By, Casey Sacks
My Russian Experience
Last year when I met Nadezhda, Nadie, she lived in my house for about a month during a Russian Business Leaders (RBL) program. We had a wonderful time together, cooking meals, spending time with friends and family, and talking about world affairs and politics. She spent her days in Colorado an internship program. And after work and on the weekends we got to spend time together.
Fast forward to 2017. As a part of her RBL project Nadie invited me to Russia. We share a common professional interest in higher education and using education as a driver for economic development. She is working on a project in Russia to help universities better serve businesses by customizing training to meet employment needs, something I specialize in. As a result of our shared interest, her project in Russia emerged as a conference jointly attended by business and university leaders to talk about how they could more effectively partner.
As part of my visit, Nadie developed an excellent conference. She had faculty and deans for four major universities in Russia and dozens of businesses come to the table to learn from each other. Businesses I'm very familiar with, like Microsoft and Mars, said similar things to Russian universities about their workforce needs as what I would expect them to say here in the United States about similar employment issues. I had the opportunity to be a morning keynote and then spent time in workshops with my Russian colleagues.
Later, Nadie arranged meetings with university leadership at their home college campuses. That allowed me to see the Russian university system in action and also helped her build connections for her business interests. The priority I consistently heard leadership speak to was about becoming ranked on the list of 100 best universities in the world. While some US colleges do chase rankings, I work with community colleges and we most definitely do not chase rankings. Our interests are largely about access, learning, completion, and job placement. Rankings aren't something that enter my talks with colleagues and it was a shift for me to consider what the priorities must be for the Russian Universities with increased rankings as a primary goal (perceived prestige, spending, publications, and English speaking faculty).
My time in Russia drew to an end quickly. But while I was there I got to present at a world class conference, present at my Embassy, meet colleagues at half a dozen universities to discuss mutual interests in serving industry more effectively by creating students who were prepared for work. I also got to help students at Education USA to understand and consider community colleges as affordable and accessible options for their own international education experiences. While the professional development I gained from this month was incredible, the most valuable and cherished part of my experience was talking to Russian people. Spending time with Nadie. eating and drinking tea, spending time with friends and family, and talking about world affairs and politics are the things that I will continue to cherish the most back here in the United States.