Indiana State professor receives honorary degree from Russian institution

By: ISU Communications and Marketing Staff, ISU Communications and Marketing Staff
March 16, 2009

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. - An Indiana State University professor may be making his third trip to the Russian city of St. Petersburg, but this time is special.

On this trip, Gerald Cockrell, professor of electronics/computer technology in Indiana State's College of Technology since 1977, became the first American to be awarded an honorary doctorate from St. Petersburg State University of Aerospace Instrumentation on March 12.

"It's an honor to receive this degree," Cockrell said. "It's a first for me, so it means even more."

The ceremony was also important to his hosts.

"It was a very important occasion for both institutions. This will help bring the two schools and countries closer together in the future," said Alexander V. Bobovich, vice-director at St. Petersburg State.

While in Russia's second-largest city, Cockrell connected with students and professors at SUAI in addition to attending the ballet in world-famous Mariinsky Theater and listening to Bach at the Philharmonic. He and his wife, Jan, also visited the Hermitage Museum, Peter and Paul Fortress, and the St. Issac and St. Nicholas cathedrals.

"The whole experience is one to remember," he said.

While in St. Petersburg, a 300 year-old city, he was able to teach in person to a project management class he has taught online from the Indiana State campus.

His far-away classroom can be as small as a dozen students or can include 15 to 20 students. Cockrell, whose book "Practical Project Management: Learning to Manage the Professional" is used as the textbook, said roughly three-fourths of the students are women and most are economics students.

Teaching project management to a Russian audience has its challenges.

Cockrell said the concept of a team is different in Russia. While the United States focuses on a group of people on equal ground working collaboratively, the Russian view of team has one person who is the authority figure and other members under them. That view is slowly changing and they are coming to understand teams and members on equal footing, he added.

"It's interesting in comparing our workers with their workers," Cockrell, who has worked as a consultant in project management and process automation systems, concluded.

Learning from someone outside their country gives students knowledge and perspective of a global economy.

"My students have a global learning experience that expands their knowledge of processes and procedures," he said.

Cockrell has even figured out a way to give his American students a global learning experience. For the past three years, he has selected three Ph.D candidates enrolled in Indiana State's Technology Management program and three candidates from St. Petersburg State and organized an international online conference.

"The papers from the conference are published in both English and Russian even though my Russian students like writing and speaking English," he said.

According to Cockrell, teaching online isn't different than physically being in the classroom.

"I've done distance education for a number of years," he said. "Because of my experience I can engage the class easier. I can see the whole class and they can see me."

He doesn't concentrate on the technology. Instead he concentrates on more important things.

"I think about the teaching and the connection with the students," Cockrell added.

Cockrell has been successful in establishing a tie to his distance students. That became obvious to him after completing a semester class in December with St. Petersburg students.

"They had a Christmas party and they invited me to attend. I attended the party online and could celebrate with everyone," he added, smiling.

In addition to teaching on the Indiana State campus and beyond, he is currently serving as president of the International Society of Automation (ISA), which has allowed him to travel to India, Brazil, Mexico, Canada and Russia. Cockrell will be traveling to the Netherlands and Ireland in May. It's an opportunity in which he takes pride.

"It's a great opportunity to see the world and experience new things," he added.

In fact, Cockrell's involvement in ISA began Indiana State's partnership with SUAI back in 1995. He met Bobovich, also an ISA member, and they began talking about cooperative agreements.

The first exchange between the two schools occurred in 2002 when Cockrell headed to Russia and Bobovich made his way to Indiana. A delegation of professors from St. Petersburg State visited in 2003.

"They have sent a delegation to Indiana State three or four times," Cockrell said, adding the school will send a delegation to Terre Haute later this month.

According to Cockrell, the partnership between the two schools is strong.

"I think it will remain strong," Cockrell said. "We try to do something together every year."

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Writer: Paula Meyer, ISU Communications & Marketing, (812) 237-3783 or paula.meyer@indstate.edu