Fulbright Leads to Academic Agreement with Russian University

By Daniel Perez

UTEP News Service

Like a modern-day Johnny Appleseed, UTEP’s Mourat Tchoshanov, Sc.D., spent part of his fall 2010 Fulbright fellowship planting ideas of research collaborations and academic exchanges between his employer and his host, Kazan Federal University in Tatarstan, Russia.

Tchoshanov, professor of teacher education and mathematical sciences, returned to KFU last October to offer a keynote address during a celebration of his alma mater’s 200th anniversary of teacher preparation. At the same time, he continued to promote UTEP’s dedication to student and faculty development, and its efforts to become a national research institution.UTEP President Diana Natalicio, center, celebrates the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with Russia’s Kazan Federal University representatives Vladislav Vinogradov, Ph.D., vice president of the Institute of Pedagogy and Psychology, left, and Leonid Popov, Ph.D., professor of educational psychology, during a ceremony in December 2012..UTEP President Diana Natalicio, center, celebrates the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with Russia’s Kazan Federal University representatives Vladislav Vinogradov, Ph.D., vice president of the Institute of Pedagogy and Psychology, left, and Leonid Popov, Ph.D., professor of educational psychology, during a ceremony in December 2012.

As a result, Kazan officials began discussions with their counterparts at The University of Texas at El Paso to create an institutional partnership. Those talks culminated a few weeks ago when UTEP President Diana Natalicio signed a Memorandum of Understanding with KFU, one of Russia’s oldest and most well-respected institutions with 21 colleges and a student population of around 50,000.

“This was fruit from the Fulbright,” said Tchoshanov, who earned his graduate degrees from Kazan State Pedagogical University, which was integrated into KFU in 2010. “It took them two years to do their homework.”

The Russian government recently distributed almost $2 billion among 11 of its federal universities to enhance their long-term, research-driven international partnerships. KFU has established 90 MOUs with universities in 30 countries around the world.

Tchoshanov said KFU officials told him their goal is to raise its instruction capabilities and establish the kinds of labs that would entice leading international researchers to want to work with them and, by doing so, enhance the university’s prestige internationally.

The education professor played host to two KFU representatives who visited UTEP in early December. Vladislav Vinogradov, Ph.D., vice president of the Institute of Pedagogy and Psychology, and Leonid Popov, Ph.D., professor of educational psychology, spent several days at the University learning about online education, faculty support and the College of Education’s research-heavy Teaching, Learning and Culture doctoral program. They said the UTEP staff, students and faculty they spoke with projected a sense of trust, reciprocity, responsibility and a love for the University.

The visitors also were interested in the factors behind UTEP’s #12 ranking in the 2012 Washington Monthly magazine that listed universities that provide students with opportunities for social mobility, research production, and community service while being cost-effective in degree completion.

Popov and Vinogradov invited President Natalicio to visit their campus during the MOU signing. The president said she looked forward to the opportunity to tour KFU.

“This latest international partnership, between UTEP and the Kazan Federal University in Russia, offers an opportunity for expanded research collaborations in science and mathematics as well as academic and cultural exchanges among faculty and students at both institutions,” President Natalicio said. 

KFU, founded in 1804, has its share of distinguished alumni, including writer Leo Tolstoy and politician Vladimir Lenin, and such accomplished faculty as Nikolai Lobachevsky, the father of non-Euclidian geometry, and Alexander Butlerov, founder of the field of organic chemistry.

Vinogradov said Russia’s education system stagnated in the 1990s and that institutions such as KFU need more international collaboration, especially with U.S. universities, to get back on track. While the institutions lagged as a whole, there were pockets of individual achievements.

“Research at (Kazan) has achieved advanced theoretical and applied results in the fields of mathematics and chemistry, to name a few, that may be interesting for foreign partners,” Vinogradov said. “Therefore, cooperation could be mutually beneficial.”

Since the signing, both sides have discussed specific collaboration opportunities including collaborative research in teacher education, pedagogy and methodology, and workshops and seminars that would benefit both institutions. Among the UTEP personnel attempting to implement ideas is Cesar Rossatto, Ph.D., associate professor of teacher education. He is interested in organizing a Russian conference in Brazil along with other universities there that have an MOU with UTEP.

“Part of my multicultural research involves not only getting to know our own culture, but everyone else's,” he wrote in an email from Brazil where he was making a presentation. Rossatto said the United States, Brazil and Russia can share the necessary academic resources to take on 21st century challenges. “Today we need to be citizens of the world as what happens in one country affects us all.”

UTEP doctoral student Maria D. Cruz Quiñones said she hoped to take her research in mathematics education to Russia to create a comparative study with the data she already has collected in the United States and Mexico. She and Tchoshanov are researching Russian teacher preparation programs that she planned to use in her dissertation.

“I am going to be able to establish networks with other countries, and the networks will lead to richer research in my field,” the Juárez resident said. “This (MOU) agreement is of great relevance to me.”