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Blog on Fulbright Study in Russia

Fulbright Study in Russia


Blog #1 - The Journey Begins

 March 30, 2019

Due to the timing of two events, I will be on the road for two weeks on a journey that has great meaning for me, personally and professionally. Because so many people have played a role in making this possible, I want to share this journey and some of the circumstances and milestones of my life, personal and professional, that have led to this opportunity. Too many to name, I also want to express my gratitude to those who have contributed to this story. I am traveling alone, but there is a full orchestra and many behind-the-scenes whose great performances truly accompany me. - Sanjay

On Fulbright Study in Russia - Blog from Dr. Sanjay Rai


St. Petersburg View From Plane
St. Petersburg View From Plane

I have just boarded a flight to St. Petersburg, Russia. I am honored and excited to be participating in the 2019 Fulbright Russia Community College Administrator Seminar (CCAS), but for me, this trip is a very special journey.

My father worked in a steel plant in Bhilai, India, from 1962-1993. He did not have an opportunity to finish high school. After passing grade 10 in a village in India, he moved to the eastern part of the country and worked in a coal mine for a few years before coming to Bhilai, which is in the central part of India. India became independent in 1947 after a long freedom struggle – led by Mahatma Gandhi. This was the first successful non-violent freedom movement against a major world power. The power of similar non-violent civil movements played a crucial role in the ending of apartheid in South Africa and in the civil rights movement in the United States. 

When the British came to India, India accounted for 24 percent of the world economy, but when the British left, India’s share of the world economy was only 4 percent. India produced some of the best cotton in the world, and the British took the cotton to textile mills in Manchester, England, and then imported those textiles back to India. So at the dawn of freedom, while the country celebrated being free from British rule and several hundred years of Mogul Rule prior to that, it also faced challenges in all areas. The country was in a very difficult situation and needed rapid development. Among other priorities, infrastructure development was critically necessary. India needed steel. India was rich in natural resources, and the British generally exported raw materials to England and imported goods back, making profit and generating employment in England while India paid and suffered. The steel industry became critical to the development of the region.

The first Indian government, led by Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru, decided to grow indigenous industries in several key areas, including steel, to lay the foundation for a strong and independent economy for free India. The areas of the country that had rich iron ore reserves – Bhilai, Bokoro, Rourkela, and Durgapur – were chosen as sites for steel plants. While the Rourkela and Durgapur steel plants were set up with German and British assistance, Bhilai and Bokoro steel plants were built with Russian collaboration.

Prime Minister Nehru signed a historic agreement during a visit to Magnitka in 1955. The city of Magnitka was the Russian center for steel industries. As part of this agreement, hundreds of Russians came and worked in Bhilai for more than 20 years. The agreement provided an integrated operational model where Indian and Russian workers, including engineers, worked side-by-side to make the collaboration successful.

Bhilai Steel Plant
Bhilai Steel Plant

My father joined Bhilai Steel Plant after grade 10 and for most of his tenure at the plant, he was in the worker class. In spite of the system, all employees were given opportunities to move up the ladder to earn higher pay and other benefits. The apartments for the Russians were almost exactly the same as our small-town efficiency apartment built for workers. The only difference was that their apartments had a small window air conditioning unit. It was fair, as they came from a very cold environment and temps in Bhilai went up to 47 degrees Celsius (116 degrees Fahrenheit).

My father went through a rigorous training and was posted in the Rail Mill. This part of the plant made rails for Indian Railways. The rail tracks made in Bhilai played a huge role in creating 71,000 miles of rail track in India. Twenty-one million people travel daily on India trains – that is the population of Australia. When I travel on Indian trains, I always think of the contribution of Bhilai and my father in building that rail network.

The new steel plants were described by Prime Minister Nehru as new pilgrimages and temples of modern India, and the city of Bhilai as a model of a secular society. Since Bhilai was built in the middle of nowhere, large numbers of people from other parts of India, of all religions, languages, and cultures, came together to earn a living and contribute to the development of independent India. Most of these people were unskilled and went through well-structured training and supervisory programs. Bhilai became a miniature of India, our neighbors spoke different languages, my classmates spoke different languages, and everyone came from all parts of India.

