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‘The Faculty Has Fully Met My Expectations’

‘The Faculty Has Fully Met My Expectations’

© Mikhail Dmitriev/ HSE University

In 2019, HSE University opened a Faculty of Chemistry, which offers a new bachelor’s programme in Chemistry. The Faculty of Urban and Regional Development, meanwhile, has opened a new bachelor’s programme in Urban Planning. Students of the programmes’ first cohorts and their advisors spoke with HSE News Service about their first semester of study.

Chemists on Research and Practice

With the support of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS), a new faculty has appeared at HSE University. The faculty’s core departments are affiliated with four RAS institutes, and its academic programmes have been developed in collaboration with RAS scientists. First-year student Artem Kiselev says that what he finds most interesting about the programme is the practical training it offers. ‘We’ve been working in RAS laboratories since the beginning months, and it’s really cool. We get to try out in the lab what we have just learned literally just an hour before in the classroom. All in all, this past semester the faculty has fully met my expectations. It’s interesting, the professors explain things in a comprehensible way, and we have the opportunity to interact directly not only with our professors but the dean as well. I feel that, as students, our opinions are heard and valued here.’

Artem learned about the opening of the new faculty online and attended the faculty’s Open House event to learn more about it. ‘It was there that I decided that this was the programme I would apply to. The dean told us about all of the opportunities the programme would give us, and, of course, the opportunity to work with RAS was very enticing.’

Of course, passing entrance exams, getting accepted to a programme, and getting to know a new team is always stressful. However, Artem says that, thanks to the programme staff, adjusting to life in the programme has been easy.

Artem Kiselev, first-year student

What’s most interesting to me is the practical training. I think that this programme will help me realize my dream of becoming a scientist. I care about environmental issues and would like to make a contribution in this area. I am already starting to do this at the RAS, and I believe that I can gain valuable experience and skills here.

Faculty Dean Vitaly Kotov notes that the faculty’s inaugural cohort is a diverse group of students with different levels of experience. ‘But the students have great potential. It is important to us that they become part of the educational process and overcome the difficulties that the first year of university life presents.’ It is pleasant, Professor Kotov remarks, to find students in the classrooms in the evenings preparing for classes on their own initiative, and to see the progress they are making. ‘At the moment we are gradually establishing an office-hours schedule,’ he says. ‘And there is still a lot more to do.’

Professor Kotov adds that the Faculty of Chemistry enjoys a wealth of resources. The faculty’s equipment at 7 Vavilova Street is in good condition, and HSE has purchased equipment for the laboratory at the RAS Institute of General and Inorganic Chemistry, which the RAS institute staff helped install.

Vitaly Kotov, Dean of the Faculty of Chemistry

We purchased chemical glassware and reagents and assigned 16 project assignments, which the students begin working on in the second module. We will soon be streamlining the organization of similar laboratories in other RAS institutes. All in all, we have organized (not without a few snags) the programme structure and are now trying to rethink the curriculum—we would like to tailor it more to the needs of HSE University students. Next year, for the first time, we will be accepting students for state-funded places. So next year will come with a lot of changes, and, I think, only after our second admissions campaign will we be able to more fully evaluate what we have accomplished so far with this new programme.

Urbanism and Love for the City

Unlike most bachelor’s programmes, HSE’s new programme in Urban Planning is five years. In the first four years of the programme, students must take about 50 courses, including geography, economics, urban planning, management, and communications. In the final year, students complete an internship and write a thesis.

Vasilisa Savinova, first-year student

Last January, when I was a student in the political science programme, I ended up taking an elective course in urban sociology, and I found it more interesting than what I was studying in my own programme. I found that urban studies is a field where collaboration is key. I came to understand that the ‘Urban Planning’ programme would allow me to work with new kinds of projects where communication plays a bigger role. I also understood that, as students of the programme’s first cohort, our opinions would be valued and we would help set the standards for subsequent cohorts, and this was important to me. After considering various factors, I decided to once again apply to HSE, but this time to a different faculty.

Vasilisa reports that she has been very fortunate in terms of her classmates. ‘They are adventurous and ready for anything—they are open to the world and ready to study it,’ she says. Two weeks after the start of the semester, the students visited Tula. As Vasilisa explains, they wanted to get to know each other and learn something new.

The first-year student says the programme’s workload is such that you are able to immerse yourself in the material while still managing to have free time for friends, work, and personal life. ‘If you know how to plan right, then you have time for everything. My sense is that our professors, just like us, are delving into the subject matter, too. The projects that they assign us take on different formats – debates, individual presentations, group presentations, etc. And they are accessible; you can talk with them and get advice about whatever interests you.’

Upon reflecting on the past semester, Vasilisa sees a bright future. ‘My expectations in terms of the curriculum have been fully met. The professors accommodate a lot of our needs, teach us how to communicate, understand each other, respect others’ opinions, and come to an agreement.’

The programme’s first admissions campaign attests to its significance and demand. For every available place there were eight applicants, and the passing score in three subject exams exceeded 285.

The large number of applicants was a surprise to the faculty leadership. According to Programme Academic Supervisor Oleg Baevsky, the programme had originally planned to accept only 55 new students. But when they saw that 30 of the applications received were submitted by scholarship competition winners alone, they decided to increase the number to 108. ‘These students comprise four seminar groups, and, beginning in the second year, about 20 project teams, which each require professors and assistants. The majority of the programme’s applicants were fresh high school graduates, but there were also a number of undergraduate students who had completed a year at other HSE faculties or other universities. But all of them were united by a sincere interest in studying urban planning and pursuing careers in the field—a professional area that is still new for Russia.’

Oleg Baevsky, Programme Academic Supervisor

The biggest feature of our new programme is probably its multi- and interdisciplinary nature—it covers an extremely broad spectrum of ​​everything that is connected with the city (which is probably why, generally, programmes like this are Master’s programmes at other universities around the world). When we were designing the programme, our main hurdles were selecting subjects for study and practice, designing the courses, hiring professors, and selecting the focal areas of our entrance exams. After the programme had already begun, our biggest challenge was organizing the course schedule so that it would successfully accommodate more than 100 students, as well as obtaining proper accreditation.

In the first semester, Professor Baevsky taught an introductory course on urban planning, and, together with Professor Irina Ilyina, led seminars on related subjects. ‘I see students every week, and I enjoy working with them,’ says the professor. ‘I like the way they listen, how they ask questions, how they prepare tasks, and I like their serious interest in city planning – a phenomenon that is comparable in complexity only to that of an individual person, which was precisely our motivation for starting this programme. And we can certainly say that we are well on our way!’

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