Thursday, July 24, 2014

Vol State and Russia


Russia is  a major topic in world news discussions, and yet, how much do we really know about the modern Russia? It seems that explorations of Russian politics, history and economy may be big areas of interest in coming months and years.

Dr. John Espey, Director of International  Education and Professor of Business,  was one of five participants chosen to participate  in the 2014 Fulbright Program  -Community College Administrator Seminar in Russia. He traveled to Russia last semester, and has this account of the trip and how the International Education program may do more with Russia in the future:

The  program, about five years old,  was developed to share the community college model with Russian institutions of Higher Education and build relationships for potential  future collaboration. 

The program allowed the delegation to visit a number of Federal and State Universities in the of cities of Kaliningrad,  St. Petersburg, Arkhangelsk and Moscow. We were able to exchange information through presentations and dialog between a number of faculty and administrators about how community colleges operate and fit into American Higher Education.

We visited State and Federal Universities with programs as diverse as education and training for the Fishing and International shipping Industry,  to programs in Information Technology –Mechanics and Optics.  We found a Changing Russia.  The federal government is putting resources into technology education  and we found faculty, students and  leadership most interested in supporting a market economy.  We found a number of programs and individuals that had responsibilities very similar to ours and programs that we might find in our community colleges are embedded in their universities.  Russian institutions have been traditionally very strong in Mathematics and the Sciences. That history  is helping to build programs in Technology from construction to Engineering.

Construction projects and growth in residential construction, modernization of highways and spreading wealth have certainly marked the transition. We were reminded the Russia is only about 40 years into a transition to a market economy. Capitalism is spreading in the cities to be certain. We were told that the rural and remote areas of the country have simply not received the benefits of a market system as well as the urban areas. Infrastructure is still in critical need in many areas, but construction of modern high rise housing was simply booming in Moscow in particular. Many former Soviet style housing and construction is still in place and the contrast to the modernization is striking.

Dr. Joel Ericson, The Fulbright Program Director for Russia was with us at every visit.  He and his staff assistant ,Ms. Polina Babushkina, developed a program for us that made the maximum use of time and travel.  We were welcomed at every visit.  Many younger faculty are fluent in English and Russian.  Graduate students in particular had studied English and often assisted.  When necessary, translators appeared and I felt we never had any problems with language.

With a schedule that was full, we had some time to visit historic sites including palaces and museums in St. Petersburg and Red Square in Moscow. The northern city of Arkhangelsk was still in the grip of a frozen winter.  We say a number of people parasailing with snowboards on the frozen White Sea and inlets!

I found the food was just great at every venue.  We traveled between cities via Aeroflot, the Russian airlines. The aircraft fleet was modern, clean and included great personnel. Airports are modernizing at a very rapid pace.  We say construction at every airport. The vastness of the country really lends itself to air travel.  Flights were full.   Travelers we met included construction personnel and engineers. 

For where we at Volunteer State, TnCIS  and TBR go from here with potential relationships with Russian institutions, I am working in several areas.

-We are seeking  grant support for future foreign language development including Russian.
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      - I am writing every institution we visited with an invitation to send a delegation of students/faculty for a short term visit similar to the multiple  partnerships we have at present. I am offering to share our partner TBR Universities and community colleges as well as the cultural and historic Nashville and Middle Tennessee region.
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      -We are exploring a TnCIS program offering in the future for Russia. We are also exploring hosting a Fulbright Scholar from Russia in the future.

      The experience was certainly a great opportunity to represent Vol State, TBR and Tennessee. Other program  participants were from Illinois, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Washington State.  

For those who have been here at Volunteer State and remember our Russian visitor , Oleg Naumenko, Ph.D. from about 2008, I was able to meet up with him and his parents in Moscow!  Oleg is working for the senior Russian Economics University in research and recalls his visit to Vol State.

I hope to make presentations on requests in the near future.  I really appreciate the  efforts of Dr. Nichols and Tracy Bradley of TnCIS is helping support my application for the program.

John Espey


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