Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Fascinating Visit to KSE (Kyiv School of Economics) in Ukraine as an International Academic Board Member

Over a year ago I was invited to serve on the International Academic Board of the Kyiv School of Economics (KSE) in Ukraine. I accepted this appointment enthusiastically since I believe that it is important to help to support education in economics and business in this unique country. Plus, it was a big honor to be appointed to this board, which includes faculty from the US, Canada, and Europe.
It was extra special to see Professor Larry Samuelson of Yale University on the board since both of us had a magical time as Visiting Fellows at All Souls College at Oxford University in 2016. Also, the Nobel laureate in Economics, Professor Roger Myerson of the University of Chicago, is also a member of the International Academic Board of KSE.

Last year, I Skyped into the board meeting, but, this year, I was determined to make my way to Kyiv. As another board member - Professor Charlie Becker of Duke University told me - it is very important to have one's physical presence there to offer insights, to take part in discussions, and to meet with students, faculty, and staff.

Now this was a bit of a logistical challenge, since the meetings were over the weekend and I teach Thursdays and Tuesdays and did not want to miss a class. So, last Thursday morning I taught my Transportation and Logistics class at the Isenberg School and then headed to Boston Logan airport for a Delta flight to Amsterdam and then onwards to Kyiv via KLM (I had hoped). Well, while we were still on the tarmac at Logan, a part of the engine arrived and was assembled and my window seatmate could see this being done. Two engine checks were successful, so off we went on a "maiden" voyage, with a delay (and I had a short connection). So, despite the cheery crew telling us all that we would make our connections since "it only takes 5 minutes to disembark the plane," when we landed, we had to deplane via the stairs and then got bussed. I missed my KLM flight to Kyiv, despite running to the gate, and spent almost 5 hours in the Amsterdam Schiphol airport (which, luckily, is one of my favorites). I managed to get a flight to Kyiv on Ukraine Air, which I had flown on a while back from Kyiv to Simferopol in Crimea and back (quite the adventure, I must say, and I had blogged about that conference in Yalta).

The International Academic Board meeting took place all day Saturday at KSE in Kyiv and I was also welcomed to take part in the Board of Directors meeting all day on Sunday.
I would walk with Dr. Becker and Dr. Rick Ericson from the IBIS hotel to KSE each morning and it was fascinating to see the buildings, landscape, shops, infrastructure, and signs in Ukrainian.
In the photo below, another board member, Dr. Torbjorn Becker of Sweden, is in the background, in front of KSE and the car.
I was very impressed by the students, who have matriculated into the various Master's programs at KSE, and I had the pleasure of meeting entrepreneurs and even a medical doctor and a former minister of the Ukrainian Parliament! Their English was outstanding and I learned that children begin learning English in Ukraine in elementary school.

It was so special to meet the very motivated faculty, who are pushing for reforms and educating this generation. Moreover, I was absolutely delighted to hear that a colleague of mine at UMass Amherst, economics professor Dr. Ina Ganguli, had had a Fulbright at KSE in 2003, so we took a group photo of faculty who know her, which I forwarded to her. Her husband, Dr. Bogdan Prokopovych, is from Kyiv and is a fellow faculty member of mine at the Isenberg School.
 There was even KSE "swag" on display.
The Management Team at KSE has many females and I was very impressed by the number of female students that we got a chance to meet. The research being conducted there is very innovative and has immense potential given the tech talents of many individuals as well as the natural resources that Ukraine has.

We had wonderful coffee breaks and meals and, after a very fulfilling and busy Saturday, we took part in a dinner cruise (with dancing) on the Dnipro River, which was a KSE alumni event. I met alums who now work in major consulting companies, the government, the energy sector, etc. - very impressive! It was extra special to have Dr. Timofiy Mylanov at this and other events. He is the Honorary President of KSE and was recently appointed the Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Agriculture of Ukraine! Amazingly, he is also an Economics Professor at the University of Pittsburgh (on leave).
The bridge in the photo above is over the Dnipro River and the light show was magnificent!

The beauty of Kyiv is spectacular and I managed to fit in a few walks to take in a number of sights.
I might add that the food was delicious at the hotel and at the various KSE events and I got a chance to have some borshcht but passed on the stuffed cabbage at the breakfast buffet.
I was delighted that I got asked for directions multiple times in both Ukrainian and in Russian. Ukrainian is my first language (I was born in Canada) and I have a degree from Brown University in Russian Language and Literature (as well as multiple degrees in Applied Math, specializing in Operations Research). My PhD dissertation was half on transportation and half on spatial economics.

Kyiv is quite a green city and I enjoyed the botanical gardens.
I purchased chocolates to bring back to my students, relatives, and friends, and, I must admit that the chocolates made in the factory of the former President of Ukraine, Poroshenko, are fabulous!

I made my flight from Kyiv to Amsterdam on Monday afternoon and then made it to Boston, also on KLM. Bright and early on Tuesday morning, I taught my Transportation and Logistics class. My students at the Isenberg School of Management were very interested to hear about my experiences in Ukraine, a country certainly in the news lately. And they devoured the box of chocolates below that I had brought back just for them.
I look forward to working with the faculty of KSE and its International Academic Board in order to further the success of its programs, faculty, and students. Reform is challenging but, if done right, will be transformative.