Piloting Dialogues With Students in St. Petersburg

Global Programs travel grant allows World in Conversation faculty to explore partnerships in Russia over spring break.
Published: Mar 16, 2018
Piloting Dialogues With Students in St. Petersburg

Richards and Mulvey standing by the statue of Peter the Great while visiting the Peter the Great St. Petersburg Polytechnic University

While many of their students spent spring break enjoying the warmth of Florida or various Caribbean islands, Laurie Mulvey, executive director of the World in Conversation Center for Public Diplomacy, and Sam Richards, teaching professor of sociology, found themselves “enjoying” the sub-zero temperatures of St. Petersburg, Russia.

The weather turned out to be the only coldness that they experienced, however. "We were struck by the graciousness and the warmth of not only our Russian colleagues, but everyone we met," Richards says.

Mulvey and Richards received a multi-year travel grant from the Penn State Office of Global Programs to help World in Conversation establish new dialogue partnerships for Penn State students with higher education institutions in other countries.  Russia was the first country to which they traveled to establish those partnerships.

Mulvey and Richards first visited the National Research University School of Social Sciences and Humanities, where they delivered a talk titled, "Race Relations in Trump's America" to faculty, staff and students at the Higher School of Economics (HSE). "It was fascinating to discuss these issues with other sociologists who are viewing the same data from the vantage point of another culture,” Mulvey says. “It reminded me that there is truly no substitute for academic colleagues meeting to discuss the complexities of research."

In addition, Richards and Mulvey found their HSE colleagues who focus on teaching to be especially interested in having their students participate in World in Conversation dialogues.

Two days later, they had the opportunity to speak with students in a class taught by Olga Kosterina, professor of linguistics and English at the Peter the Great St. Petersburg Polytechnic University. "By the time we had this conversation, we had spent three days observing the culture and had many more nuanced questions for students,” Richards says. “It was a fun and fascinating conversation, and I can't wait for our students to hear what their Russian counterparts think about politics and gun control and minority-majority relations."

While at Polytechnic, they met with Yury Klochkov, professor of economics and management and director of the Monitoring Center for Science and Education at St. Petersburg Polytechnic University, to discuss the possibility of offering facilitator training to students in his program.

Mulvey and Richards wrapped up the week at Smolny College at St. Petersburg State University, where they spoke with Pavel Kononenko's class about the differences between nationalism and racism. Several American students who were studying abroad in St. Petersburg attended the lecture, which Mulvey says resulted in "a fascinating cross-national discussion that will turn into a new dialogue initiative between Smolny and World in Conversation in the coming academic year."

The Global Programs travel grant provides a strong connection between two Penn State units that share a common purpose to link students with the rest of the world. The World in Conversation team believes a collaborative approach can most effectively build viable global connections that truly transform its students without falling on the shoulders of a single program, department, or college. In an environment that strives for “global engagement” co-curricular programming that leverages cross-national and cross-cultural exchanges is essential.

"We are already arranging pilot dialogues with our Russian colleagues," says Mulvey. "We are sure that American and Russian students can learn a lot from each other. Certainly there is great interest on the part of the Russian students as every student with whom we spoke wanted to talk to Americans."

Vlad Likholetev, global collaborations manager for the Office of Global Programs, made the initial suggestion to Richards and Mulvey to explore the possibility of making connections in Russia. "After visiting the Center and learning about our work, Vlad reached out to a colleague in St. Petersburg and helped us establish that first connection,” Richards says. “He used to live in St. Petersburg and guaranteed us that the Center would benefit greatly from this connection. Laurie and I are certain that Penn State students will agree.”

To learn more about travel grants and other services offered via the Office of Global Programs, visit global.psu.edu.  To learn more about World in Conversation, visit www.worldinconversation.org.

Article posted from PSU News