University News

Ag Students Visit Russia Over Spring Break

May 16, 2006

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MACOMB, IL – Spring break is a time when many students at Western Illinois University head south for sandy beaches and warm sun. However, agriculture students took a different approach to spring break this year. They traded in their swimsuits and sunscreen for winter jackets and headed to Russia for an unforgettable experience.

A group of 17 students, along with Agriculture Professor John Carlson, who is a frequent visitor to Russia, set out for an educational tour of a country with a lengthy and tumultuous history.

The group was comprised of Jerry Vigue, WIU agriculture professor and his wife Andrea; Tonya Kresse (Buffalo, IL); Joseph Bailey (Rochelle, IL); Melissa Livengood (Milledgeville, IL); Drew Bogner (Henry, IL); Alex Snedeker (Havana, IL); Beau Thomas (Littleton, IL); Jason Crider (Arrowsmith, IL); Lindsay Stork (Varna, IL); Amanda Knorr (Golden, IL); Kevin Fleming (Marseilles, IL); Kyle Reini (Naperville, IL); Andy Brookman (Manhattan, IL); Sara Houzenga (Chadwick, IL); Katie Neumiller (Savanna, IL); and Jennifer Ball (Wapello, IA).

The group toured the Moscow Agroengineering Institute, Timiryazev Agricultural Academy and the Ryazan Agricultural Academy. They also visited Moscow, the Kremlin and the Red Square, as well as prestigious churches, flea markets and monasteries.

At the Russian schools, they were able to meet students with a similar concentration and find out what life is like in Russia for students their own age and how their education compares with
that in the United States. They were also able to compare agricultural 
production in the U.S. and Russia.

“The schools were very different than those in the United States,” Katie Neumiller, a senior agriculture major said of the Russian universities. “The teachers make minimal amounts of money so they have to work at more than one university to make ends meet.”

Neumiller added that there were many differences with student life as well.

“Greek life and other extra curricular activities popular in college here are unheard of, and many students still live with their parents,” she said. “The students hold their traditions very high, they know all the traditional songs and dances that have been passed down through their generations.”

In addition to visiting cultural and historical sights, the WIU group also toured a horse breeding farm, a dairy farm and a grain elevator.

Prior to the departure, the students completed 14 hours of coursework focusing on Russian history, culture and some language. Each student was also required to keep a journal, prepare a paper on their experiences and give a presentation upon returning home.

The 2006 Spring Break trip was part of an ongoing partnership between Western’s agriculture department and the Ryazan Agricultural Academy.

Carlson has worked with Ryazan and other Russian agencies throughout the years and in November 2004, Western and the Ryazan institute entered into a formal exchange agreement. Since the formal program was established two years ago, Western professors have traveled to Russia to present seminars and workshops, and as consultants, and Ryazan faculty have traveled to Western. In addition, several students from the academy have also attended Western during the 2004-2005 semesters and the Fall 2005 semester. Faculty from Western have also traveled to Ryazan for a one month experience and four Western Illinois business graduate students spent the Spring 2005 and Fall 2005 semesters at Ryazan.

In addition to exchanging academic experiences, a small business development center was established at Ryazan, with assistance from faculty and graduate students in Western’s College of Business and Technology.

Posted By: Darcie Shinberger (
Office of University Communications & Marketing