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IU Northwest geosciences professor heads to Montenegro on Fulbright Scholarship

Academic pursuits come full circle for Zoran Kilibarda, Ph.D. who will return to his hometown to teach for Spring 2013 semester

Wednesday Jan 09, 2013


In the late 1980s, just prior to the tumultuous times that dismantled Yugoslavia, Zoran Kilibarda, Ph.D., and his wife, Vesna Kilibarda, Ph.D., were young scholars at the University of Montenegro.

Now both associate professors at Indiana University Northwest, the couple in 1987 moved to the United States on a Fulbright Scholarship received by Vesna, a mathematician. The life journey that commenced with that prestigious trip to the U.S. has now come full circle, with Zoran returning home after 30 years on a Fulbright Scholarship of his own.

During the Spring 2013 semester, Zoran will teach Introduction to Geology and Geomorphology at the University of Montenegro and will conduct carbonate research for the Montenegro Geological Survey.

Established in 1946 under legislation introduced by then-Senator J. William Fulbright of Arkansas, the Fulbright Scholarship is one of the most prestigious academic honors worldwide. It is an educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. Government that began as a way to foster understanding between the people of the U.S. and that of other countries.

For the Kilibardas, Zoran’s appointment holds greater significance than just a nod to his academic distinction. The opportunity is also a chance to give back to his native community -- to assist in an academic reconstruction of sorts. War and unrest had resulted in an exodus of bright minds from many European countries as residents escaped the crashing economies, Zoran explained.

Humble beginnings

When the Kilibardas first moved to the U.S. and Vesna began her academic pursuits at the University of Nebraska, Zoran manufactured windows, stocked a grocery store and even delivered pizzas during those lean times, as both tried to find their way in a new country with two young children.

A geographer with his own scholarly ideas, Zoran wanted to learn. Not yet a graduate student, he asked a professor if he could attend classes, anyway. The language barrier made it difficult to learn, but he persevered and caught up quickly. He even volunteered in a couple of research labs on campus.

“They accepted me with very low scholarship but I didn’t mind,” he said. “I would rather be in school.”

Finally, in 1990, Zoran was formally accepted into the University of Nebraska graduate school, where he studied geology. Both Kilibardas earned their doctorates in Nebraska and they had intended to return home. Meanwhile, the unrest in their home country had escalated and they quickly realized that “the country was falling apart.”

“We were both getting our PhDs at the peak of war and unrest,” Zoran remembered. “We knew there was no way we could go back.”

By the time the war ended, Zoran said, their children were ready to begin college and had forgotten their native language. Returning to Europe for their children’s education would have been difficult, so the family stayed. Hence, a bright future in American academia was born and flourished.

The family spent five years in Alaska before settling in Northwest Indiana and beginning their careers at IU Northwest in 1999.

In 2004, the Kilibardas finally returned to visit their families, but their desire to return home permanently had waned as their careers solidified at IU Northwest.

In 2011, the Kilibardas tested the idea of returning home to teach by participating in an Austrian program that sought to bring native scholars back for one week per semester. During that summer, both Zoran and Vesna conducted short seminars at their native university.

He said the experience was rewarding and that the students there had impressed him.

“I feel obliged. Why not help these young people get a little more and maybe open the door for some of them to come to the States?” Zoran said. “I want to share my experience and tell them that if you are going to work, the doors are open.”

Vesna has flexibility in where she chooses to reside during Zoran’s appointment, since she will teach online courses at IU Northwest from whatever desk she happens to occupy. Zoran will return in time to teach during the Summer II session in 2013.

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