As a result, I have a basic understanding of several Indian languages including Bengali, Punjabi, and Marathi. We visited temples in Diwali, mosques on Eid, churches on Christmas, and Gurdwaras (Sikh Temples) on Nanak Jayanti. It was truly a model of secular society exhibiting unity in diversity. The township was a catalyst in India’s growth and kids who grew up there went on to prestigious universities in India, including India Institutes of Technology, more commonly known as IITs. They have contributed to the growth and betterment of India, and also to other parts of the world, including the USA.

My father and his colleagues were trained and worked side-by-side with their Russian counterparts. They became admirers of Russian technology and their problem-solving abilities. We heard many stories of Russian’s ability to solve problems in the plant and increase production. There was a time when the blast furnace would not work because cast iron had solidified in the furnace. Experts were invited from England, Germany, the United States, and Russia to solve the problem. Experts from England and Germany had advised that the furnace needed to be opened completely to remove the iron and then it would be reassembled. This would have required almost a year, which would have stopped production – severely impacting the livelihood of thousands of people. A small group of engineers came from Magnitogorsk (Russia) and solved the problem in a matter of days. These types of experiences formed the thinking of my father and his colleagues on Russian technological superiority. This was in the 1960s at the height of the Cold War.

But, just as we were directly benefiting from Russian collaboration, we also benefited during that era from America’s generosity and innovation. In the 1960s, a surprise attack by China on the northern border, just after signing a peace treaty, left the still young and independent India worried that it would again be occupied by an invading nation. With a strong warning and intervention by President Kennedy, China’s aggression was stopped. To this day, people of India admire and revere John F. Kennedy. People, including my parents, wept when they learned of President Kennedy’s assassination. India mourned.

The 1960s also delivered a catastrophic drought to India. The United States sent shiploads of wheat to a country that had sided with the USSR at the start of the Cold War, ignoring politics and saving millions from starvation. Norman Borlaug, an American scientist at Texas A&M University, developed a new variety of wheat that brought a green revolution in India. Independent India, with a growing population, would be a self-dependent nation on food production.

So, at the peak of the Cold War, growing up in Bhilai, my family – my parents, my sister, and I – benefited from the generosity and innovation of both superpowers. My father began working at the plant in 1962 at a very low level. Every year, a group of employees was selected to travel to Russia for advanced training. This was the ultimate reward – a sought-after prize – for any employee. The very competitive process usually resulted in officer-level employees being chosen to attend training in Russia. People went for 3-6 months and returned with Russian items: a black and white camera was one of the most common items, a prized possession in the 1960s in the middle-of-nowhere India. People generously shared these cameras with others for special occasions.

My father hoped to be selected for this training, and we often heard that his name was on the list, but after several stages of the review, he would not make it to the final list of selected candidates. This went on for decades. In the beginning, my father delighted in the anticipation and hope that the process bore, but in the end, his disappointment at not being selected weighed heavily on him. He wanted to visit Russia. This was one of the reasons I applied for the Fulbright Seminar in Russia. When I land in Russia, I will carry his dream and his memory with me throughout the trip.

Fulbright Statue - University of Arkansas
Fulbright Statue - University of Arkansas

In 1990, I came to the University of Arkansas Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences to earn a Ph.D. in Mathematics. Initially in Fayetteville, Arkansas, I lived in a private apartment building on North Leverett Street. This was a good 20-minute walk to the mathematics department. I enjoyed my stay in beautiful Ozark country very much. On my daily walks to the campus, I would pass through the Fulbright Institute for International Relations; I learned about Senator Fulbright, who was also a past president of the university and a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford. He was a senator from the state of Arkansas who wrote the legislation that created the Fulbright Program.

I was intrigued and fascinated by the Senator’s work in building peace in the world. As an international student at the University of Arkansas, I admired Fulbright's work and had a very deep and personal connection to the Institute's mission. I feel fortunate and privileged to be afforded the Fulbright Seminar in Russia opportunity. It illustrates the 21 st century world, where a kid whose father did not finish high school and worked in a steel plant built with Russian technology and collaboration, came to the United States for advanced studies and became a senior administrator at a major institution of higher education, is now traveling to Russia as a U.S. higher education expert to learn and collaborate on skill development, technology training, and higher education in general.

