American SemyonovAward Recipient to Look at Higher Education’s Relation to Civic Engagement in Russia
Radomir ‘Ray’ Mitic just completed his PhD at New York University and will be joining the Council of Graduate Schools as a postdoctoral fellow this coming fall in Washington, D.C. This summer, he received an HSE SemyonovAward Research Internship to study civic engagement among Russian university students at the Institute of Education at HSE University. Last week, he participated in the International Summer School on Higher Education Research in St. Petersburg, and now he is conducting field research in Moscow. We spoke with Ray about his research, his impressions of the two Russian cities, and his future plans.
My research focuses on first-generation college students, civic engagement and study abroad. I look at the relationship of study abroad to post-college civic engagement to see if that relationship is different for first-generation versus non-first-generation college graduates.
Here at HSE University I am focusing more specifically on civic engagement. In my research in the US, I have found that studying abroad for undergrads is related to higher rates of post-college volunteering. And for first-generation college students, their likelihood of voting was significantly higher than their non-first-generation peers. But I’ve been wanting to look at higher education and civic engagement in other countries, since civic engagement can look very different in different cultural contexts.
When a colleague told me about the research internship here at HSE University, I immediately thought it would be a great way of looking at this topic in the Russian context—especially given the resources the award provides
So I did some initial literature review on what civic engagement looks like in Russia, and what higher education’s role is in it. What I found was that there actually wasn’t a lot pointing to what higher education does. Therefore, I thought that the question of higher education’s role would be an interesting area to look at—I imagine that it does indeed play a role. It just hasn’t been empirically tested. So I put together a proposal.
© Mikhail Dmitriev/ HSE University
On the SemyonovAward Research Internship
For my first week here, I was in St. Petersburg participating in the seventh annual HSE-sponsored International Summer School on Higher Education. It brought together about 25 advanced MA and doctoral students and early career researchers, and we workshopped out projects. PhD candidates were able to discuss their dissertations, and postdoctoral participants were able to discuss new projects that they have begun after their graduate work. The workshop was led by faculty members from leading universities around Europe, so it was a great opportunity to receive feedback from the top-level experts of the field. I was particularly enthusiastic to discuss my work with Professor Simon Marginson of Oxford (UK) and Anna Smolentseva, Leading Research Fellow of the HSE Institute of Education, who both conduct research on the contributions of higher education, which of course is the general purview under which my project falls. Speaking with them was especially valuable, and it was helpful to participate in the summer school before settling down in Moscow to do my field work. I'm grateful to HSE, the Institute of Education, and the SemyonovAward committee for selecting me and allowing me the opportunity to conduct research.
Now that I am in Moscow, I’ve spent my first few days assessing the quantitative data that is available. I’ve been talking with researchers in sociology and education in order to see what data is available and what some of the limitations of some of the data sets are (since they are secondary, and not collected with my specific project in mind).
I am grateful to have full access to all of the data and resources HSE University has to offer, not to mention the human capital around here—talking with people, discussing ideas, as well as making contacts for potential collaboration is key
I’ve also been meeting people for qualitative interviews and observations, and this coming week I’m looking forward to interviewing many more people in 45-minute sessions that will cover questions such as why they chose HSE, what their civic engagement was before HSE, what activities they partake in here (student council, the big clubs, optional volunteerism, and so on), and what they think their lives will be like after graduation.
Radomir Mitic at the HSE Laboratory for University Development
© Mikhail Dmitriev/ HSE University
On His Initial Findings
Now that I am here, I am already finding that things are very different between the US and Russia. I find that this difference requires not just looking at stats and conducting interviews, but conducting a lot of background research on the historical, social, cultural dimensions of the context as well.
In addition, one thing that I’d read about a bit before coming here but that’s really been driven home for me in the last two weeks is that HSE University is really different compared to a lot of other Russian institutions of higher education, so it’s really made me hone my project—this is a single institution case study, and it is not something that is generalizable to all of Russia.
In terms of my initial impressions of differences between civic engagement in American universities versus HSE University, I would say that there is definitely a powerful strain of activism here at the university—I think it’s alive and well. But compared to the US context, I would say the focus here is more on non-political engagement rather than political engagement. In the US, you definitely have strong strains of both, and considering how polarized the American electorate is, students are more motivated to get politically engaged there. Here there is more emphasis on non-political activities and clubs. There are sales drives for charity, government transparency internships, working towards the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (environmental work). Someone even mentioned Model UN while they were in high school, which points more towards “global” citizenship.
© Mikhail Dmitriev/ HSE University
On Exploring Russia’s Major Cities
I love big cities. Walking down the streets, I feel comfortable here. I don’t feel like I’m in a foreign city. The architecture is beautiful. Some of the churches I’ve seen are particularly striking – I’m Orthodox by religion so I have an affinity to a lot of the styles here, and there’s a homey feel to it. Therefore, I don’t feel like I’m in that foreign of a country. I’ve enjoyed walking the streets and trying to take everything in as a tourist as well.
On Future Plans
In October, there is a Higher Education conference, so I would like to return and present the preliminary findings of my research, receive feedback, and write an article for a higher education journal. I still see civic engagement in relation to higher education as one of the pillars of my research agenda moving forward. I do hope to become a faculty member at a university after my post-doc time in Washington, D.C., so this is a strain of research I’m going to continue, whether doing direct comparisons between the US and Russia or looking at higher education in the context of other countries. There are definitely a lot of exciting possibilities.