Bringing STEAM to Uzbekistan’s education system: Muskie alumna leads innovative efforts back home after her U.S. experience

Albina Hartner is an Uzbek alumna of the Edmund S. Muskie Professional Fellowship Program. Photo courtesy: Albina Hartner.

Albina Hartner is an Uzbek alumna of the Edmund S. Muskie Professional Fellowship Program. Through the Fulbright Foreign Student Program, she graduated from the University of Florida with a master’s degree in Design, Construction, and Planning. During her fellowship with the Muskie Program, Albina interned during the summer of 2019 with Fielding International, focusing on Schools and Learning Environments. In this Q&A, our alumna discusses how she discovered a deeper meaning in design and construction as well as how her time in the United States has influenced her as a professional.

What is your academic and professional background?

Three years ago, I graduated from the University of Florida with a master’s degree from the College of Design, Construction, and Planning. My master’s research thesis was concentrated on Learning Environments and during the Muskie Program in 2019, I interned at Fielding International, an award-winning international architecture firm focused on designing schools and learning environments. This experience was truly transformative for me.

Chemistry class in STEAM school No, 45. Photo courtesy: Albina Hartner.

I participated in several international projects, including schools in Moscow and Israel. Prior to that, I received my bachelor’s degree in Science of Environmental Architecture at the Polytechnic University of Milan. Upon graduation, I collaborated with different architects, and in 2014 I founded a design firm with an Italian architect. Our firm participated in many interesting projects both in Uzbekistan and internationally. To name a few: Georgia, Dubai, Vladivostok, and Moscow. Mostly we worked for private clients doing residential design. I really loved what I was doing, but I felt that my work was beneficial only to a small circle of people. The idea to be helpful to my home country, to benefit my fellow citizens, made me think that I need to learn more about the design of public spaces. I had always dreamed of studying in the U.S., because it is a country where technology and design are flourishing. I knew that I would return to Uzbekistan equipped with unique skills and knowledge.

My dream came true, I was accepted to the University of Florida, where, thanks to my professor, I discovered a passion for educational environments. I understood that to create a well-functioning learning space, it is crucial to combine research (user experience) and practitioner design expertise. During my master’s degree, I conducted research with a focus on educational environments (K-12) in Uzbekistan and the design of schools that are aligned with the ideas of active learning and multiple intelligence theory.

Tell us about your career journey after your experience in the U.S.

Receiving the certificate for excellence at work from Uzbek Deputy Minister of Education Mr. Karimjanov. Photo courtesy: Albina Hartner

When I returned to Uzbekistan, I was very enthusiastic to apply my knowledge in learning design environments to real life and to serve my country. Innovation, Technology and Strategy center (ITSC) under the Ministry of Public Education as a chief specialist. I worked on a state project “Modern School”, which aimed to improve the quality of education by building schools with modern science laboratories furnished with contemporary equipment. When the STEAM department was created within the structure of ITSC, I was promoted to the Head of the STEAM department.

Currently, I am leading a state project “Twenty-eight STEAM schools” that will be created in 2022. With my devoted team, we strive to implement projects that are taking a 360-degree view of the development of STEAM education, including the renovation of science and technology laboratories; the development of the STEAM manuals for educators and trainers; teachers’ development programs and seminars; and supporting projects for girls in STEAM, to name a few.

STEAM is an educational approach to learning that uses science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics as access points for guiding student inquiry, dialogue, and critical thinking.

In November 2021 we started holding a series of seminars to support science teachers’ transition to a STEAM interdisciplinary approach all over Uzbekistan. Our aim is to shift from a teacher-centered approach to teaching to a student-centered to make science classes inspiring and to motivate kids to pursue STEAM careers in the future.

What is your proudest professional accomplishment and why?

The ITSC’s STEAM department team visits a newly built school they worked on. Photo courtesy: Albina Hartner.

I am proud to have the opportunity to participate in projects which resulted in opening two newly built STEAM specialized schools, the first of this kind, in Uzbekistan. By the end of this year, we plan to open twenty-six more specialized schools.

During the project’s implementation, we worked on proposals and standards to help modernize STEM laboratories, including energy efficiency and proper ventilation. We also defined the list of necessary lab equipment, that would help practical implementation of STEM education and increase students’ interest in natural science subjects. We have organized practical training courses for hundreds of teachers in physics, chemistry, and biology in secondary schools all over Uzbekistan, and by the end of this year, we plan to train a total of six hundred teachers.

Also, we initiated a project that will support girls in their motivation to pursue STEAM careers. As a result, girls from the rural regions of Uzbekistan will have the opportunity to receive a better education.

Understanding that my life has a purpose and that I can benefit my country with the knowledge and expertise brought from the U.S. gives me a great sense of accomplishment.

How did your experience in the U.S. and your Muskie Fellowship impact your career when going back home?

Meeting with the Asian Development Bank about STEAM education. Photo courtesy: Albina Hartner.

My U.S. master’s degree experience not only laid a solid foundation of theoretical knowledge which I could hardly gain in my own home country but also helped to develop my personal skills, such as learning to work in a very fast-paced environment, continuously striving to improve myself both from the academic and professional side. My horizons were expanded. Thanks to the Muskie Program I was able to test educational theories in practice and apply the knowledge that I obtained at university. I also learned about work ethic, which was one of the many topics I learned about in the U.S. that was new for developing countries like Uzbekistan. It was also great to frequently visit construction sites and learn from the inside and from real life.

I enriched myself with a better understanding of American culture, and I had an opportunity to share the Uzbek culture as well, which was just as important. Professional and personal networking was of great help too, as I made many friends with whom I have very strong ties and exchange ideas and different perspectives.

Share one surprising fact about yourself

While being a Fulbright and Muskie Fellow, I wanted to share Uzbek culture. To give people in the U.S. an opportunity to learn about my homeland, I organized an “Uzbekistan-Oriental Fairytale” exhibition displaying the photography of architecture, arts, and crafts from different regions of Uzbekistan, led masterclasses about Uzbek folk dances, and seminars about architecture and design.