It is with these emotions and feelings that I will land in St. Petersburg. I look forward to the visit, the collaboration, and the learning in the true spirit of Senator Fulbright’s vision – with memories of my father and his dream to visit Russia.

I will keep you all posted and engaged throughout the visit with regular brief blogs.


Blog #2 - First Days in St. Peterburg, Russia

 March 31, 2019 – April 1, 2019


I was grateful to be met by Fulbright staff when I arrived in St. Petersburg. A car was waiting to take us to the Kochoubey Mansion, which houses the Center on Higher School of Economics, one of Russia’s top 28 universities with its main campus in St. Petersburg. This Center serves as a center for professional development and management training for all 818 Russian universities. My assigned room, 222, was changed to 221. Being a mathematician, I like the number 221-- a semi-prime number, which is also the product of two prime numbers, 13 and 17, and the sum of five consecutive prime number 37, 41, 43, 47, and 53.  

The Kochoubey Center is used for other conferences but I was delighted to learn that the Russian Math Olympiad participants stay here for their training for the International Math Olympiad (IMO). They are given an introduction to the history of the Mansion and through it the history of their own country. And, they stay in the same rooms our Fulbright delegation occupied, with access to a good library, the internet, excellent facilities, a lot of writing boards...and an excellent cafeteria. I have seen the contributions of Russian IMO teams and more importantly their contribution to the field of mathematics over the last couple of centuries. The Kochoubey was a remarkable place to reflect on this and be inspired.

In my reflections, I also recall our own efforts to train IMO middle and high school students from Maryland and the surrounding area at the Germantown Campus with John Hamman’s leadership.  When they needed space, I was very pleased that we could ensure that our young people had these opportunities. Some moved forward to compete at the highest levels in the country. We should do more for the great young talent that we have in our region. The mansion, built by the Ukrainian Kochoubey family, is the former summer home of Vasiliy P. Kochoubey, a St. Petersburg aristocrat. It is a witness to over 100 years of history, including occupations by the Bolsheviks, communists, and German Nazi police. It is well maintained and I was amazed that a number of original beautiful artifacts have survived so much turmoil.

The Center of Higher School of Economics (HSE) is responsible for professional development of faculty, chairs, deans and others for all Russian universities. We were given an introduction to the Russian Higher Education System and its history, as well as presentations on the Higher School of Economics, highlighting its Center at the Kochoubey Mansion. The first Russian university was established 300 years ago. Moscow State University and St. Petersburg University both claim to be the oldest universities. The presenter added that the oldest university in the world, established in 1050, is the University of Bologna. In situations like this, I am often perturbed with the Eurocentric view of history. While it is true that Bologna is the oldest university in Europe, the oldest university in the world is Nalanda University in Bihar, India.

Catherine Palace

We visited the Catherine Palace, the summer palace of Russian nobility.  It was breathtakingly beautiful. It is a much more elaborate and elegant building, but it had been severely damaged during the war. It has since been renovated and brought back to its original design. It is impressive that in spite of a very difficult time in their history, they take pride in their history and culture and have restored old buildings and monuments one by one in a planned and painstaking way. Later we learned that building restoration is an important part of their academic programs and research.


Today, Russia has about 818 universities, of these, 502 are state universities, 2 with special status (Moscow and St. Petersburg), 10 federal universities, 29 national research universities, and 316 private universities. The HSE was established in 1993, a very significant year in recent Russian history. This was the year that Russia was shifting from a planned economy to a market-driven economy. This change required a shift in higher education. The HSE initially had economics, social sciences and humanities. This grouping reminded me of the debate and decision that we faced when Academic Affairs was restructured. It reassured me that we faced two acceptable – good – options. 

