Global Spotlight: Shirin Sultana

Shirin Sultana
Hear from Shirin Sultana, Assistant Professor of Social Work, about her transition from Bangladesh to the United States, connecting her culture to the classroom, and current research breakthroughs.

Title: Assistant Professor of Social Work
Home Country: Bangladesh

What country are you from and where else have you lived?

I am from Bangladesh and I have not lived anywhere else before coming to the U.S. However, I have traveled to India and Nepal for about a month.

Do you speak multiple languages?

I am fluent in Bengali (my native language) and English. I can also read Arabic with a little understanding of word meaning and I can understand Hindi and Urdu.

What did you do before coming to SUNY Brockport?

I came to SUNY Brockport with about 10 years of teaching experience at an undergraduate and graduate level. I taught as an adjunct at the University of the District of Columbia and Howard University School of Social Work in Washington, D.C. I was also tenured faculty at Shah Jalal University of Science and Technology and National University in Bangladesh.

I have been involved in several research projects and secured research grants as far back as when I was studying for my Master of Social Work (MSW) degree. My recent research projects include studies pertaining to vulnerable women, youth, and children on mental health in the United States and in Bangladesh. I have published several articles and presented at national and international conferences.

My experience and academic background, combined with my deep commitment to social justice, led me to join SUNY Brockport’s Department of Social Work. Throughout my teaching career, I have persistently advocated for and incorporated global perspectives into social work courses.

Why do you teach/what made you want to teach?

I teach to make a positive impact on youth’s lives, thereby giving them the possibility for a better future. We need to emphasize creating an educational environment that has the intellectual capacity to draw the best out of one’s potential. To create such an environment, education needs to be grounded on the spirit of the individual so that a critical self is born with a commitment to social justice. I find the social work profession committed to this end where the spirit of education lies in training young scholars and practitioners to be passionate about the needs of others while being critical and practical about how to make change.

What international research or collaborations are you working on today?

Currently, I am conducting an international, cross-sectional research study that examines correlates of mental health challenges, coping strategies, and resiliency among adolescent street children in Bangladesh. I am partnering with the local organization of Ek Ronga Ek Ghuri which supports street children in Dhaka city in Bangladesh.

I just recently developed a new HIV stigma instrument and wrote a manuscript on the topic with Dr. Carol Wade, Associate Professor of Education and Human Development. The manuscript is under review in the Journal of Health Care for Women International. Additionally, Dr. Wade and I are in the process of writing an external grant and collaborating on a research project to validate the new HIV stigma instrument in Bangladesh, collaborating with a non-profit organization named Ashar Alo Society.

Do you have tools or techniques you use in the classroom that add a cultural dimension?

From my experiences, I see many of our students encounter difficulty in succeeding in a challenging academic environment. As someone who was once an international student, I encountered similar initial challenges that our students face. I utilize my own experiences in developing academic skills to support and empower students.

Prior to teaching a class, I try to identify challenges students may encounter and take a proactive role to resolve them. My approach is holistic and individualized. I carefully pay attention to what each student brings to a course, such as their variety of academic and personal experiences, as well as their skills and values. I try to weave through these unique experiences to enhance students’ learning. In the classroom, I often try to relate their experiences with mine in a way that helps create a safe environment where students can express themselves. I also use a variety of interactive teaching methods including class discussions, small group discussions, group quizzes, role-playing, and presentations to help students to express their opinions and positions on social issues.

What is the most important (or most celebrated) holiday of your culture?

As a Muslim, Eid-al-Fitr is the most important (or most celebrated) holiday of my culture. This Eid comes after the holy month of Ramadan, when many Muslims do not eat or drink during the daytime for a 29- or 30-day period. On this day, we celebrate with our family and friends to show gratitude toward God. The holiday serves as a great reminder for Muslims to be grateful for what they have, and to share with those who may be less fortunate.

Culturally, we also celebrate Pohela Baishak or Bengali New Year. This is celebrated with magnificence among the Bengali communities across the world. The day is observed on the first day of the Bengali calendar, which usually falls either on the 14th or 15th of April. It is, currently, 1428 Bengali year.

What surprised you most about your transition to Western, NY?

This is not the first time I have lived in Western, NY. In 2007, I received a Fulbright Scholarship and visited the Rochester Institute of Technology for a cultural exchange and enrichment program. Besides academic work, part of my curricula was to enrich my cultural understanding by visiting Western, NY including Niagara Falls, Erie Canal, George Eastman Museum, five Finger Lakes, Six Flags Darien Lake, etc. That was the first time I celebrated the 4th of July with my fellow international students nearby a lake. It was an amazing experience for me.

Rochester, NY felt like my second home. I was heartbroken when I left to attend the University of Texas at Austin for my master’s program. After completing my PhD program, I received an offer to join SUNY Brockport and it felt like coming back home!

What do you enjoy most about living in Western, NY, or the Brockport community?

Before coming to Rochester, I lived in Washington D.C. for seven years. I enjoy living in Western NY because of its calm and quiet nature. Additionally, I find this is the place from where I could observe the true nature of the four seasons. Especially winter because my kids love playing in the snow and they look forward to it.

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