Phi Theta Kappa Foundation Trustee, Fulbright Scholar Travels to Russia

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JACKSON, MS - Dr. E. Ann McGee, President of Seminole State College in Florida and a member of the Phi Theta Kappa Foundation Board of Trustees, received a 2012 Fulbright Community College Administrator Seminar Program Award that recently took her to Russia for meetings with higher education administrators to determine opportunities for partnerships with U.S. community colleges.

The Fulbright Office and the U.S. State Department selected five community college administrators from geographically diverse areas of the U.S. (California, Massachusetts, Maryland, Hawaii and Florida) for travel to Russia April 4-18 to meet with selected public and private colleges university presidents and rectors.

Dr. E. Ann McGee with Russian college president Victor Demin.

Dr. E. Ann McGee visits with Victor Demin, President of Optical-Electronic College in Moscow

"Our focus was to meet with Russian higher education administrators to discuss educational reforms taking place in Russia and determine if there were opportunities for partnerships with our own institutions," Dr. McGee said.

The series of meetings began in Moscow, and then extended to institutions located in the areas around Moscow, and to Rostov-on-Don, in southern Russia. After several days in Rostov, the Fulbright Commission sent members of the delegation to five different regions in Russia. 

"I traveled 10 hours by train to Voronezh, a town which was 95% destroyed in World War II, including their colleges and universities. Following five days in Voronezh, we all returned to Moscow to share our experiences and debrief with the U.S. Embassy staff," she said. "Our last evening was spent at a private reception at the U.S. Ambassador's residence and a concert by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra."

Dr. McGee said the group didn't advise the Russians on how to establish a community college system, but did learn more about what they are facing as they deal with a declining birth rate, the need to consolidate their colleges, and their desire to provide more workforce-based training. 

"We visited a variety of public and private colleges and universities throughout Russia," she said. "From the discussions that took place, I would expect that there will be Memorandums of Understanding that will be instituted between the five colleges we represented and a variety of Russian institutions."

The group had several opportunities to interact with both Russian students and international students from China, Africa, and a variety of other countries. "What we observed is that students are students the world over," Dr. McGee added. "They look the same and have the same concerns -- how to pay for their education, how to master the language, and what they will do after graduation."

The visiting delegation learned that the total cost for a year of study in Russia -- including room and board -- is only $4,000.  "While that seems incredibly inexpensive, please keep in mind that their salaries and standard of living do not approach what we enjoy in the United States," she said. "There are scholarships for high achieving students.  But, unfortunately, financial aid is not available for them to study in the United States, which many of them expressed a desire to do."

Dr. McGee said the next step in this process will be to connect faculty at her college with specific opportunities for international partnerships in areas such as information technology, digital media, construction and engineering/architectural science via teleconferencing. "From there, it may be possible to establish an exchange program involving our faculty and students for short periods of time, she said. "I am encouraging our faculty and staff to investigate the opportunities available through the Fulbright program and to apply for a Fulbright Scholarship, whether it is in Russia or another country in which they have an interest." 

While working in Russia Dr. McGee also took some time to see the sights – including St. Petersburg, where she saw the Hermitage and various art collections. "All the cities were incredibly memorable, but I found it was the Russian people who made each location an amazing experience," she said, explaining that while in Voronezh, she was invited to a barbeque in the woods.  "Evidently, this is what middle class Russians do on the weekends -- they take small barbeque grills to the woods, sit on logs around a fire, listen to the trains pass by, and watch the setting of the sun while enjoying a very simple, but  delicious dinner," Dr. McGee explained."Arriving back at the hotel that night, it was nearly midnight and the Russian Orthodox Easter was due to begin. The hotel staff had placed Easter cakes in my hotel room and the bells began to chime exactly at midnight, followed by fireworks. It was amazing!"

Sponsored by the United States Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the Fulbright Program provides funding for students, scholars, teachers, and professionals to undertake graduate study, advanced research, university teaching, and teaching in elementary and secondary schools.

The Fulbright Scholar Program promotes linkages between U.S. academics and professionals and their counterparts at host institutions overseas. The program is designed to award grants to qualified U.S. faculty and professionals to engage in short, medium and long-term projects at host institutions in over 150 countries worldwide. For more information on programs offered by Fulbright, visit their website at http://www.iie.org/fulbright.

Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, headquartered in Jackson, Mississippi, is the largest honor society in American higher education with 1,280 chapters on college campuses in all 50 of the United States, Canada, Germany, the Republic of Palau, Peru, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, the British Virgin Islands, the United Arab Emirates and U.S. territorial possessions. More than 2.5 million students have been inducted since its founding in 1918, with approximately 100,000 students inducted annually.