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Stanford welcomes American, Russian student-scholars

The Farm serves as a converging place today for 20 Russian and 20 American student delegates who are participating in the second annual Stanford U.S.-Russia Forum (SURF). According to SURF co-founder Anda Gansca ’11, SURF aims to build and improve U.S.-Russian relations by providing “a forum for open conversation between Russian and American students.”

SURF was co-founded by Gansca and Sam Stone ’10, who built upon their experiences studying in Moscow through the Bing Overseas Studies Program. Stone is now in charge of SURF’s operations in Moscow, where is he living as a Fulbright Scholar.

The 2010-11 SURF program includes three components: a five-day stint in Moscow during in the autumn, a year-long research project on a topic in US-Russia relations and this week’s capstone conference at Stanford.

The capstone conference, which takes place April 13 to 16, features a series of public talks, simulations and seminars. Teams of Russian and American students will also present their research projects–the product of a yearlong, dual continent collaboration.

“Right now, we have 10 research groups working on all sorts of topics, ranging from private security to venture capital,” Gansca said.

Matt Grossman ’13, SURF public relations director, noted that the program generally attracts candidates who are interested in political science and international relations. He hopes the conference will forge lasting connections between Russian and American students, and foster a better understanding of Russia.

But SURF is not all about politics–it’s about business, too.

According to Grossman, Russia has its sight on developing “a business zone along the lines of Silicon Valley.”

“That’s obviously something Stanford has been very successful at and we’re excited to work with a whole new generation of students in Russia who are trying to do the same thing there,” he said.

All these objectives fall under the umbrella of ameliorating U.S.-Russia relations.

According to SURF Vice President Lindsay Funk ’13, both governments “have been working very hard to improve relations between the two countries.”

To that effect, the United States and Russia have collaborated on nuclear issues and business issues, among other things, she said.

“There’s this famous moment where Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and pressed the button to reset U.S.-Russian relations,” Grossman said.

While this development was met with optimism, it also signaled the beginning of an era of unknowns.

“No one really knows where the relationship is going,” Grossman said. “And SURF sees that students are really the ones who are going to be shaping the outcome of the relationship in 10 years or 20 years.”

“We pick students who we think are going to be future leaders,” Funk said, noting that SURF targets individuals who are smart, personable and highly interested in Russian-American affairs.

Gansca sees many opportunities for SURF to improve and expand in the future. She noted that “there will be a lot of changes” in the coming years. Several of these changes are already in place, including a student-initiated course called “Recreating Silicon Valley.”

At Stanford, SURF is currently under the supervision of the Center for Russian, East European & Eurasian Studies (CREEES) but is in the process of transitioning to a different branch of the University.

“I think in the next few years, SURF will become a national NGO in the U.S.,” Gansca said. “We are currently negotiating with a few organizations and student body presidents from MIT and other universities.”

“We’re not interested in being stagnant,” Funk said. “We’re constantly growing.”

Since its founding, SURF has remained a student-run organization. The program boasts ties to Moscow State University, the Moscow State for International Relations, the Academy of National Economy in Moscow and the Higher School of Economics in Moscow.

SURF is funded by Stanford, a Russian company called Renova and the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE).

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