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| Belorussian, Georgian Professors
Observe at UW-Eau Claire
MAILED: May 11, 2000
Two professors of the former Soviet Union have found a place at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire this semester and are learning more about the U.S. economy, art and culture every day.
Roman Prokopenko of Belarus and Nino Khutsishvili of the country Georgia have spent the spring semester observing the teaching process in an American university. The two will return to UW-Eau Claire next spring to teach courses of their own and will return for a third and final semester in spring 2002 to continue teaching and conducting research.
Prokopenko and Khutsishvili are here as part of the Faculty Development Fellowship Program sponsored by the Open Society Institute.
OSI also has funded students from the former Soviet Union to study at UW-Eau Claire for one year through OSI's National Student Program. UW-Eau Claire's partnership with OSI goes back nine years to the beginning of the program, and the university has been host to 90 OSI students during that time. Based on that relationship, UW-Eau Claire's Center for International Education applied to be a host campus for the Faculty Development Program in 1999.
"Student participants in the program undergo an intense competition for this funding and represent some of the greatest intellectual resources of that region," said Dr. Karl Markgraf, director of the Center for International Education.
The Faculty Development Program is in its first year and 12 OSI faculty members are participating in the program. UW-Eau Claire is host to two of them and is one of only 10 U.S. universities selected to participate. Other faculty members have been placed at Cornell University, Yale University and the University of California-Berkley.
Prokopenko, who arrived in late February, is learning about the American economic system and hopes to take some of what he learns back to Belarus. He has been observing a variety of fields to learn different ways of teaching. He plans to create new economics courses for Belarus State University when he returns.
When Belarus was a part of the Soviet Union it was not a democratic society, but Propkopenko said he is studying how the American economic system works so he can find ways to help create the new system in Belarus.
"(There was) no democracy for a long period of time, and now we're trying to rebuild these societies," he said.
Khutsishvili, who arrived in January, is studying art history and art theory while she is at UW-Eau Claire. Her main focus is on modern art at Tbilisi State University in her home country of Georgia and she has been to many art museums in cities such as Minneapolis, New York City and Chicago while in the United States.
"I think that the art center is now the United States and not in Europe," she said.
Khutsishvili said art is an important part of a society's culture.
"Without culture, I think you can't do anything," she said.
Before coming to UW-Eau Claire the two professors met only once at a predeparture orientation for the program in Budapest, Hungary. Even though they are from different countries and do not speak the same first languages, they both speak fluent Russian and are able to communicate in English as well.
Khutsishvili and Prokopenko live in countries that are going through major economic changes since the breakup of the Soviet Union.
"People are very active in politics towards democracy," Khutsishvili said. "After 70 years of Soviet time, we need to re-establish things."
Prokopenko said the U.S. economic system is a good one to model because it works so well.
"We really appreciate the U.S. system because it's a good system as a whole," he said.
Khutsishvili said Georgia is developing much faster than Belarus is, partly because the country has such a good president.
"We've made great changes (in Georgia) these last 10 years and it's really developed a lot since the Soviet Union," she said. "The democratic development has started. It's the beginning. It was not easy."
Prokopenko said that changing economic systems in Belarus has been much more difficult. The president of Belarus is pushing to turn the country back into the way it was during Soviet times, but the citizens don't approve and are protesting the president's attempt at virtual communism.
Overall, the two professors are grateful to have the opportunity to come to the United States through the program.
Khutsishvili was once the champion of rhythmic gymnastics in Georgia and, because of that, she has had opportunities to travel to other countries in the past.
"Without (athletics) there was no possibility for going outside the country," she said. "(Visiting the United States) is a great opportunity for teachers and students. I wish everyone could go somewhere because it really opens your mind."
Janice B. Wisner
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Updated: May 11, 2000