Federal government awards Fairfield University nearly $300,000 to host Russian teachers learning about the United States

Federal government awards Fairfield University nearly $300,000 to host Russian teachers learning about the United States

Fairfield University will host 12 Russian university professors over the next three years to increase their understanding of American culture and train them in different teaching methods.

With a tinderbox of tensions continuing to spark in the Middle East, now more than ever, the United States must create bonds with Russia and the other former Soviet states, said David McFadden, Ph.D., chair of the history department and director of the Russian and Eastern European Studies program at Fairfield University.

The U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs received 36 proposals for programs working in Russia beginning this year. Nine were ranked as highly competitive, including Fairfield's. Only seven received funding and some were not given all they originally requested. Fairfield received full funding, $294,806 in all. The winning proposals were chosen by a panel with subject and regional expertise.

The transition from Communism is far from over, Dr. McFadden said, and keeping the lines of communication open with Russia is integral to maintaining a friendly relationship. "It's still one of the most important countries in the world," Dr. McFadden said, adding that both Russia and the United States will be involved in efforts to reduce instability in the Middle East and Central Asia.

But many Russians have enduring misconceptions about the United States and Americans, said Dr. Katherine Kidd, director of the International Studies program at Fairfield University.

The prevailing thought is often that: "Americans are rich and arrogant and simply interested in enforcing their will on other people," Dr. McFadden said.

During the Cold War, studies of English and the United States in Russia were very contained, Dr. Kidd said, noting that after the fall of the Soviet Union, interest in American studies ballooned. But thanks to the constraints of the Cold War years, Russian professors did not have, and still do not have, the information and resources to meet that need, Dr. Kidd said. "They had relatively limited resources," she said.

For example, courses in American literature often contain no social analysis of the author or the times in which the piece was written, Dr. Kidd said. So while the Russian professors might be able to offer students a flawless lesson in the writing itself, they would not be able to give them any historical context for the piece.

Fairfield University hopes to increase Russian understanding of Americans by teaching its teachers about our society. Over four semesters, 12 Russian professors from four universities will spend a semester each at Fairfield University, learning about American culture and American teaching methods.

The Russian professors will attend Fairfield University classes in their fields. They will be required to make a proposal for a new course and elements of two other courses to bring back to Russia. The professors will also be given $2,500 to purchase books, cassettes and other resources to use in their courses.

Bringing the professors to the United States, in turn, offers Fairfield students a chance to learn about Russian people and their culture, Dr. McFadden remarked.

Fairfield University's push to bring Russian professors here is really an expansion of a smaller initiative the Russian and Eastern European Studies program has been doing. With about $15,000 from the Gladys Kreible Delmas Foundation in New York and some $5,000 each from Fairfield University and the U.S. consulate in St. Petersburg, the program has been sending professors from Fairfield to Herzen University in St. Petersburg for about two weeks each of the last three years.

The Fairfield faculty members, from a variety of fields, worked with Russian counterparts in the same field for a week. Each pair of professors would create a workshop that the Russian professor could offer students as well as a lecture the pair delivered together at a four-day seminar in St. Petersburg that was presented to representatives from more than a dozen universities in Northwestern Russia. The final step was to publish the seminar proceedings. Orin Grossman, Ph.D., academic vice president at Fairfield University, is one of the Fairfield educators who joined in that experience.

"After taking part in our annual two-week program in St. Petersburg, I am convinced that the exchange of ideas that takes place between the Russian professors and our own faculty is just the kind of interaction that promotes respect and understanding between our two countries," Dr. Grossman said.

"Dr. David McFadden and Dr. Kate Kidd have developed an innovative program that links American Studies and the teaching of English to Russian Universities throughout the Northwest region of Russia, including St. Petersburg. In addition, the grant allows us to bring Russian professors to our campus and we look forward to welcoming them."

Dr. Grossman, academic vice president at Fairfield University, offered a seminar on 20th Century American music that included a biographical sketch of the composers, lyrics, cassettes and crib sheets explaining colloquialisms and slang phrases.

Dr. Grossman's holistic approach to teaching about such classics as "Easter Parade" were fabulously popular with the Russian professors, many of whom took his entire lesson back to their university classes, Dr. Kidd said.

"We were getting our feet wet, learning what worked and what didn't work," Dr. Kidd commented.

With the state department grant, Fairfield has the opportunity to vastly expand the program by bringing Russian professors here. Their presence, in turn, will educate Fairfield students about their Russian counterparts, Dr. McFadden said.

"We've been plotting this idea for at least two or three years," Dr. McFadden said.

Fairfield had applied once before for the grant, but was denied, Dr. McFadden said. Now thanks to its successful ventures with Herzen, Fairfield has been able to show that it has the contacts and wherewithal to succeed, Dr. McFadden said.

Also bolstering Fairfield's bid was its experience with the Junior Faculty Development Program. For the past four years, Fairfield has been among the host schools for professors from former Soviet nations brought to the United States by JFDP, which is also funded by the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs. That program, which is administered by the American Councils for International Education, pays for Russian professors who have not yet received the Russian equivalent of a doctoral degree, to study at American universities.

Posted On: 09-15-2002 09:09 AM

Volume: 35 Number: 58