Three Rivers professor headed to Russia on Fulbright award

Norwich — Having received a Fulbright International Education Administrators Seminar award, a Three Rivers Community College engineering professor is heading to Russia for two weeks to exchange information on higher education models.

Mark Vesligaj will be traveling to St. Petersburg, Moscow and Tver with faculty and staff from four other institutions around the country. Russia does not have a community college system; Vesligaj is interested in learning how the country serves the kind of population that benefits from community colleges in the U.S., and what other models exist.

The Fulbright Scholar Program, part of the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, lists Russia, India, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, France and Germany as the participating countries for the International Education Administrators program.

Vesligaj said he applied to the Russia program because it was the only one with a community college element, and he commended Fulbright on this inclusion.

"Community colleges, by and large, are overlooked and underappreciated," he said in an interview with The Day at Three Rivers on Wednesday. He added that it's an "in-between system" serving students who "are typically first-generation, underrepresented, underfunded."

Vesligaj said that Three Rivers President Mary Ellen Jukoski directed him toward the Fulbright program because she knew of his interest and prior work in overseas higher education.

For a four-year period ending this past summer, Vesligaj served as international program reviewer in Ireland. He would do work in the U.S. throughout the year and then take a two-week trip to Ireland at the end of the term, typically in June.

Vesligaj applied for the Fulbright program in October, was notified he was a finalist in December and learned of the award in late January. He and the other four awardees will be in Russia from March 29 to April 15.

The others are the director of international student services at Portland Community College in Oregon, assistant dean of humanities and social sciences at Northampton Community College in Pennsylvania, senior vice president for academic affairs at Montgomery Community College in Maryland, and associate dean of general studies and academic support at Davidson County Community College in North Carolina.

Vesligaj didn't know the others but has been communicating with them since the announcement, and they still are working out their itinerary. They have different goals for the trip.

Vesligaj is looking forward to sharing Three Rivers' manufacturing workforce development model, and exploring the idea of hosting a Fulbright scholar from Russia or sending people from Three Rivers there.

Allison Blizzard of Portland Community College is looking to expand her school's international footprint, Vesligaj said. He noted that Sanjay Rai from Montgomery Community College has experience in the community college realm in India.

After a decade working as an engineer in the private sector, Vesligaj began teaching at Quinebaug Valley Community College in 2004 and transferred to Three Rivers in 2016. He teaches introduction to engineering, engineering statics, dynamics, thermodynamics and materials science.

He also serves as campus director for both the Connecticut Advanced Manufacturing Council and the NASA CT Space Grant Consortium.


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