Is economics better aligned with social sciences or business? Bruce Madariaga wrote a very cogent note to me that made a strong case for keeping economics with social sciences. I understood his logic and personally saw economics in this way.  Because our enrollment in economics courses is driven by the fact that it is a requirement for our 3000 business students, we placed economics with business. As the HSE became a more comprehensive university, several other programs, such as engineering, computer science, and management were added. I saw then that they had placed economics with management. I asked them how they reached that decision. I shared Bruce’s argument with them — they told us that they had a similar debate, but that given the changes in the economic model, they decided to place it with management 

I have learned so much. Our in-country orientation by Fulbright staff included a quick introduction to Russia and important safety tips. Most of the time was spent on the Fulbright Program itself. The first program was held in Austria in 1946. Today, the program extends to 155 countries with a budget of $255 million. The Fulbright Russia Program was established in 1973, and offers several opportunities for our faculty and staff. These include Fulbright Language Teaching Assistants (FLTA), Scholars, Scholars in Residence, and Visiting Student Programs. These are invaluable and important opportunities in today’s world.  For the next academic year, we will aggressively compete to have our faculty, students, and staff engaged in these outstanding professional development opportunities. I see them as necessary to providing a comprehensive global education to our students’ success in the 21st century.

The next blog covers the rest of the week, where we met with representatives from six universities and learned a great deal about the Russian higher education system -- there is a lot we can learn from each other.


Blog #3 - St. Petersburg, Russia

 April 2, 2019 - April 5, 2019

We were kept very busy in St. Petersburg, with visits to a number of universities reflecting different areas of study. The Kochoubey Center of HSE leadership talked about their efforts in professional development to align Russian universities with 21st century realities. “We are fighting for talent. We want to attract international faculty and international students.” They have approximately 10% international students in the universities that we visited (see list below).  We are very successful in both of these areas, but going forward we cannot take our position for granted. My notes from this briefing include the following, many of which will be familiar:

  •  We are on the cusp of another revolution, an academic revolution
  • Higher education must be restructured
  • Universities will merge
  • New programs, new units, new curriculum, new learning outcomes align with the needs of the 21st century
  • R and Python for social sciences; and Python for all
  • They have a goal to have 5 Russian universities among the top 100 universities in the world. Ranking parameters include the number of international faculty and the number of international students (if the U.S. had that system, Montgomery College would be at the top), as well as research and patents.
  • Digitization of the economy
  • Data analytics
  • Desire to acquire global knowledge
  • Contribute to global challenges such as the study of climate change (we visited universities where significant work was done on global challenges including climate)

Listening to the presentation, it felt like I was sitting in our Academic Master Plan meetings.  I was fascinated to be sitting half way around the world, listening to a discussion of such similar issues.  It is somewhat refreshing and reassuring that we at Montgomery College have identified issues that are necessary for us to be relevant in the 21st century and we are making progress.  Our faculty, staff and leadership have already made tremendous contributions in this direction.

At each university we visited, representatives talked about internationalization as a major initiative.  At Montgomery College we have done tremendous work via the Global Humanities Institute and other grant-funded initiatives. It remains an area that our next Academic Master Plan five-year initiatives and the strategic plan for 2025 need more structured and focused effort.

Some of you may find the list of institutions that we visited interesting, as well as their programs and focus.

April 2, 2019

The State Institute of Economics, Finances, Law and Technologies is located in the City of Gatchina, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Since 2001, the institute has been successfully developing a unique educational model integrating educational programs of different educational levels. SIEFLT is composed of nine schools offering bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in a variety of fields, and four schools of vocational education preparing high-skilled workforce for immediate careers in the areas of construction, agriculture, design, and others.

April 3, 2019

The State University of Telecommunications was founded in 1930 and offers training programs in communications and telecommunications, information technologies, computer science, economics, management, advertising, and public relations. Today, the university has three campuses (in St. Petersburg, Archangelsk, and Smolensk) and enrolls over 11,000 students on undergraduate, graduate, doctoral, and vocational/professional retraining programs. 

Zhores Alferov, Nobel Laureate  at LETI
Zhores Alferov, Nobel Laureate  at LETI 
- Bust is across the street from his office.

April 4, 2019

Dr. Sanjay Rai

St. Petersburg Electrotechnical University was founded in 1886 as a Technical College. LETI, as it is popularly called, received the status of a higher education institution in 1899. It was the first higher educational institution in Europe to specialize in electrical engineering. LETI specializes in electrical engineering, radio engineering, and computer science, but also offers bachelor's, master's and doctoral programs in the field of humanities, economics and public relations.  

