Fran Pilch speaks to cadets in the Academy’s McDermott Library Sept. 12. Pilch received a Fulbright Teaching Award and will teach courses on international law, international relations and American foreign policy in Ulaanbataar, Mongolia. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)
1/30/2012 - U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- An Air Force Academy political science professor will soon be calling the land of Genghis Khan home.
Dr. Fran Pilch, a prominent instructor known for her classes on war crimes, genocide and human rights, leaves for Mongolia in February as part of the Fulbright Program.
Pilch received a Fulbright Teaching Award and will work at the School of Foreign Service in the Mongolian capital, Ulanbataar. She will teach courses in international law, international relations and American foreign policy.
"I selected Mongolia from a rather extensive list of available countries because I have always been fascinated by Mongolia's history and culture and its efforts to become a thriving, independent democracy between the two superpowers of Russia and China," Pilch said. "I also didn't want something easy or luxurious; I wanted a challenge. I wanted to go someplace where my services would be needed and valuable."
The composition of the classes should ensure that her wish is fulfilled. Each class will consist of 80 students, all of whom are aspiring diplomats or interested in some other international career.
Pilch will also attend a conference on regional security issues. Held at the University of Mongolia, the conference is one of the largest in Asia.
The Fulbright is the latest in an impressive string of accolades for Pilch. In 2010, she was named Colorado's professor of the year by the Carnegie Teaching Foundation. And for several years, she was a fixture at Colorado Springs World Affairs Council events.
Her son is a former cadet who graduated in 1993, and Pilch herself has been teaching at the Academy since 1998. Bradford Waldie, a second lieutenant and one of Pilch's former students, called her "an inspiration, a trusted mentor, and an integral part of my development and education" in his letter recommending Pilch for professor of the year.
Now students halfway around the world will discover what makes Pilch so beloved among cadets and colleagues.
"There is no better way to foster positive relationships between other cultures than to experience them for yourself, returning home to tell people what you have learned," she said. "It breaks down stereotypes and lets people become friends on a one-to-one basis."
As an illustration, Pilch recalled the year she spent in India while working on her graduate dissertation at Yale. Interviewing Indian politicians while living among them was one of the most formative experiences of her life, she said.
Pilch endured a rigorous application process befitting the Fulbright Program's exalted status. Applicants choose a country and then compete for the available spots in their field.
Besides the students, a number of other exciting challenges await Pilch in Mongolia. Among them is the harsh climate. Last week, the temperature was -36 degrees Fahrenheit. Pilch said the worst-case scenario would be that her fingers get so numb that she can't type.
While there, she will live in a ninth-floor apartment. Power in the building is spotty, however, and sometimes the elevator doesn't work.
Despite the lack of creature comforts, Pilch is undaunted and says that having to rough it in Mongolia is insignificant compared with the incredible opportunity she's been given.
"I am told the Mongolians love Americans and are extremely hospitable," Pilch said.
If her impact on them is anything like it's been on Academy cadets in her classes, then the world will soon know Mongolia for more than just good old Genghis and his thundering hordes.
1/31/2012 10:18:08 AM ET Welcome to Mongolia be sure to bring all your warm clothes like goose coats and stuff.