. Many don’t fit the narrow definition of “traditional college student.”

Read Mark Stansberry’s full op-ed at The Oklahoman here.

At the recent Oklahoma Governor’s International Team meeting on May 16, Oklahoma Secretary of State Dave Lopez noted the opportunities available for those seeking work via apprenticeships in firms and government programs based in the state. Indeed, the need for such training positions looks likely to increase as the American economy works through the structural changes impacting so many current and future employees.

According to a piece by Melanie Dunn in Forbes, there is a growing need for apprenticeships in the American economy.

“Today there are nearly 5.5 million jobs that can’t be filled. The reason that they can’t be filled is that employers can’t find people with the right credentials to do the work. And job openings like this will continue to grow. Between now and 2030 it’s estimated that 50 million Baby Boomers will retire. And we have no plan for how to replace them. Another estimated 25 million new jobs will be created due to technological advancements.

“The fact is, we make it hard to get to work in this country. The economy has changed. Most people cannot afford college and drop out, 3.5 million per year (data calculated from National Center for Education Statistics, 2012). That’s 750,000 more than graduate with associate’s and bachelor’s degrees combined. The job market has changed. Today 60% of the job market is for jobs that require some education beyond high school but not four-year academic degrees.”

In Oklahoma there are numerous opportunities for apprenticeships, and here are a few resources domestically as well as some available with international firms.

According to the Dunn article, Australia, Canada and western European nations made significant steps in finding opportunities for those seeking stable employment without the requirement of a four year degree via apprenticeship programs. Here are a few examples.

Enrique Villar-GambettaGiven the vast distances between Oklahoma and Peru, one wouldn’t readily consider academic and professional exchanges between the two to be prominent. Yet that discounts one of Oklahoma’s hardest working honorary consuls, Peru’s Enrique Villar-Gambetta, who recently announced that three Oklahoma-based higher education institutions had been invited to the 2016 International University Fair in Cusco, Peru on November 25-26.

According to Villar-Gambetta, there are only 80 universities invited to the annual event, and the University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University and the University of Central Oklahoma were among that select list.

Villar-Gambetta has worked strenuously in recent years to foster closer education ties between Peru and Oklahoma. Currently, Oklahoma City University has a five year exchange program agreement with the South American country for Peruvian students interested in getting a higher education degree there.

The college fair are ample opportunities to finance scholarships through the Peruvian Ministry of Education’s National Scholarship and Education Credit Program under Pronabec, which is also a leading sponsor of the 2016 International University Fair.

To learn more about opportunities with Peru in education and commercial sectors, reach out to Enrique Villar-Gambetta.


The immense academic experience that students interested in the wider world receive at the University of Oklahoma is set to get even more in depth as OU recently announced that it has plans on adding a Center for Iranian and Persian Gulf Studies. Thanks in part to a $4 million donation by the Farzaneh Family Foundation, future Sooners will have an opportunity to develop a better cultural understanding, appreciation and awareness of the United States and its relations with Iran and the Middle East.

The gift is the largest of its kind in the university’s history from former students who came to OU from international destinations. Brothers Jalal and Mohammad Farzaneh are both graduates of OU, holding bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Norman-based institution. They own one of Oklahoma’s most well known home construction companies, Home Creations. They came to Oklahoma in 1978 from Iran.

According to the report in the Oklahoman newspaper, “The gift will help fund scholarships for Iranian students and for students studying Persian language, three endowed professorships, an endowed lectureship, and a prize for Iranian Literature. The gift also will establish a Persian artwork fund and an endowed Persian book collection.”

Read more the full story online here.

This isn’t the first time the Farzanehs have supported higher education in Oklahoma. In February 2015, they made a gift of $1.6 million to Oklahoma State University which will support a faculty chair and four professorships in Iranian and Persian Gulf studies. According to OSU, the total impact will be more than $6 million after adding the matching funds from Boone Pickens and the Oklahoma Legislature.


For two days on March 31-April 1, the Tulsa Global Alliance and Global Ties Arkansas are partnering with the University of Tulsa to host the Diplomacy Begins Here: Global Ties U.S. Regional Summit in and around historic Tulsa. OKGIT member Bob Lieser is the point of contact for this multi-day event that has participants running all over the Tulsa metro areas to promote international friendship and connections. Each trip has a cost, so contact Bob Lieser at or at 918-631-4801 for a price list.

