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WPI Community Aims to Support Ukraine, Affected Students and Scholars

March 24, 2022

As the humanitarian crisis unfolds in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, WPI’s community of global citizens and humanists has been working to become the helpers our world—and community—needs.  These efforts include providing support for WPI students, faculty, and staff who are personally impacted—and more broadly increasing awareness, rallying aid, promoting dialogue, and identifying paths forward for fellow students and scholars.

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Colleen Callahan-Panday

As early as February 22, WPI’s International House was in touch with our Ukrainian and Russian students to help them understand and take advantage of university support structures. For these students, the war can mean being cut-off from family, friends, and finances, which brings the associated repercussions of how to keep living and learning amid emotional and economic crisis. “We are here for the students and have been since the beginning. A critical part of our work is to anticipate needs and strongly advocate,” said Colleen Callahan-Panday, director of international student life. “Our doors are open to answer questions and provide essential support,” she added, noting work underway regarding financial help, housing, and work for the summer and beyond.

Activities and accommodations to support Ukrainian and Russian students also involve many other offices across campus including Financial Aid, Bursar, Career Development Center, Student Development and Counseling Center, and Residential Services. And the students themselves are engaged in outreach, curating content on a web page that offers suggested ways to help.

Beyond our campus, meeting local needs for global impact 

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Renata Konrad

“As a university that prides itself on meeting real-world global challenges, I can think of nothing more relevant that taking a stand here and doing the work to help,” said Renata Konrad, associate professor of operations and industrial engineering.

For Konrad, who recently returned from Ukraine as a Fulbright Scholar, having exchanged offices and homes with an assistant professor at the Ukrainian Catholic University, that work is multi-faceted and includes working with WPI students to assist with NGO operations in the Boston area and in Ukraine, raising money and organizing donations of medical supplies, and coordinating project advising for students in Ukraine.  

“It feels very personal,” said Nancy Burnham, physics professor and director of the Switzerland Project Center. Burnham is among faculty advocating to open job and fellowship opportunities to scholars impacted by the war. Her commitment to action is shared by Lyubov Titova, associate professor in physics who envisions global fellowships for refugees. “A master’s from WPI would be a game changer,” she said. 

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Dmitry Korkin

Bogdan Vernescu, vice provost for research and co-director of the Bucharest, Romania Project Center, is working with Provost Wole Soboyejo to identify fellowship and position opportunities for refugee scholars. And WPI is part of a growing worldwide science community effort, currently more than 2,000 labs, to host Ukrainian scientists.

And it might not get more personal than it has for Dmitry Korkin, Harold L. Jurist ’61 and Heather E. Jurist Dean’s Professor and director of the Bioinformatics and Computational Biology Program, who’s opened his home to the family of a Ukrainian economist colleague. As reported on GBH News and PRX’s The World, it’s an effort that “echoes the rescue of European scholars during World War II.”  Korkin’s lab is also one of those open to host Ukrainian scientists. 

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Lyubov Titova

Both Korkin and Titova are signatories on an open letter by Russian-speaking scientists supporting Ukrainian, Russian, and Belorussian scientists affected by the war.

Community members had a chance to learn more about the war in Ukraine during a panel sponsored by International House, The Global School, and the Department of Humanities & Arts (HUA) earlier this month. Moderated by John Sanbonmatsu, HUA associate professor, and featuring speakers from Clark University and Columbia University, the panel was recorded and can be viewed here.

As the community is called to action on Ukraine, there is recognition and a resurgence of interest on ways to help those impacted in other conflicts, including Afghanistan and Syria—as well as a commitment to continue to preserve and foster educational and personal connection with Russian students and scholars.