October 05, 2004

Vice chancellor's trip may open doors in Russia

by K.C. Jaehnig

CARBONDALE, Ill. - - A Southern Illinois University Carbondale administrator's visit to Russia could result in closer ties with technical universities there.

John A. Koropchak, vice chancellor for research and graduate dean, took part in a workshop Sept. 16-19 co-sponsored by the International Network for Engineering Education & Research and Saratov State Technical University in Saratov, just north of Volgograd. Attended by officials from 12 Russian universities, three foreign universities, two international corporations and several Russian governmental agencies, the three-day event aimed to explore areas of common interest that might lead to future working relationships. The universities represented at the workshop are little known outside their own country - - and for good reason, Koropchak said.

"A lot of them were involved in research activities, such as space and nuclear technologies, that were secret in the old Soviet Union," he said.

The original agenda included some 25 guests from outside of Russia, but most of those decided against coming at the last minute because of terrorism concerns, Koropchak said.

"They seemed to be quite impressed by the fact that I actually showed up," he said.

"The fact that I did uniquely positioned SIUC as a university with significant interest in developing collaborations with these universities." SIUC already has ties with eight other Russian universities, and such relationships serve all concerned, Koropchak believes.

"Frequently, the best ideas are those that are developed collaboratively by people or groups who come at problems from different perspectives," he said. "When you combine perspectives, you may come up with a better solution than you would have with just one."

International links also benefit students.

"Despite the fact that it took me 30 hours to get to Saratov, we're living in a smaller and smaller world," Koropchak said.

"It's important for our students to be aware of and comfortable working in the global environment, whether they're on an exchange program and visiting for a few months or just meeting people from other places and interacting with them. That awareness means they're more likely to be successful in the future."

As a result of the workshop, Yury Chebotarevsky, the rector, or top official, of Saratov State Technical University has expressed interest in visiting Carbondale, Koropchak said.

"That might be a way to get more formal connections with that university and perhaps through his network connections with other universities as well," he said.

In the meantime, Koropchak plans to comb through the material he gathered at the workshop looking for universities that seem to match up well with SIUC's strengths and interests.

"Once I have that information, I will distribute it around campus with the hope that people will start thinking about individual efforts and activities that might be of interest to both," he said.

"While it's important to get the rectors and chancellors on board, getting the faculty and students behind this is the most important step."

Leading in research, scholarly and creative activities is among the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence ThroughCommitment, the blueprint for the development of the University by the time it celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2019.