TGA Diplomacy Begins Here March 31

Cementing the OKGIT’s ties with foreign countries, companies and peoples are organizations like the Oklahoma Israel Exchange, or OKIE, an Oklahoma-based non-profit focusing on developing exchanges between Oklahoma and Israel. OKGIT member and OKIE Executive Director Susan Robertson spoke with about her organization’s mission, her role and their upcoming November 5 gala event.

What is OKIE’s history?

“The Oklahoma Israel Exchange was endorsed by Governor David Walters in 1992 and became an official non-profit organization during the administration of Governor Frank Keating in 1997. OKIE was a joint endeavor between the Oklahoma City and Tulsa Jewish communities to encourage opportunities for exchange between Oklahoma and Israel.  After some refining and updating, today OKIE’s mission is to promote increased collaboration between the two states in agriculture, commerce, culture and education by coordinating activities, sponsoring projects, ensuring responsiveness to economic development opportunities and cultural exchanges, building networks through people-to-people exchanges and serving as an intermediary to further relations.”

How is OKIE funded?

“OKIE is supported mainly by memberships and a yearly fundraising event.  We also receive funding from the Jewish Federations of Oklahoma City and Tulsa, the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture Food and Forestry and grants. The Oklahoma Department of Commerce Israel office is funded in partnership by OKIE and the Oklahoma Department of Commerce, serving the Middle East, and is one of three international offices maintained by the state.”

What is your role with the organization?

Susan Robertson

Susan Robertson

“I serve as the executive director of OKIE and I am responsible for carrying out the policies as set forth by the board of directors and  achieving the goals and objectives of OKIE.  I work with the Israeli Consul Generals’ and Economic Office in Houston, as well as state, private businesses, cultural organizations and individuals that have an interest in pursuing programs or partnerships with Israeli counterparts.”

How did you become involved with OKIE?

“I began to learn about Israel while living in Oklahoma in 1986 and made my first trip there in 1989. I was originally connected with a Christian organization, the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem, and traveled to Israel every fall for a worldwide conference. During my visits I made many Israeli friends and began to learn more about the country and experience the many challenges they face every day. Each trip brought me closer to a desire to do more than just visit. I moved back to Oklahoma in 1998 and in 2004 the executive directors’ job for OKIE became available, I interviewed and was hired. Ten years later I still enjoy the job and look forward to new partners and programs between the two states.”

What does OKIE do on a day-to-day basis?

“We constantly look for opportunities for exchange or connection in agriculture, commerce, culture or education.  Israel has so much high-tech coming out of it. Everyday there’s some new device or app for phones or cure for some disease. We look for a business in Oklahoma that’s interested in partnering with one of those Israeli companies either for research or marketing opportunity. Oklahoma has state-of-the-art medical facilities doing research, is a leader in the oil and gas industry and is also a leader in aerospace. There are definitely a lot of opportunities.

“An example is with the Riata Entrepreneurial Center at OSU. They are interested in partnering with a school in Israel. OKIE contacted the office in Jerusalem and after some preliminary conversations, a school was identified in Israel that was interested and a program is being formed. This is the way we approach all exchanges in any of the four pillars of our mission, like a matchmaker. It is then up to the partnering organizations to move forward with the process.”

Tell us a bit about the annual gala and guest of honor Robert Henry’s presence.

“For the last five years we’ve held what has become the Light, Leadership and Legacy Award gala where we honor distinguished members of the Oklahoma community who have demonstrated unwavering support of OKIE. Honorees recognize the ongoing importance of projects and programs that link Oklahoma and Israel.

“This year on November 5, 6:30PM, at the Skirvin Hotel, Robert Henry is being honored for his commitment to Oklahoma and the relationship with Israel. We try to make sure the program is not only informative about OKIE but also entertaining. Proceeds help to support new and ongoing opportunities between the two states.  For more information or to purchase tickets they can call 405-848-3132 or email”


To learn more about the Oklahoma Israel Exchange, please visit or follow them on Facebook page.