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March 19, 2010

Bethlehem University Faculty Member Completes Master’s Degree with Work on Water Safety

Water safetyRita Dieck finished her first master’s degree, a maitrise in biochemistry from Université Denis Diderot/Jussieu (Paris VII) in France in 1983, only to find that the program was no longer recognized as a master’s degree by the education ministry back home. Despite her additional two years of study, the Bethlehem University Life Sciences Lab Assistant was officially a bachelor’s degree graduate.  

Twenty-four years later, she got another chance at the elusive diploma when the Palestinian Ministry of Education and Higher Education requested that all university teaching staff hold master’s degrees. And this semester, Dieck’s master’s thesis was approved, completing the requirements for her master’s degree in environmental studies from Al-Quds University.

Still, being a student in her forties was understandably different from studying in her twenties. “Time was so tight,” she says. “This was the most frustrating thing.” The ensuing years had seen her become a mother of three and her homeland become increasingly difficult to navigate. Travelling to and from classes at Al-Quds meant not only time on roads but time crossing an Israeli military checkpoint, making a trip’s duration incredibly unpredictable. “When courses were on Saturdays and Sundays this was fine,” Dieck explains. “However, when I had classes during the week I had to leave work four hours earlier so that I could attend.”

Support from her family and from her university colleagues made it easier, though. They encouraged her to continue her studies, and the Biology department allowed her to adjust her hours to accommodate her class schedule. The University even supplemented funding provided by Al-Quds University for Dieck’s studies and for a presentation of her master’s research at the 2009 Goldschmidt Conference in Switzerland.  

The research, part of a tri-national project funded by USAID’s Middle East Regional Cooperation program, looked for the presence of radium isotopes in West Bank well water. Though the work by different universities examined water safety in West Bank supplies, the isotopes transcend national boundaries since the countries involved all share the same water sources.

“These radioactive elements, if found in drinking water, may cause lung cancer,” Dieck explains. “Thus the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) declared in 2000 that the second reason for lung cancer, after smoking, is the radioactive elements in water, soil and air.” By examining samples from wells in the southern West Bank districts of Bethlehem and Hebron, Dieck discovered radium isotope concentrations that were within the normal values. Yet because high groundwater values of radium and radon were found in other areas, she recommended that the Palestinian Water Authority conduct regular surveys to screen for dangerous levels of these elements in the water supply.

This research process inspired Dieck to change her approach to teaching. By bringing the critical thinking skills she used in her master’s research into the classroom, she is able to help her students move away from memorizing material and towards really analyzing it.

Being a student after many years of teaching, Dieck says, has broadened her horizons and pushed her to think about new opportunities. Though she is happy to refocus on her lab teaching for now, Dieck looks forward to pursuing a doctoral degree in the future.

Mabrook (congratulations)!

Dieck expressed her thanks to the University for allowing her to reorganize working hours around her class schedule and for supporting her through the Kaizen fund. She also expressed gratitude to Al-Quds University for supporting her research work.

Most recently, Dieck was invited to attend the third Conference for "Radium and  Radon Isotopes As Environmental Tracers" from 14-19th March 2010 in Hebrew  University in Jerusalem. She was asked to present a poster presentation on "Radium and  Radon Concentrations in Groundwater of Bethlehem and Hebron Districts / West  Bank".  However, although she got a permission to enter Jerusalem for “conference  purposes” during the conference days she was not allowed to cross the border because  of the closure that took place during that time.


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