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Last modified: Thursday, April 29, 2010

IU-Russian partnership focuses on environmental studies, language

April. 30, 2010

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Indiana University students will learn about global environmental issues and develop their Russian language skills, and IU faculty members will find opportunities for research collaboration with Russian scientists and scholars as part of a partnership agreement signed Thursday (April 29) by IU President Michael A. McRobbie and the leaders of Tyumen State University and Tyumen State Agricultural Academy.

ceremony photo

Photo by Chris Meyer

Indiana University formalized an agreement with two Siberian universities, Tyumen State University and Tyumen State Agricultural Academy, during a signing ceremony at Bryan Hall on the Bloomington campus, April 29, 2010. Present for the signing were (from left) Patrick O'Meara, vice president for international affairs, Nikolay Abramov, rector of Tyumen State Agricultural Academy, IU President Michael McRobbie and Gennady Chebotarev, rector of Tyumen State University.

Print-Quality Photo

The collaborative work performed by scholars at IU, TSU and TSAA is being funded by a three-year, $400,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education's Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE). It is coordinated by IU's School of Public and Environmental Affairs and Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures. Principal investigators are IU Bloomington faculty members Vicky Meretsky, an associate professor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs, and Olena Chernishenko, a lecturer in Slavic Languages and Literatures.

"This is a globally relevant project that has received substantial national recognition through FIPSE," said Patrick O'Meara, IU vice president for international affairs. "It is very much in line with the international perspective that Indiana University is fostering. I find it particularly exciting that the grant brings together different units of the university -- from SPEA to the Russian and East European Institute to the Slavic department -- and that it provides bilateral opportunities for teaching and research."

McRobbie participated in the agreement signing along with Gennady Chebotarev and Nikolay Abramov, presidents of TSU and TSAA, respectively, and Andrey Tolstikov, director of international programs and vice dean for research biology at TSU.

The partnership will enable IU to develop new distance-education and environmental-science courses, encourage the study of Russian language, provide new study abroad and internship opportunities for students, and establish long-term relationships with institutions of higher education in Tyumen, a city of 600,000 in western Siberia.

The ultimate goal is for faculty and students from both countries to gain a deeper knowledge and fuller appreciation of Russian and U.S. environmental problems, an example of a global issue deeply rooted in political, cultural, economic, sociological and even linguistic contexts.

"It's an opportunity to do serious science," Meretsky said. "Increasingly, the scientific community is a global community. It makes sense for Indiana University to prepare our students to work in this way."

The IU grant application had the highest score of 24 applications for funding from the FIPSE U.S.-Russia program. Projects were also funded at George Washington University and the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Features of the Indiana University project include:

  • A new six-week course "Global Environmental Problems and Solutions," taught in collaboration with TSU and TSAA faculty. The use of distance-ed technology allows students from multiple IU campuses, TSU, and TSAA to participate in the course simultaneously.
  • Intensive Russian language courses for beginning and advanced students with a focus on environmental science terminology and language functionality in university departments, research institutions and field stations. The use of distance-ed technology allows students from multiple IU campuses to participate in the courses simultaneously.
  • A two-week field experience course in western Siberia that includes visits to various nature sites, oil remediation fields, fisheries, limnological research sites as well as cultural sites. The grant provides full support for 10 IU students each summer. Russian faculty and students will make a similar trip to Indiana, hosted by IU.
  • Funded summer internships for IU students in the Tyumen region with Lukoil and British Petroleum. TSU volunteered to be a continuous host for IU student interns after the completion of the three-year grant period.
  • Opportunities for IU environmental scientists to travel to western Siberia, establish research projects in the Tyumen region and initiate collaborations with TSU and TSAA faculty.
  • Scholars from TSU and TSAA will come to SPEA on a year-long academic exchange and engage in collaborative research. This exchange is being partially subsidized by SPEA over the next five years.
  • Creation of an online Russian-English-Russian dictionary of environmental-science terminology.
  • The development of innovative tools in "intelligent computer-assisted language learning," or ICAL. The IU Slavic Department and computational linguistics team are one of the only two groups in the U.S. developing ICAL tools for the Russian language.

The grant project, including the summer study-abroad, will go on through 2012. However, some aspects of the project, including faculty research collaboration, ICAL research and development, and student internships, are expected to continue beyond the duration of the grant. The signing of the partnership will facilitate future collaborative work between IU, TSU and TSAA.

Indiana University has a long history of offering instruction in Russian language and culture through the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures and the Russian and East European Institute, which was established in 1958 and is one of nine federally funded Title VI resource centers at IU.