At the alumni conference for the Edmund S. Muskie Professional Fellowship Program in Tbilisi, Georgia, 94 alumni from 12 countries in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia attended. They were nostalgic for their program years, interested in each other’s accomplishments, proud of their own successes, and eager to further develop their professional skills.
The conference, which ran from September 28 to October 2, 2022, included a number of sessions with the goal of providing professional development and networking opportunities. This is the second regional conference the program has conducted; the first was in Astana, Kazakhstan in 2019 and brought together and celebrated the community of Muskie fellows, which is continuously expanding.
Participants represented all 12 countries of the Muskie region: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Moldova, the Russian Federation, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan.
Dr. Alexander Cooley, Claire Tow Professor of Political Science at Barnard College, discussed the region’s transformation and the fundamental influence it is having on program alumni in his keynote address, “Eurasia Remade: Disruption and Networks in a Time of Change,” at the beginning of the conference. Dr. Cooley’s address, delivered in the midst of the war in Ukraine and ongoing tensions in the region, provided a framework for fruitful discussion among the attendees.
Christopher Anderson, the Cultural Attaché of the U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi, spoke at the conference to highlight the value of international exchanges in enhancing the learning process for the individual as well as the positive contributions that returning fellows make to their home countries by using the skills they acquired in the United States.
“Congratulations to everybody who has participated in the Muskie Program. The U.S. government invests a lot in overseas exchange programs: cultural, educational, and professional exchanges like the Muskie Program. These are very successful because they empower dynamic, remarkable people to make a difference in their own country and to choose their own future. We believe in powering everyone to be the change they believe is necessary!” said Anderson.
Muskie alumni had a unique opportunity to improve their leadership skills during the conference’s three days by participating in a program on adaptive leadership led by Marc Ross Manashil of CoInnovate Consulting and his team: Stefano Zordan, Chiara Rosselli, Inmaculada Macias Alonso and Tendai Mvuvu. The Adaptive Leadership framework was initially established at the Harvard Kennedy School and teaches leadership as a skill that can be used in a range of professional and community scenarios.
Prof. Daniel Erdmann, the director and founder of the World Mediation Organization, and Lena Salame, a conflict management and mediation specialist provided additional support to participants.
More than 20 alumni gave presentations about the successes and accomplishments they have made since going back to their home countries to continue improving their communities and professional fields. The presentations included a wide range of subjects, including visual arts, urban planning, and entrepreneurship in addition to technology and education.
The Edmund S. Muskie Professional Fellowship Program is a professional development program funded by the U.S. Department of State since 2015 that provides emerging leaders of the Fulbright Program from Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia with the opportunity to gain real-world experience complementing and enriching their graduate studies in the United States.
Since 1992, the U.S. Department of State has provided thousands of graduate school fellowships for students from across Eurasia in order to build democracies, strengthen the transition to market economies, and establish strong civil societies. Cultural Vistas has built upon that foundation by providing hands-on, professional skill-building opportunities across the United States for more than 380 Fulbright Scholars over the last eight years.
During their time with the program, Muskie fellows attend a series of professional workshops, volunteer in their host communities, and acquire professional experience by completing a three-month fellowship with an organization in their field in the United States.
Five members of the outgoing Muskie Alumni Council got together to share about their accomplishments during the inaugural Muskie Alumni Council. Their term started in the fall of 2020 and paved the path for many more to make a difference in the Muskie region while fostering alumni collaboration on a global scale.
The Alumni Council representatives participated in team-building exercises and conversations, led by training and development specialist Karla Hill-Donisch.
The Muskie Professional Fellowship Program’s Alumni Council functions as a representative body in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and the Caucasus, supporting the program’s mission. The Council’s objective is to develop relationships between the Muskie Program and its ever-expanding American and international alumni groups, as well as to increase the exposure of both the Council and the Muskie Program on a national and international scale. (Applications for the new Alumni Council are due by October 30 and all Muskie alumni are invited to apply.)
This conference provided an opportunity for alumni to reconnect and reflect on the impact the program has had on their careers and lives.
“The Muskie Program helped us to go out to the people, to meet and work with them, exploring the culture and understand in reality what we theoretically learned from Fulbright. It is a great opportunity for someone to have such great support from the Muskie team!” said Akbar Vokhidov, a 2021 Muskie fellow from Uzbekistan.
The program’s impact, according to our 2017 alumna from Kazakhstan, Azat Samuratkyzy, goes both ways: while it provides Fulbrighters from the region with the opportunity to gain experience in a competitive job market in the United States, it also provides U.S. companies with access to high-quality talent through their internship experience.
“A gift”, “Inspirational”, “Transformational”, and “Enriching” were some of the ways the fellows described their experience with the Edmund S. Muskie Professional Fellowship Program.
Muskie alumni keep in touch with each other and the program even after their fellowship concludes, thanks to the Muskie Alumni Council, the Alumni Mentorship Initiative for each year’s fellows, and the publishing of their success stories on culturalvistas.org and our social media outlets.
Our fellows are members of the larger Cultural Vistas alumni network as well. Every year, the organization welcomes over 3,000 leaders into the Cultural Vistas Alumni Community, while the entire community comprises over 150,000 people from all over the world, all working to promote global collaboration in order to confront the difficult issues that our world faces.