St. Petersburg State University of Architecture and Civil Engineering was founded in 1832, and today is a major educational and scientific center, the only university in the North-West Federal District of the Russian Federation that provides comprehensive training for specialists in the fields of civil engineering, architecture, transport, and environmental engineering systems.

The Russian State Hydrometeorological University offers courses at all levels of higher professional training leading to BA, MA, Specialist, Candidate (equivalent to PhD) and Doctor of Sciences degrees in the area of environmental studies. RSHU’s research programs include the study of atmospheric and oceanic processes, atmosphere-ocean interaction, methods of weather analysis and forecasts, estimation of possible climate changes, creation of the diagnostic and forecasting models. Founded in 1930, the university has trained over 20,000 professionals, including more than 3,000 foreign specialists from different countries.

April 5, 2019


Information Technologies, Mechanics and Optics University was founded in 1900 by the decree of Emperor Nicholas II as a vocational school, today it is home to over 14,300 students and has earned its name “National Research University,” blending the culture of innovation and discovery with world-class education. ITMO’s 14 departments offer an extensive curriculum in fundamental and applied disciplines, with an emphasis on graduate education and multidisciplinary approach. The university’s focus is on preparing elite scientists, engineers and programmers, notably in the areas of Photonics and Optics, Intelligent Technology and Robotics, IT in Economics, Social Sciences and Art, Life Sciences and Health, Natural sciences, Smart- and Nano- materials and Technology.  Forty-three international research laboratories generate advanced knowledge and tackle some of the world’s top challenges. It houses the Optics Museum, where we saw one of the ten largest holograms in the world.

We also visited a communal apartment museum in St. Petersburg where two families lived in a two bedroom apartment with common kitchen, living room and bathrooms. These were originally designed as apartments for wealthy people, but after the communist revolution they were converted into communal apartments for poor people. Each family had a small (about 50sq ft) bedroom, a small bed, a very small table and a book case. For children, there was a child-sized sewing machine as a toy for girls and boys got one toy as well -- everyone had exactly the same items. They cooked the same meals as well. The curator told us that her  mother had lived in the same apartment – she bought the building and the two of them converted it into a small museum.  They wouldn’t take any donations from us.  This is the true human spirit!  It is global – there are good people in every corner of the world.


They have preserved some of belongings of residents. I saw a camera and recognized it right away -- in my first blog, I had mentioned that my father’s colleagues spent time in Russia for training and brought  black and white cameras back to India. This is exactly the same camera. Some good memories came to mind, of birthdays and other school events when we borrowed these cameras and clicked some pictures. There were several other nostalgic moments.


Blog #4 - Tver, Russia

April 6, 2019 - April 9, 2019

Saturday, April 6, 2019 – St. Petersburg, Russia

Before leaving St. Petersburg, I was able to visit the Hermitage Museum. The facts and figures - second-largest art museum in the world, founded in 1764, Empress Catherine the Great acquired the artwork of a merchant, Johann Ernst Gotzkowsky, opened to the public in 1852 – do not begin to convey what it is like to walk into and through the six historic buildings that make up the Hermitage. It includes the Winter Palace, the former residence of Russian emperors. Again, I was struck by what has survived so much upheaval and violence. And the cause of much of that was inequity – a struggle that continues, worldwide, today. On one hand, I could admire what human beings are able to create, but there was a cost.

Sunday, April 7, 2019 – Tver, Russia
We traveled by high-speed train from St. Petersburg to Tver - a fantastic trip. The train arrived not one minute ahead or one minute behind — right on the dot! We checked into the Grand Hotel in the Central District. Vehicles are not permitted on this street that is filled with shops and restaurants, and people: kids, parents, grandparents — all enjoying a Sunday evening. I saw this in St. Petersburg as well. Russians walk. It is normal for people walk 10 miles a day. A Fulbright colleague told me that he walked 22,000 steps yesterday — we walked 7-8 miles!

