Name: Larisa Schelkin
Title: CEO/Founder of Global STEM* Education Center, Inc.
Country: The Republic of Bashkortostan, state of The Russian Federation/USA
Partnership/Training: Fellowship in Global Diplomacy – and at least eight other training courses
“I experienced a very open, diverse, collaborative, supportive, inclusive, and welcoming sense of community growing up”, recalls Larisa Schelkin. Originally from the Republic of Bashkortostan, located on the Russian border of Europe and Asia, Larisa, who is part of the Bashkirs indigenous people, spent most of her childhood abroad.
Her parents, both accomplished engineers, worked as consultants and were often seconded by Russia to support large-scale international engineering projects in different parts of the world. “My first memory overseas is in India. We lived in different places there, and I have got to learn about its rich culture, education and how people are welcoming.” Her parents' career also led the family to places such as Morocco and Algeria. This intercultural upbringing influenced Larisa’s values.
I observed how people from different countries would come together to collaborate on engineering and science projects. These exchanges were kitchen table discussions in our house. It taught me to treasure the differences. I do not see them as a problem but as an asset.
Following in the footsteps of her parents, Larisa went on to pursue a successful career in petroleum engineering and computer science before moving to the US, where she started working in academia. Since then, Larisa has become a member of advisory and governing boards, participated in think tanks and built a valuable network that includes some of the most capable professionals and reputable universities in the world!
As if it were not enough, Larisa together with her Friend Dr. Norean R. Sharpe, a renowned mathematician and Dean of Tobin College of Business at St. John's University, decided to found the Global STEM Education Center, a nonprofit organization that brings together educators, students and partners to promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics education initiatives that prepare students with the skills to succeed in diverse, international, and collaborative contexts. “We gained a lot of professional experience and developed a solid international network throughout the years. We felt we should share it all with students and young professionals, especially those who are not as fortunate as we both were. We want to support them in finding their way to success.”
Since its creation in 2007, the Global STEM Education Center has grown remarkably! It has joined forces with distinguished partners such as US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Woods Hole Oceanography Institution (WHOI), Massachusetts Maritime Academy, Harvard University and helped numerous students and teachers across the globe. “We have provided various professional development programmes, connected schools and universities in different countries to collaborate on projects and organized free workshops and seminars to encourage both students and educators to work together and build their networks.”
Committed to pushing the Global STEM Education Center even further to success, Larisa searched for a learning opportunity to strengthen her diplomatic skills. “I have always been interested in diplomacy and wanted to learn what else I could do to improve international collaboration for our non-profit”. She then came across UNITAR’s Global Diplomacy Initiative Fellowship Programme and decided to apply. "It was fantastic! Everything was unique, starting from the cohort of students. I have got to connect with colleagues from Latin America, North America, Africa, Asia, Oceania..."
To Larisa, what makes this fellowship programme stand out is its inclusiveness quality.
There are many great programmes on diplomacy out there that are targeted to a niche of professionals with certain degrees, work experience and even age groups. These programmes are needed, but I know that I would not be accepted because I do not meet most of their selection criteria. UNITAR’s programme, on the other hand, welcomes professionals that do not necessarily have a traditional career in diplomacy but want to develop their knowledge and gain skills. Doctors, journalists, activities, artists, educators like myself, students, mid-career professionals… all have a chance to learn and contribute to the world of diplomacy.
During the fellowship programme, Larisa got insights from a diverse group of experienced professionals, dived into the world of the UN System, connected with colleagues from all over the world and acquired a deep understanding of how diplomacy is crucial for advancing science and education. Moreover, much of what she learned turned out to be useful to students and educators around the world through her non-profit. “At many times, while I listened to the professors and experts, I took notes of things that would be interesting to share with the educators and students at the Global STEM Education Centre. What I learned has also helped me enhance my strategies to promote collaboration between students and teachers everywhere.”
In addition to the fellowship programme, Larisa has participated in at least eight other training courses delivered by UNITAR! As a result of her dedication and irreprehensible competence, she has now become part of the Teaching Faculty team in the very same fellowship programme she partook in as a student. “I am honoured to be awarded this opportunity, and I am committed to using all my expertise and international network to bring together more like-minded people to advance global diplomacy”. We cannot wait to see what Larisa will accomplish next!
*STEM is a common abbreviation for four closely connected areas of study: science, technology, engineering and mathematics.