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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Q&A: Allen goes to Russia for fellows program

James Allen, president of the Associated Students of the University of Arizona, went to Russia for a week as part of the Kremlin Fellows Program. The program, fully funded by the Russian government, was formed to improve Russian-U.S. relations since their relative stagnation after the Cold War.

Daily Wildcat: How was your trip to Russia, and why did you choose to attend?

Allen: This past week I had an amazing opportunity to represent our university on an international level and to absorb as much information as possible. The Ministry of Youth Affairs, within the jurisdiction of the Russian federation government, began a program one year ago called the Kremlin Fellows program.

The program aims to break stereotypes, network, share information and ultimately learn as much as possible to bring back to the United States and ensure increased collaboration between our countries. This information ranges from business and government partnerships to developing communication between Russian and American students while promoting our universities.

We met with three separate universities in Moscow with students at the very top of their classes and discussed the future of the U.S.-Russia relationship, the problems to overcome and the opportunities for successful teamwork. On top of meeting these amazing young individuals, we also met with high-ranking Russian officials. The ability to have discussions with these individuals and to promote our university through this type of visibility was an incredible opportunity.

What was the application process to become a Kremlin Fellow like?

The application process was spread over the course of the beginning of the first semester. It solicited a record of my campus involvement, work experience and various other professional and personal details, and then incorporated an essay component about why my university and I should be selected. The application was distributed to student body presidents across the nation and out of about 100 applicants, 15 were selected.

What did you learn from this trip, and how were you able to collaborate with others to gain ideas?

This trip was honestly an incredible learning and networking opportunity, and will definitely influence my ability to perform my duties as president in many positive ways. Not only have I built extremely strong relationships with my peers from fellow U.S. colleges, but I also had the opportunity to build relationships with brilliant young Russian professionals.

One exciting concept and follow-up project that I intend to pursue involves engaging with the Skolkovo Foundation, which is an unparalleled and unprecedented venture pioneered by the Russian government and business elite to create an extremely advanced technical university with long term plans to develop a Russian version of the Silicon Valley around this institution. It has a partnered contract with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to ensure extremely high quality and curriculum. The program is targeted on entrepreneurship and opening a business upon graduation using a multitude of funds provided by the foundation financing the project. More importantly, this foundation is simply focused on business creation and innovation, both inside and outside of Russia, and thus project funding is available to international individuals of every country. An extreme theme from this week has been entrepreneurship, and this Skolkovo project is the pinnacle of that philosophy. I intend to connect our students with this foundation and its resources to expand opportunities for our students and to increase the visibility and prestige that can come from such brilliant international relations.

I have also begun conversations with the attending student presidents from the west coast and Pac-12 regarding the creation of a student government conference where we can collaborate and draw the very best ideas from each other’s institutions for implementation at our own universities. We also discussed national collaboration regarding topics that affect students in general, such as Pell Grant funding and financial aid, as well as movements that can affect students such as the Occupy Wall Street movement. This trip has been filled with potential for tangible takeaways, and established and reinforced the UA as a leader that is substantively contributing on both a national and international level.

Did you meet important players in the Russian community? If so, who, and what did you discuss with them?

Yes, our meetings with politicians and Russian business elite consumed the majority of our time here. We met with the U.S. ambassador to Russia, John Beyrle, the Russian Legislature called the Duma and Senate, including the chairman from each respective house, the Russian Minister of Justice, the executive director and staff of the Skolkovo Foundation and most impressively Vladislav Surkov, known as the master “puppeteer” of Russian politics.

Each meeting began with the host giving a quick speech about the current state of Russian affairs in their area from their perspective, then we were permitted to ask any questions we wanted. Questions ranged from “How can we create tangible collaborations?” to “How do you intend to deal with the fact that Russia rates extremely high in the world for political corruption?” No questions were denied or ignored and the most curious, specific and controversial questions were encouraged. It was like getting a first class lens with which to view the Russian system and the state of U.S. international relations. The majority of these meetings existed for the purpose of expanding our knowledge of Russia and for expanding opportunities for collaboration with future leaders; this falls directly in line with the exact purpose of the Kremlin Fellows program.

How will your attendance in this program benefit the UA community?

First and most broadly, I believe the program is beneficial for our university because it garners international attention for our institution and increases our overall clout and relevance in comparison to our peers. In this program, and amongst those that selected the candidates, we are classified alongside Ivy League institutions because of our association, and that is good visibility for the UA.

The trip to Russia was something I personally found fascinating and am extremely grateful for, and because it was a very busy week, there is a lot of food for thought to take home. I know that the relationships and connections and I made here will benefit the UA, and I intend to actively connect UA students with as many of the things I learned as possible, such as Skolkovo. I also intend to connect my cabinet and senate with their peers at other large, successful universities so that we can improve national collaboration, learn more and thereby do our job better for our students. ASUA has been hard at work this semester and I intend to show my constituents the validity of this statement — this program being just one piece.

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