September 26, 2008

UPG Opens World to New Ideas

By Jennifer Reeger

A visit by Ukrainian education leaders Wednesday to the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg could lead to a future exchange of students and research.

The visitors came to learn about the U.S. education system through the Open World Program, a Library of Congress project that brings leaders from post-Soviet states to the United States to enhance understanding and enable cooperation between nations.

They came to Pitt-Greensburg to learn about the campus' emerging education major and its international program.

The relationship might continue beyond this visit.

Group facilitator and educator Iryna Smorodinova hopes to expand a student exchange program and a research partnership beyond Europe to America.

That intrigued Pitt-Greensburg President Sharon Smith, who said the campus has about 11 international students.

"We are actually very interested in expanding the number of students who come from abroad," Smith told the group.

The Ukrainians are making several stops during their trip, which ends Saturday. Visits to Shadyside Academy, the Pittsburgh City Charter High School, Norwin High School and Irwin Rotary are on the agenda.

The delegates included school principals, superintendents and government education officials.

"Hopefully, they can take some knowledge they learn here back to their own communities and apply it," said Vitaly Penkovsky, president of the Irwin-based American Institute of Finance and Technology, who served as the host and translator for the group.

The Ukrainian education leaders certainly had many questions for Smith during the visit.

What are the qualifications students bring to college in America? How many years do they attend? How do internships work? Are scholarships offered?

Smith told the visitors the university is putting the finishing touches on a new education major that will allow students to earn teaching degrees from Pitt-Greensburg rather than finishing classes at another school.

The program will emphasize teaching science, math, engineering and technology.

"We realize this is a crisis in students needing to understand these areas," Smith said. "We want to be training the future math and science teachers in the middle schools and high schools of the region."

She explained internships and SATs. She also explained a new concept at the campus -- speed interviewing -- where students quickly rotate among faculty and business leaders to hone job interviewing skills.

Smith found common ground with the Ukrainians there.

"They say they are already doing this, too," Penkovsky said, translating for the delegates.

Orest Eduardovych Bonk, a superintendent representing 100 schools and 10,000 students, presented gifts to Smith, including a Ukrainian flag and a wooden replica of a club with spikes that was the symbol of power of the country's leaders in early days.

"Oh, I can use this," Smith said with a laugh.

"You can use it if students misbehave," Bonk said through a translator.

"I appreciate what a small world this is and hope the friendship we offer here can continue forward," Smith said.

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