For the past five months, the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) has hosted six professors from Ukraine through the Faculty Exchange Program (FEP), a program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS).
Through the collaboration of CFAES’ Office of International Programs in Agriculture and the Department of Agricultural, Environmental, and Development Economics (AEDE), The Ohio State University has participated in the program intermittently since the early 2000’s by training agricultural economics instructors from Ukraine and other Eastern European countries to improve their practical understanding of curriculum development, teaching methodologies, and agricultural technical knowledge.
Since August, FEP participants have had the opportunity to visit AEDE undergraduate classes that pertain to their own academic interests and observe first-hand how classroom instruction in America, which they describe as more dynamic and "student-centered", differs from higher education instruction in Ukraine, where courses are typically more lecture-based and rigid.
Ukraine’s outdated style of instruction provides little room for students to fully explore the pathways to an agricultural profession of their choice, and coupled with other factors, has hindered the country from unleashing its full agricultural potential.
Additionally, higher education institutions in Ukraine, especially those specializing in agriculture, are relatively removed from problems facing communities and have curricula that aren’t fully equipped to provide students with the training to necessary to rectify these issues.
“Overall, the Ukrainian higher education sector is in need of reform,” explains Mariia Mykhailova, a lecturer at Kharkiv State University of Food Technology and Trade. “This program will have a positive impact by helping us improve our institutions' curricula so that they better reflect the practical needs of Ukrainians seeking problem-based, agricultural economic and business training.”
Understanding Western Agricultural and Food Systems
In order to effectively understand the differences between agricultural systems in the United States and Ukraine, the fellows visited numerous public, private, and non-profits organizations to learn how all work in an integrated and strategic fashion to support producers and agribusinesses in a market-based economy. Of course this approach differs considerably from Ukraine, though while considered an emerging free market country, has an agricultural system that is largely state-controlled, outdated, and organizationally “siloed”. Realizing these differences coming into the program, the fellows were eager to learn firsthand about the partnership framework between farms and agribusinesses that form the foundation of the U.S. food system.
“I was very interested in learning more about the integration activities of ag. enterprises,” shares Valerii Danylenko, a lecturer at Kharkiv National Technical University of Agriculture. “I specifically wanted to understand how American farmers make decisions about joining cooperatives, what services and benefits they receive by participating in a cooperative, and familiarizing myself with the diverse production priorities that these organizations have.”
Agricultural extension programming, because of its integrated outreach approach with agricultural stakeholders at such a localized level, was intriguing to the fellows because such is not the norm in Ukraine, where agricultural universities are mandated to fulfill one duty and one duty only: teaching. They do not operate from an integrated framework, like the land-grant system in the U.S., by which universities instill knowledge in the next generation of agriculturalists through classroom teaching, generate new knowledge through research, and disseminate this new knowledge and innovative practices to a wide community of stakeholders through outreach.
Svitlana Lukash of Sumy State Agrarian University said that learning more about the U.S.’ extension system was one of her goals at the beginning of the program, and that her interest as only intensified. She said she hopes that she can develop and implement practical training programs back in Ukraine that resemble workshops regularly offered by Ohio State Extension.
To understand the diversity of agricultural systems present within the U.S., the fellows traveled beyond the borders of Ohio to the Southwest United States in October. There, along with other FEP participants placed with the College of Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources at the University of Missouri, they met with agricultural producers, agribusinesses, and other stakeholders in Arizona and California to learn how agricultural systems in those states function differently than those in the Midwest.
While the transfer of technical knowledge is a fundamental component of the FEP program, not to mention crucial to Ukraine's continued agricultural modernization, just as important is the understanding and appreciation that these Ukrainian educators gain for the agri-“culture” in the U.S.
By observing how young children help their parents hand-pick sweet corn, or how adolescents operate farm equipment in the field on weekends, or how food served at a church picnic comes straight from the fields of the families who fill that same church’s pews on Sunday, fellows receive a unique perspective of how agriculture is not only a livelihood for Ohio’s farm families, but a tradition that binds together families and endures throughout generations.
"The fellows are hosted by farm families in Ohio and stay with them one weekend during the program," says Dr. Stan Thompson, professor in AEDE who, along with Dr. Allan Lines, professor emeritus in AEDE, closely mentors the fellows while they're on Ohio State’s campus. Dr. Thompson adds that this is essential for them so that they can develop a more holistic understanding of the U.S. food system - from seed to table.
Oksana Vysotska of Kyiv National Economic University specifically mentioned how she and the other fellows were impressed by how the 4-H program - a youth development program popular here in the U.S. but non-existent in Ukraine - stimulated young people's interest in agriculture, and how her and her colleagues appreciated seeing this demonstrated during their visit to the Ohio State Fair in August.
Fostering positive impact in Ukraine and here at home
Armed with this new practical knowledge, the fellows plan to return to Ukraine in early December and apply these lessons learned to enhance the quality of agricultural education delivered to their undergraduate students.
“When I return, I plan on improving three specific courses I teach: "State regulation of foreign economic activity", "Foreign economic activity of enterprises", and "Strategic management of foreign economic activity," shares Petro Pyvovar, who teaches at Zhytomyr National Agroecological University in northwest Ukraine. He also plans to deliver presentations to his colleagues on what he perceives to be unique features that contribute to Ohio State’s success as a renowned higher education institution, and how his university might adopt some of these practices to improve their own teaching and administrative performances.
Natalia Pryshliak of Vinnytsia National Agrarian University shared that this experience will not only improve the quality of their classes at their home institution, but also their own professional development.
“Participating in the FEP program will help me become a more successful scientist and professional advisor for my students," states Natalia. "Throughout the program I’ve tried to develop ties with scientists, mentors, and other participants here in the U.S., so that in the future I can organize workshops and trainings for other faculty, staff, and students in Ukraine.”
The Faculty Exchange Program not only benefits the Ukrainian fellows receiving the training, but is critical for helping American farmers and agribusiness managers better understand the growing importance of Ukraine in the global marketplace.
“With this improved understanding, U.S. producers, managers and marketing firms will be better prepared to appreciate and cooperate with their Ukrainian counterparts as they work together to create a more food secure world,” explains Dr. Lines, who specializes in agribusiness management and has been engaged in Eastern Europe for more than 20 years.
A few months after the fellows return to Ukraine, Dr. Lines and Dr. Thompson will conduct a follow-up visit to Ukraine, where they will visit the home institutions of the fellows, deliver specialized seminars to their colleagues, and provide consultation to administrators on possible approaches to improving their academic programming.