Professor seeks Muslim perspective

Her message will be empowerment in a society that restricts females

When Mesa State College professor Thea Chase starts her seminars next week in Saudi Arabia, there will be no men in the audience, per Muslim tradition.

Organizers there were also clear that her lectures will have to wrap up by 3 p.m. daily so that women can return home and tend to families.

Aspiring businesswomen in Saudi Arabia must be accompanied by a man when applying in person for bank loans.

At a time most of her Mesa State colleagues are breaking out shorts and T-shirts, Chase looks forward to kicking off summer vacation in an abaya, the traditional head-to-toe dress for Muslim women.

“More than anything, this is an opportunity for me to learn and bring some things back to the classroom,” Chase said of her upcoming trip to Saudi Arabia. “We have our impressions of their lifestyle, but we interpret it through our eyes.”

“I want to see it from their perspective.”

Chase, 49, a Palisade resident and assistant professor of entrepreneurship and management in the Mesa State business department, is leaving Wednesday for three weeks of seminars in several locations across Saudi Arabia. The topic: empowering young business-minded women.

“We’re hoping this can turn into a long-standing relationship with the college,” Chase said.

Traveling at the invitation of the Saudi government, Chase was given the opportunity earlier this year through a friend at The World Bank who works with fledgling businesses in developing countries.

Chase worked as director of Mesa County’s Business Incubator for nearly 14 years before taking her position in 2006 at Mesa State.

“We’re training women in entrepreneurship,” Chase said of the Saudi trip. “We take a look at their ideas to see what’s feasible, come up with business plans and work on how to execute those plans.”

Chase’s seminars are scheduled over four days in three separate sections of the country.

Chase said she’s been told to expect about 60 women per class.  Between daily prayers and sending students home before 3 p.m., she’ll have about four hours each day to teach.

Chase is curious about how she’ll be received in a culture that doesn’t afford women freedom of movement.

“We can be judgmental,” she said. “I’m going to listen and learn.”


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