A Call for Engagement with Ukrainian Faculty and Students

January 10, 2023


James Leonhardt

James Leonhardt, Phil and Jennifer Satre Professor of Marketing and Associate Professor of Marketing in the College of Business at the University of Nevada, Reno

Iryna Degtyarova

Iryna Degtyarova, Rector’s Plenipotentiary for Cooperation with Ukrainian Universities at the SGH Warsaw School of Economics (Poland)

Mehmet Tosun headshot

Mehmet Tosun, Director of the Ozmen Center for Entrepreneurship, Director of International Programs, Professor of Economics, and Barbara Smith Campbell Distinguished Professor of Nevada Tax Policy in the College of Business at the University of Nevada, Reno

To bring you, the reader, into the conversations we’ve recently had with academics and representatives of Ukrainian higher education, we present a two-part blog series highlighting the key questions and answers covered during our recent meetings in Warsaw, Poland. These meetings occurred thanks to our extensive partnership with the SGH Warsaw School of Economics. Our partnership with SGH started with a cooperation agreement signed in 2017 during an official trade and education mission headed by President Brian Sandoval, who was Nevada Governor at the time. We renewed our agreement with SGH in 2022, which included a new student exchange agreement.

During the meetings in Warsaw, our focus was not on military strategy, politics or economics. Instead, our focus was on gaining some understanding of the challenges facing Ukrainian students and faculty, who, despite the ongoing conflict, have persisted in their educational pursuits. A key takeaway from these conversations was the need to increase awareness among US faculty and administrators of the needs of Ukrainian faculty and students and, importantly, to highlight ways in which we can support Ukrainian faculty and students.

In this first article, we detail our conversation with Dr. Iryna Degtyarova, the Rector’s Plenipotentiary for Cooperation with Ukrainian Universities at the SGH Warsaw School of Economics. We first met Dr. Degtyarova at the SGH campus on October 28, 2022, while Dr. James Leonhardt was on his sabbatical visit to SGH and Dr. Mehmet Tosun was visiting Warsaw for a conference and other meetings. As a Ukrainian now working at the SGH Warsaw School of Economics, Dr. Iryna Degtyarova provides us with the needed background and insight on how we can help students and faculty in Ukraine through our valuable partnership with SGH.

For our readers, please describe your current position.

Dr. Iryna Degtyarova: “I am a Rector’s Plenipotentiary for Cooperation with Ukrainian Universities in SGH Warsaw School of Economics, a very close partner university to the University of Nevada. It’s a new position focused on developing more systemic and long-term cooperation with Ukrainian higher education institutions to enhance our existing and future partnerships with the Ukrainian academic community. My academic background is actually public policy in education, in particular in higher education, higher education governance, and comparative studies in higher education in Ukraine and Poland, and I am Ukrainian, so I have broad expertise to do that.”

How has the war impacted education at your university? How are faculty and students adjusting to the changes? What have been the most significant challenges?

Dr. Iryna Degtyarova: “I will not present the perspective of the Ukrainian University, but a Polish one, my university SGH. But this question can be asked everywhere, especially in Poland. The day when Russia brutally attacked Ukraine, that morning of February 24,  2022, has changed our lives here, too. First, the Polish academic community and also the Rectors Conference CRASP jointly issued a Statement condemning aggression and expressing solidarity with Ukraine, and our Rector issued a Statement and sent letters of support to our partner universities in Ukraine offering any support. The SGH academic community immediately launched several support and humanitarian actions, including driving to the Polish-Ukrainian border and taking Ukrainian refugees, mostly women with children, and providing shelter, food, and all kinds of social and humanitarian support for them. This was, and it still is our mission, and the mission of universities around the globe to be responsible members of the community and make this important societal contribution. In total, SGH has hosted around 300 Ukrainian people, and around 50 are still living in our dormitories. A big role here belongs to the administration of the University and the Rector and Chancellor! What’s also important is that the University supported the students and staff of Ukrainian origin because this war impacts all Ukrainians; it doesn’t matter where they live.”