Tver, Russia

On my walk in Tver, I saw this mural depicting travel of a local merchant to India in 1466. That sparked my curiosity. Our Fulbright hosts explained that it was a mural of Afanasy Nikitin and his Journey Beyond the Three Seas. He crossed three seas to reach India 30-years before Vasco da Gama sailed. Our Russian colleagues mentioned that they learned this in their history classes in school. I don’t recall learning any of that in MY history classes! He was from Tver — it was a special moment for me.

Walking is not the only option to get around Tver. Public transportation is exceptionally good here, and affordable as well. I continue to be very impressed with the people-friendly assets and policies. In a conversation, I learned that a woman took three years leave after her twins were born. She received five months paid leave, 18 months of leave with reduced pay, and another 18 months with no pay. Parents or grandparents can take leave. There is early childhood care starting at age 3 years from 7a.m. - 7p.m. Children get free breakfast, lunch and dinner and they get their own beds for two-hour naps. We have to think about how we meet the needs for childcare for of our students and employees, not only at Montgomery College. Early childcare contributes to our stagnant achievement gap.

This conversation began with gender issues and treatment of women in the world and in our two countries. My Fulbright colleagues referenced Indira Gandhi and current Defense and Foreign Ministers of India – both are women. A lesson that I am reminded of each day is how many shared challenges we face. How we approach these are influenced by our histories and cultures, and even the language that we have to describe them. When we learn from each other, solutions emerge.

Monday, April 8, 2019 – Tver State University

I had the opportunity to speak to students at Tver State University about U.S. community colleges and Montgomery College, specifically.  The delegations spoke with students who are studying English and have an interest in studying in the U.S. And, they are very interested in hosting our students for short courses in Russian language and culture during the summer.

Tver State University’s museum held an interesting story. It was established by a wealthy merchant as a teacher training institution for elementary schools in 1770. Only girls were allowed in the beginning. They entered at age 15. There was no formal curriculum, but they engaged in hands-on training. Students lived and studied in the same building. Despite having established a good reputation, war intruded and the university became a hospital for soldiers. The events of history — revolution and World War II — again brought challenges, as they did to many Russian institutions, but the institution persevered and became a more comprehensive university in 1973.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union and until 2007, severe budget challenges did not prevent the addition of new programs like applied linguistics.  Since 2007, expansion has continued. I am so impressed with their resilience — their respect for history and passion for education — in spite of so many formidable challenges throughout their 250-year history, they have persisted in educating the next generations.

Tver Technological College

Tuesday, April 9, 2019 – Tver Technological College and Travel to Moscow

Building and Masonry Programs; Students learn every aspect of building
Building and Masonry Programs; Students learn every aspect of building

Tver Technological College has excellent construction, masonry, road building, and maintenance programs. They work very closely with their industry partners, including a German company. When we learned that their students won national and international competitions, I immediately thought of our own construction management program, led by Mario Parcan.  Our students have done very well in national competitions. The Russian student are keenly interested in working with our students and faculty.

We have a similar lab in Gudelsky Institute for our building trades program.  Our frames are made from wood and in Russia they are made from steel.  Ed Roberts would have enjoyed visiting this college.

German Company; Industry partner provides equipment and training
German Company; Industry partner provides equipment and training

Engineering Design Labs are similar to what our students experience. There are excellent opportunities for our students to work in teams on these projects with Russian students.

We boarded a high-speed train to Moscow, a 70-minute very comfortable train journey. We checked into the Marriott Courtyard, Moscow City Center. This time I was given room number 201 which is a good number — not a prime number, but a semi-prime number (similar to my visit to St. Petersburg when I was in room 221, also a semi-prime number). This time, it is the product of 3 and 67, both prime numbers.


Blog #5 - The Journey Ends in Moscow, Russia

April 9, 2019 - April 12, 2019

The opportunity to participate in the Fulbright 2019 Russia Community College Administrator Seminar has been personally and professionally rewarding in ways that are challenging to capture and articulate in a series of short communications. I was given the opportunity, for two weeks, to be a student of Russian history, higher education, and skill development. My attempt in these blogs has been to make you - my colleagues - part of my journey and experience.  In this final blog, I share more of what I learned about how Russia is addressing the same challenges we face as an institution of higher education, today.  

