International Affairs Classes Teach Students About the Russian Invasion of Ukraine in Real Time

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The eyes of the world are on Ukraine right now, as Russia continues its invasion. News reports about Russian President Vladimir Putin, economic sanctions, nuclear power plants, and more are coming out in droves, and it can seem difficult — if not overwhelming — to try and make sense of what is happening. Faculty in the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs are trying to help the Georgia Tech community do just that.

Throughout the School, faculty are incorporating lessons about the Russian invasion of Ukraine into their courses, including class-wide discussions on the events themselves, as well as how they relate to the topics being taught.

“Engaging in these types of discussions as an international affairs student takes you beyond the textbooks and classrooms,” said Chandler Pearson, a third-year international affairs major. “These discussions empower you to truly use what you learn in commenting on the ongoing situation in Ukraine.”

Pearson is enrolled in INTA 3301: International Political Economy with Assistant Professor Abigail Vaughn. The course examines how politics shape a state’s place in the world economy, as well as how global markets affect a state’s behavior.

Vaughn has used the invasion and other countries’ responses as ways of explaining some of the course’s topics, and vice versa. Students applied the principles of currency politics taught in class to determine how costly sanctions on Russia’s central bank are. They also took time to consider how firms might weigh risks associated with investing abroad in light of the ongoing crisis.

“My teaching approach has always been to provide a framework to enable students to analyze the problems of tomorrow,” Vaughn said. “As the crisis in Ukraine unfolds, it provides an incredibly relevant and important case study for the students to use substantive course concepts to analyze.”

Students in international affairs courses have also felt as though being able to discuss important, sometimes difficult-to-understand topics with their peers and professors has helped them gain a better grasp on current events.

“Both class discussions, as well as faculty panels and speaker series, have added nuance to and answered many questions that my peers and I have had in recent weeks,” Jack Sheldon, a fourth-year international affairs and modern languages major, added. “Nunn School professors have been frank, honest, and critical with their explanations and questions of the war in Ukraine, which has helped to shape my own perspectives on what is happening.”

In March, several Nunn School faculty members hosted a panel discussing the crisis, providing their insights into everything from economic sanctions to how European politics have changed since the invasion began.

Adam Stulberg, Sam Nunn Professor and chair in the Nunn School, and Associate Professor Jenna Jordan, director of graduate studies and interim associate chair, co-teach INTA 3808/8803: Technology and Statecraft: United States and Russia. The course, taught parallel with one at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, discusses the technical dimensions of statecraft and how it turns into policy-making strategies.

“Examining statecraft from a comparative perspective is essential as students grapple with understanding strategic choices by the U.S. and Russia,” Jordan said. “In the case of Ukraine, my students are concerned not only about Russia’s motivation, but also with how the international community should respond to an invasion and war.”

Since the invasion began, Stulberg and Jordan have brought in guest speakers to provide their insights to the class, including former Sen. Sam Nunn and Robert Bell. Both are distinguished professors of the practice in the Nunn School.

The course instructors also assigned students the task of designing scenarios that would explore alternative futures in a post-war Ukraine.

Meredith Furbish is pursuing an M.S. in International Affairs, as well as an M.S. in Global Media and Cultures with a specialization in Russian. Stulberg and Jordan’s class is one of several that has helped her better understand current events. In a course on transatlantic relations with Professor and Neal Family Chair Alasdair Young, Furbish has participated in class discussions that span U.S., Russian, and European politics since the day the invasion began. She has also had recurring discussions in a human rights class with Professor Katja Weber and a course on politics, technology, and proliferation with Assistant Professor Rachel Whitlark.

“My regional focus is already on the former Soviet Bloc, so Russia’s invasion is of crucial interest to me,” Furbish said. “I have been encouraged by seeing so much interest in the region from the larger Tech community, and I think the Nunn School faculty are an invaluable resource for us to stay informed about such events and their broader impacts.”


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