Meghan Finnerty & Anthony Arnone | February 28, 2022

Class Connects Brockport & Ukrainian Students in a Virtual Classroom

The war in Ukraine disrupted a Russian Politics class, leaving students concerned about the well-being of their Ukrainian counterparts.

When students registered for the Russian Politics class this semester at SUNY Brockport, they joined a course that would connect them with students from Lutsk National Technical University in Ukraine. However, they had no idea they would soon be worried about their Ukrainian classmates’ safety.

Steven Jurek

Steven Jurek

This semester, Steven Jurek, associate professor and chair of the Department of Political Science and International Studies, is teaching Russian Politics as part of SUNY Brockport’s Collaborative Online Learning (COIL) program, a virtual global classroom for students who seek an international experience without travel. The courses consist of a Brockport professor and their students as well as an international professor with their own classroom.

Jurek’s class offers an international perspective on Russian politics. Topics range from the regime change of the Soviet Union, to exploring how capitalism failed, to how Russian President Vladimir V. Putin rose to power. It is made up of 15 students from Lutsk and six from Brockport.

“We’re going to simulate Ukraine going through the process of joining the European Union, and what that would look like (including potential ramifications from Russia),” said Jurek.

Early on, Jurek saw that the increasing tensions between Russia and Ukraine would provide Brockport students an opportunity to connect current events to real people – their Ukrainian classmates.

“The perspective is very important. It helps for students to recognize that world politics matters and there are people who suffer the consequences of when states do these things.”
Steven Jurek

From Invasion to War: A Week

Monday, February 21: The class met virtually, about a day after the United States labeled Russia’s actions as an invasion of Ukraine. The Lutsk students shared that they didn’t feel alarmed yet as they live on the western side of the country. Jurek explained that at the time it was unknown how long it would be until there was a direct military impact on the western side.

Thursday, February 24: Russia escalates conflict with military invasion of Ukraine.

Friday, February 25: The class reconvened in Brockport. Sophomore Jack Ryan and senior Ryan Forzano talked about the news, sharing that they had been in contact with their Ukrainian classmates on Monday. They shared that, just days ago, the Lutsk students felt that the conflict was overplayed in the news. After the bombings began, they attempted to contact the Ukrainian students again but found that their emails and cell numbers no longer worked. All communication was down due to cyberattacks.

I wish we could do it (meeting with the Ukraine students), but that might not be entirely possible.
Ryan Forzano

Jurek told the class that he had heard from Olena, the Ukrainian professor from Lutsk. He explained that she is okay for now but said she’s fearful, staying inside and unsure about future classes.

“It’s going to be interesting,” Forzano said. “I wish we could do it (meeting with the Ukraine students), but that might not be entirely possible.”

Jurek has encouraged the Brockport students to try reaching out again to check on their well-being.

Monday, February 28: None of the Ukrainian students made it to class. About three of the Brockport students received a reply from their Ukrainian partners over the weekend. They sent messages thanking the Brockport students for thinking of them. “While it was only a few words each – it’s better than nothing,” Jurek said.

The future of the COIL Russian Politics class is bleak. Jurek doesn’t expect the collaboration part of the class to be able to continue unless there was a “miracle.” The war would need to end and telecommunications infrastructure would need to be revived. 

Learn More About COIL

Lindsay Crane

Lindsay Crane

Fifteen SUNY Brockport professors across a range of academic departments have been recognized at international conferences and publications for their creativity in creating COIL courses. This year, Brockport has partnerships with professors from countries across the globe, including France, Mexico, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and more.

“COIL bridges cultures in the classroom by collaborating on global topics,” said Lindsay Crane, Director of Global Education and Engagement. “COIL courses prepare our students to think more globally and to have an appreciation for working with diverse cultures, which is necessary in today’s increasingly globally connected world.”