A group of Russian university deans and professors who visited Chattanooga State and UTC this week said the biggest shock of their trip was seeing how local educators seem to care what students think.
"I was surprised to know they [professors] are so approachable here," said Elena Titova, a foreign language department chairwoman, through a translator. "It's different back home. Professors have an air of importance, and they tend to be serious. ... But the UTC chancellor, he joked."
The six visitors were from the city of Nizhniy Tagil, a city in the Ural Mountains of central Russia. They teach at the Ural Federal University, a technological institute with 6,000 master's degree students and 3,000 undergraduate students, and the Nizhniy Tagil State Social Pedagogical Academy, which enrolls 2,000 students.
Chattanooga's Sister Cities program partnered with Russia's Open World Program to host the academics, who stayed with local families and are scheduled to fly home today.
"We enjoyed being here in this clean, green and beautiful city that has so much culture to offer," said Elena Chebakova, a drawing lecturer in Nizhniy Tagil, through a translator.
Chuck Cantrell, vice chancellor of university relations for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, said the group met with Chattanooga Chancellor Roger Brown, Provost Phil Oldham and several deans and professors and talked a lot about what their schools could learn from UTC's model for encouraging student input and creating community partnerships.
"This was an opportunity to create a new partnership, to make new friends," said Oldham. "UTC already has a number of cooperative education agreements with international partners, and we are always looking for new opportunities."
In Russia, the top priority of faculty is research, scientific interests and curriculum, said Chebakova. There isn't really an emphasis on encouraging students' thirst for knowledge.
Titova said she spent time reviewing UTC's faculty assessment process, which allows students to review their classes and professors each semester. The reviews are used in faculty evaluations and tenure decisions, and she said she hopes to implement a similar system in Russia.
"I hope it will change the quality of teaching and improve the level of preparation for faculty," she said, through a translator.