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Recent students to aid transition in former Soviet bloc
STANFORD -- Many university students who have studied Russia and Eastern Europe would like to help those countries during their chaotic transitions to democracy and capitalism. Now, Stanford University students have that opportunity through a trial internship program that has been created by the Center for Russian and East European Studies.
Funded by a local businessman, three June graduates - Ed Stevens of Coral Springs, Fla.; Jonathan Nighswander of Gilmanton, N.H.; and Daniel Trubow of Stanford - will go to Russia in late summer or early fall to apply their skills in businesses or agencies that have requested hands-on help.
Nighswander will work at Kommersant, the Russian version of the Wall Street Journal. Stevens will work at a former military aviation electronics factory that is partially retooling for consumer production. Trubow's assignment still is being finalized by staff of the Center for Russian and East European Studies, which administers the new program, known as the CREES Enterprise Fellowships.
"Many students were eager to help but they needed a mechanism to do it," said Norman Naimark, director of the center and a professor of history.
Meanwhile, academic, business and government visitors to campus from countries in the former Soviet bloc were pleading for such help, Naimark said. They convinced him that "hands-on, practical day-to- day help is as important, if not more important, than the abstract notion of foreign aid and capital transfers."
When Tom Sege of Varian Associates offered to fund a trial project, the center agreed to take on the task of organizing a matching program for Stanford students and recent graduates.
"I was born in Yugoslavia of Hungarian parents, so I had a natural interest in helping these countries," said Sege of Woodside, Calif.
Sege has made many trips to Eastern Europe and Russia to provide hands-on help himself because "this is the best opportunity we've had in decades to make a significant difference in those countries."
The Enterprise Fellows are likely to have more direct involvement in businesses, local governments and public service institutions than Peace Corps volunteers, who generally serve as trainers to people in the country they are assigned.
"I visualize this program as training by doing," Sege said.
The largest task is matching student talents with needs, said Irina Barnes, assistant director of the center. For now, assignments are being made only in Russia because the center, its faculty and U.S. business contacts have better contacts there than in the rest of the former Soviet bloc, she said.
"We want each student to have a mentor in the United States who is involved in the field that the student will be working in," she said. "The host side is to provide living accommodations - a private room with a family - a useful assignment and a mentor there who can assist the student with any problems that may arise."
Students from throughout the university may apply for assignments, she said. Language skills are important but so are technical skills. In some cases, the host may be able to provide the fellow with an interpreter, she said.
The first three fellows speak Russian but only two are Russian studies majors. Trubow, who this month is receiving a master's degree in engineering management, began studying Russian in 1988 "because I felt Russia was going to convert to capitalism and I wanted to be part of its conversion."
"The main reason I'm going is that I love the language and I love the literature," said Stevens, who has worked in his father's business and has majored in Russian studies here. "I want to be fluent and able to read Russian for the rest of my life without a dictionary."
Nighswander, a June master's graduate in Russian and East European studies, has served as translation editor for Montage magazine, the Stanford- and Moscow-based bilingual Russian-American student journal. He speaks eight languages and worked last summer in Moscow giving seminars on Japanese business practices to Russian managers. Eventually, he said, he hopes to get a full-time job in Russia.
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