“Next, we have also been acting within two other missions – educational and research missions supporting the Ukrainian academic community by providing possibilities to continue studies or research but on a temporary basis, with full respect to the preservation of the intellectual capital of Ukraine and preventing brain drain. And you know we also have our own war loss. Our first-year student Oleksiy Morklyanyk, from Ukraine, was killed on the 1st of March when trying to flee Kyiv. We are joining in grief with all Ukrainian academia that lost a number of students and teachers. But to finish with something positive, I should say that since February, SGH has intensified our cooperation with Ukrainian universities, establishing new partnerships, like with Vasyl Stus Donetsk National University and Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, starting new research groups and projects, e.g. Students Research Group on Recovery of Ukraine, that gathers mostly SGH students of Ukrainian origin, they are working on the report on a post-war recovery of Ukraine, and this is also unique. I don’t know any other student groups presenting such an analysis. SGH students have been doing that.”

Why is it essential for students (e.g., intellectually and emotionally) to ensure the continuation of higher education in Ukraine during this war?

Dr. Iryna Degtyarova: “From my observations here in Poland, students, doctoral candidates, and professors fleeing the war by coming to Poland were trying to renew their academic life as soon as possible. In addition, students want to belong to the community, to be together, and feel support from their university. Even when they continue studying in their home institutions in Ukraine, they want to join some university here, in Poland, or in other countries. This is interesting because it’s not actually about education or knowledge. It is bigger. I think they see universities as a place for their integration into a new environment, for ensuring their social security and mental support from their peers, and for additional financial support from the system. So indeed, they do need this both intellectually and emotionally, and also from a social and humanitarian perspective.”

What are the most prominent challenges to ensuring the continuation of higher education in Ukraine? What are some specific needs of faculty and students?

Dr. Iryna Degtyarova: “We should differentiate the needs of individual faculty or students and the needs of the universities. In my mind, the global academic community should try to help in both directions, not just by providing scholarships for individuals. SGH receives information about the needs of our partner universities, and at this moment, they are mostly about humanitarian support. Because of the Russian attacks on critical infrastructure, there’s a need for generators, charging stations, accumulators, and other equipment that can support university operations during the winter. Academic support is also in high demand, e.g. mobility programs and (short, medium, or long-term) joint research projects that can potentially involve more than one person.”

How can faculty from the USA help students and faculty in Ukraine? How should interested faculty initiate contact with you?

Dr. Iryna Degtyarova: “All my colleagues realize that it is possible and important, and we can join our efforts together with the SGH Warsaw School of Economics. For humanitarian support, from time to time, we organize fundraising campaigns for different purposes, which we could also share with you. I see the possibility of organizing more training programs, e.g. training for trainers’ programs, especially for the faculty and students in the universities of economics or at the university departments of economics, to provide scientific advice for doctoral candidates (e.g., as a co-supervisor in a cotutelle program). You can share your expertise with us. If you are interested in any kind of contribution, you may contact me. We have partner universities in Ukraine, and we also collaborate with other organizations, which can help match or organize some activities together. I believe more collaborative projects are needed, and together we can do a lot. My contact email address is idegty@sgh.waw.pl, and you may also contact Professor Paweł Pietrasieński, who is the Rector’s Plenipotentiary for Cooperation with the State of Nevada.”

In closing, this conversation with Dr. Iryna Degtyarova shows that despite the ubiquity of media coverage of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, we often fail to see the human stories behind it. It encourages us to shift some of our attention from geopolitics and macroeconomic forecasts to the more concrete and personable task of engaging with Ukrainian faculty and students living through this war. An important takeaway from this conversation and our conversation with Dr. Tetyana Oriekhova and Dr. Yuliia Honcharova in our upcoming article, “Supporting Higher Education in Ukraine: A Conversation with Ukrainian University Deans,” is that we can help by simply engaging with Ukrainian faculty and students online. For example, based on the needs of a given class, there are opportunities for University faculty to hold virtual guest lectures, Q&A sessions, and class discussions between University students and students from Ukraine. We should also note that the College of Business and the SGH Warsaw School of Economics will be working together to find other ways to support higher education institutions in Ukraine.

In addition to the above contacts, faculty or business leaders can also contact Mehmet Tosun or James Leonhardt with any related questions or to suggest a topic you would like to share virtually or teach to Ukrainian faculty and students.