I am immensely thankful to the Office of the Fulbright Russia for organizing a very meaningful program.  Their professionalism, hard work, and attention to every detail has made this program extremely successful. They are tremendous assets in making sure that the Fulbright Program remains true to the ideals of Senator Fulbright and his core mission of mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. 

The relationship between the United States and Russia is not a cordial one at this time. The level of trust between our two countries is a low. As I embarked on this journey, this weighed heavily. It still does. But, I departed with optimism and I return optimistic. As educators, we want our students – our communities – our nations – to be successful. Our visit was carefully planned. The people with whom I interacted were eager to collaborate, send their students and welcome ours. We were and are bound by the shared mission of the Fulbright Program. Please keep reading and share the last days of my journey. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2019:  Travel from Tver to Moscow

We boarded a high-speed train, #765A, to Moscow. The train stopped for one minute in Tver, long enough for 15 people who were assigned coach 9 to show passports, put their luggage away and board the train. It was a 70-minute journey, with the train arriving at Moscow’s main train station. Sitting on the train, I thought back to my first few days in Russia, stopping in Gatchina on the way from Pushkin to St. Petersburg. We stopped at Silver Lake, the site where Russia tested their first submarine. Submarines played an important role in the Cold War and they still do. So much work in physics, acoustics, and signal processing was developed for submarine warfare. I had the opportunity to reflect on our human history and many scientific and technological advances that are being used for such benefit today that have their roots in a darker purpose.

Gandhi Gallery

We had also stopped at the Gandhi Gallery at the State Institute of Economics, Finance, Law and Technologies, where we learned that their students are learning from their own history but also from Gandhi and his approach to life.

Gandhi Gallery

Senator Fulbright envisioned a world in which advances that benefit mankind would replace those that would destroy us. The journey to Moscow was a perfect opportunity for reflection, and I was glad to have that time. When we arrived in Moscow, there was a bus waiting for us. The Fulbright staff was with us throughout the program.  In Moscow, we stayed at the Marriott Courtyard in Moscow City Center, and I was happy to stay in a hotel that has its headquarters in Montgomery County, Maryland.

Moscow, Russia

After checking into the hotel, we still had a couple of hours left so we decided to take the 20-minute walk to Red Square. Seeing Red Square in person, when I’d only seen images in childhood, was an amazing experience. One of my fellow Fulbright awardees is a historian. Having his expertise, listening to him speak on 400-500 years of history of the monuments was remarkable. Just steps from Red Square is Moscow’s new Zaryadye Park, designed by New York based, American architect, Charles Renfro. Also not too far from Red Square, stands a magnificent Four Seasons Hotel. It was formerly a government run hotel and then it was closed for some time. We were there on a Tuesday night and the area was packed with families, young and not so young people. One can see vibrancy and happiness in visitors; historical monuments restored to their original glory surrounded by several modern buildings and facilities and a clear indication of participation and willingness to work with international companies and people. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2019
First Moscow Educational Complex (FMEC)

On Wednesday, we visited First Moscow Educational Complex, an interesting model of the merging of PreK-12, vocational education, and higher education. Students can enter the system through Pre-K, but can enter the vocational program in 9th grade which they finish in 3-years.  They then have the opportunity to pursue a university education or a career. It has proved to be highly successful, and just within Moscow, there are 100 institutions based on this model. In 2011, it was ranked first among the vocational institutions in Moscow.  The college has partnership agreements with leading Russian institutions of higher education and businesses. It is free and students get free lunch as well.

We visited their Cosmetology, Advertising, and Hospitality programs. Their curriculum, developed with industry collaboration at the national level, is based on WorldSkills Russia, with clearly defined curricula and student learning outcomes for each program. Industry is fully engaged including in assessments; they provide internships for students and externships for faculty. Every faculty member is expected to complete a specified number of hours in industry every three years. These students get a comprehensive education, e.g., cosmetology’s students learn anatomy and physiology, IT, art (including drawing and painting), Russian, English, and either French or German. They need to have an active, professional Instagram account. These are all transferable skills. Advertising students learn media, photography, video, communication, IT, film editing, etc. Their students made a promo for the Sochi Olympics. Hospitality students were engaged with World Cup Soccer. They all take part in WorldSkills Russia competitions and proudly display their trophies and rankings. At various stages of their programs, students receive a “skills passport,” similar to the badges we are developing. Badging is an initiative under the AMP led by Dr. Kim Kelley and Dr. Mike Mills.

