First weeks at the Science and Technology Center in Ukraine

I am interning this summer in Kiev with the Science and Technology Center in Ukraine (STCU). The STCU is a State Department program that helps weapons experts from countries of the former Soviet Union to find peaceful employment so they don’t sell their knowledge to unfavorable parties (terrorists, rogue nations). It’s part of a larger State Department program to reduce the threats that have outlived the Cold War.

I am double majoring in Political Science and Russian Studies, and I’m especially interested in nuclear issues, counter-terrorism, and diplomacy, so working at the STCU is perfect. During the school year I knew I wanted to do something involving those issues, and in researching State Department non-proliferation programs I found the STCU. I wrote to the Board of Directors inquiring about an internship, and received a favorable response.

So far my internship has gone quite well. Everyone at the office is very nice. I like the work that I am doing. So far I’m researching funding opportunities (grants, mostly) for Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS: a loose confederation of the countries that formed the Soviet Union) scientists. In the near future I will be presenting to scientists on possible funding opportunities, working with scientists on filling out research proposals, and co-editing STCU publications. I will also be traveling to Moldova next week to attend the STCU Board Meeting. That will be a really neat opportunity, as there will be representatives from the US State Department and Department of Energy, from the Canadian government, and from the European Union there to access the STCU’s work. I’m very excited not only to visit Moldova but also for the opportunity to speak to the US government officials.

The whole summer thus far, from living in Kiev to working at the STCU, has been a fantastic learning experience and a most excellent adventure.  Before, when I thought of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and WMD scientists, I primarily thought of nuclear weapons and physics. But, now I realize, as the term “WMD” refers to chemical and biological weapons as well, the scientists the STCU works with come from a much broader range of scientific disciplines. I’ve also learned a great deal about the grant process. Most of the American charitable foundations, like the Gates Foundation or the Packard Foundation, only give grants to US citizens, something I did not realize before. Just being in the office and chatting to colleagues at lunch-time has also been so interesting.

It’s been a lot of fun for me to explore the city. I love history, and Kiev is full of it. One can walk past a church from the 11th century, an imposing, cement example of Soviet architecture, a McDonalds, and a statue of Cossacks galloping by to defend the city, all on the same block.  To compound the adventure, the 2012 UEFA European Football Championship, or Euro 2012 as it’s more colloquially known, is taking place in Poland and Ukraine this year. This is a special moment of Ukraine, as it’s the first time a former Soviet republic has hosted a European football championship. The incredible enthusiasm displayed by fans (and really the whole city), is quite something.

This National Geographic article vividly describes the dangers should WMDs fall into the wrong hands (and mentions the work the STCU does and the dangers it tries to prevent).

– Jennifer Ginsberg ’14

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