Getting a Fulbright Scholar grant is extremely competitive, and Dr. Richard Shrubb was happy to represent Minnesota.
Shrubb, the president of Minnesota West Community and Technical College, went to Russia for two weeks in April on a Fulbright Scholar grant. He went there to open pathways for instructional exchange and to provide a positive international experience among Russian citizens who may not meet another American in person.
How the trip to Russia came about started last year. Shrubb said a former Minnesota West student Brandon Dreesen talked about what his father Don does with his family-owned company in Slayton that sends combines and farm equipment to Russia - Russian Ag Export. The combines and equipment are taken apart and sent in pieces to Russia, where they are reassembled. Shrubb visited the business last year.
"That piqued my interest there," Shrubb said.
So at a conference for community college presidents last summer, Shrubb learned about a fellow president from Florida who had gotten back from a Fulbright trip to Russia and was talking about her experiences.
That got Shrubb thinking.
"I was thinking about Russian agriculture," he said. "I just went out on a limb and applied (for a Fulbright)."
Shrubb said the chances of getting a Fulbright to Russia can be slim, but he made both the first and second cuts. Five were accepted from the United States, hailing from Florida, New York City, Texas, California and Shrubb from Minnesota. He said that each of them wrote a different proposal for their applications, his being for agriculture, while others did theirs on health care, small business development or economics. This particular Fulbright grant is for community college administrators only because the Russian higher education system wants to learn about American community colleges, he said.
"They're realizing the benefits of technical college on their economy," he said.
Shrubb said that mainly subsistence farming is practiced in Russia, and he wanted to introduce those farmers to new, advanced farming practices.
"Farms aren't operated as a business like here in America," he said.
Shrubb said he spent the first week in Moscow and the second in Tatarstan. It was a tight schedule, he said. Moscow was very crowded and unseasonably warm for April, Shrubb said, comparing it to Washington, D.C.
While in Tatarstan, which is a rural area, Shrubb noticed some similarities to rural southwest Minnesota.
"It looked exactly like Highway 75 going from Luverne to Canby," Shrubb said. He said the land was mostly flat with a few rolling hills.
Shrubb said the climate in Russia in April was similar to Minnesota's, and that he was there when the Worthington area was hit by the ice storm.
But he was taken by the people in Tatarstan, he said, and the food was better than he expected.
Shrubb said the five of them left a favorable impression on the people.
"It meant a lot to us," he said.
While in Russia, the five Fulbright scholars had diplomatic status, Shrubb said, and their schedule changed every day, sometimes twice a day.
Security was also tight, he said.
"Russia is a closed country," Shrubb said. You have to be invited to come, he said, and on your visa, you have to state who invited you, how long you are staying and where you were going to go. All of their communication was closely scrutinized, and they had to be cautious about where they took photos, he added.
Shrubb said the hope is also to have an exchange of students from Russia to Minnesota West and Southwest Minnesota State University.