While visiting FMEC, I was reflecting on our own P-tech work, where 58 students at Clarksburg High School are earning an associate’s degree in Networking.  We expect to admit a class of 9thgraders each fall. By 2024, we expect to graduate about 400 students with a high school diploma and an associate’s degree.  This is phenomenal work in addressing workforce needs in teaching, health sciences, cyber, and networking, but more importantly, developing a homegrown workforce that reflects the demographics of our community. This is in addition to our Middle and Early College students in a variety degree programs. It was reassuring that under the Academic Master Plan, we have brought these MC programs to the residents of Montgomery County. While our system provides flexibility for adaptation and innovation, the Russian system is more centralized, providing the mechanism for scaling. Their programs are being offered on a scale that we have not been able to achieve.

American Center in Moscow

American Center in Moscow

Located in the Embassy of the United States in Moscow, the American Center is Russia’s largest and oldest focal point of American culture in Moscow.  Joined by over 700 American Spaces in 150 countries across the world, the AMC offers a variety of cultural and educational programs in an environment where people can connect and learn about the United States. I had the opportunity to give a public talk to students and parents interested in pursuing higher education. It was a great opportunity to share information about the U.S. community college system and the ability of our students to transfer to four-year institutions. For Montgomery College, I noted our outstanding faculty, small class sizes, learning support centers, state-of-the-art facilities, and academic programs. We gave a similar presentation at EducationUSA to prospective students. EducationUSA is a U.S. Department of State network of over 400 international student-advising centers in more than 170 countries. There, I was able to bring up our website and show them important aspects of MC. The virtual tour let these students experience our campuses in a very real way. Ray Gilmer and his team have done a great job in making these types of presentations possible.

We heard a presentation from the YEAR (Year of Exchange in America for Russians) Program. They fund 18 Russian students each year to study at U.S. community colleges. Usually four go to one community college with tuition, room and board all funded by the program. We have not yet participated in this program.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

St. Tikhon Orthodox University for Humanities is a church-affiliated private educational institution with offerings that include programs in theology, church history, Slavic and Russian philology, foreign languages, Russian history. The university implements a number of scholarly and educational programs jointly with educational institutions in Italy, Germany, the US, and others.  We were given a tour and learned the history of the university. This was a more typical approach. When we completed the history of the institution, we were given exposure to Russian history and the impact on particular institutions. Some of the information that is fresh on my mind, such as Peter the Great, who appointed himself as the head of the Russian Orthodox Church. The Church became a sort of Ministry of Spiritual Affairs. The year 1937 was very important in Russian history — a survey was conducted for person registration (like a census) and Stalin added a question: Do you believe in God? In spite of fear of retribution, 50% of the people said yes. What followed was so tragic and unfortunate.

We attended a meeting at the Embassy of the United States and learned of various grant opportunities for our faculty and students, as well as the current status of bilateral relations between the two nations. I am reasonably certain we will have opportunities for our faculty, students, and staff in the next few years.

During these two weeks, which were fully funded by the Fulbright Program, I was the recipient of exceptional Russian hospitality, a student of their last 100 years of some very difficult history, and an admirer of their courage and resilience. The first half of the 20th century much was lost for all of humanity, and the second half competition consumed much of humanity. I believe the 21st century is all about collaboration. Our challenges are not too different from each other and there lies opportunities for collaboration to meet shared goals for our parts of the world – perhaps for the whole world. Our world is full of talented people and working together is our only option as we live in an increasingly interconnected and interdependent world. As I finish my reflections on this journey, I am reminded of a Sanskrit phrase “Vasudhaiva kutumbakam” from Indian Vedic literature meaning “The whole world is one family.” These words, written thousands of years ago came alive during this seminar.

Signing off from Moscow, Russia
11:00 p.m., April 12, 2019