The Wire @ WPI Online
VOLUME 11, NO. 2     SEPTEMBER 1997

WPI friendship brings countries together

Mikhail Dimentberg and Raymond Hagglund have been colleagues since Dimentberg joined the Mechanical Engineering Department in 1992, but it wasn't until last year that the two professors joined forces to establish an educational partnership between WPI, Bauman Moscow State Technical University and the Moscow School for Business, Political Science and Law that could have a major impact on Russia's engineering and legal education and may even set a precedent for other academic institutions to follow.

Hagglund is an internationally recognized expert on engineering and product liability law and serves as a consultant to industries and attorneys. Since 1968 he has worked on more than 1,500 cases involving products that allegedly failed and caused injury or financial loss. Dimentberg is a native of Odessa, Ukraine (formerly USSR). He was a Leading Scientist at the USSR Academy of Sciences' Institute for Problems in Mechanics before coming to WPI as a visiting professor in 1992. Now a tenure-track faculty member, he was in the audience last fall when Hagglund discussed his work at a meeting of the Worcester Section of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME).

"I knew that Ray had improved the safety of products in this country through his work in engineering and with lawyers in the '60s and early '70s, but only during his lecture to ASME members did I see the whole picture," says Dimentberg. "I recognized that his expertise was definitely very much needed in Russia, which is anxious to enter the global market and engage in business with companies throughout the world."

Dimentberg's daughter, Olga Gyurdzhan, holds a doctorate in law and practices with Lebor, a law firm in Moscow. She put the professors in touch with Tatiana Uzhva, a former classmate who is head of the Law Department at the Moscow School for Business, Political Science and Law, which is establishing a joint program in engineering and law with Bauman Moscow State Technical University. With 19,000 engineering students, Bauman is the largest institution of its kind in Russia. "One of the goals of the university is to get students thinking in an interdisciplinary way about the links between engineering, law and safety," says Igor Fedorov, rector (president) of the university.

Uzhva was interested in learning more and visited WPI with Gyurdzhan late last fall. Hagglund put together a proposed curriculum in safety, technology and product liability law as it exists in the U.S. In May, he and Dimentberg traveled to Moscow to deliver intensive lectures on safety, technology and product liability laws to engineers, law students, government officials and industry representatives. "Russia wants to enter the global marketplace and administrators at the engineering school have established a specialty minor for engineering students," says Hagglund. "These were the students we were invited to talk to."

The friendship they had nurtured as WPI colleagues became a partnership in Moscow. "We used Microsoft Powerpoint for our overheads," says Hagglund. Dimentberg, who served as translator, kept track of Hagglund's discussion by following the laser pointer he used with the overhead. "We had 100 percent communication," he says. "You could tell by their questions that they were listening and learning. The students in the audience were fifth-year engineers [most Russian universities require five years of study plus a sixth year for a diploma.] with the best grades and who had been invited to study for a specialty in law."

The presentations included an overview of U.S. safety and product liability law from 1900 to 1997, a discussion of Hagglundís work as an engineer working in law, and presentations of actual product liability investigations that had gone to trial in the U.S. After the lectures, Hagglund and Dimentberg met with Fedorov and other Bauman University administrators including Valentin Medvedev, the universityís head of continuing education. Later they visited with Alexander Seleznev, deputy head of the Department of Public Service and Personnel in the Office of the Mayor of Moscow. "Seleznev identified 15 areas where continuing education is needed to retrain engineers in Russia," says Hagglund.

"The concept of being sued for defective equipment is almost totally unknown in the former Soviet Union; their attitudes toward product safety are similar to pre-1970 attitudes in the U.S.," says Hagglund. "Their society is governed by civil law, in which legislators, not the courts as in the U.S., set regulatory standards and those standards are few and often vague or general."

Now that Russian manufacturers are seeking foreign markets and establishing partnerships with American companies, there is a need for engineers and managers to understand product liability litigation so they can protect their companies against being sued for defective products. For example, General Motors and Russian carmaker AvtoVAZ recently announced that they would begin producing Adam Opel AG cars in 1998 at a new facility near the Finnish border and, within three years, would expand operations to Togliatti, Russia's equivalent of Detroit, where engines and Opels would be built.

At press time, Hagglund and Dimentberg were working with their Russian counterparts to bring students and practicing engineers from that country to WPI for a two-week course.

"WPI is the first university to establish a connection to a sister institution in Russia," says Hagglund. "We are excited about the future. If this type of information is needed for Russia to expand to world markets, just think how many other countries would also benefit from similar collaborations and how much WPI would gain in expanding its ability to educate individuals for careers in the global marketplace."

Photo caption: Mikhail Dimentberg, Joyce and Raymond Hagglund pose for a photo on a hilltop overlooking Moscow.


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