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Minnesota West professor earns Fulbright scholarship

David Mills has received a Fulbright scholarship to teach at Bashkir State University, located in Ufa, Russia. (Jesse Trelstad/Daily Globe)

WORTHINGTON — David Mills is going to need to pack more than a fur hat for his upcoming Russian adventure.

Mills, a history instructor at Minnesota West Community and Technical College, was recently awarded a Fulbright scholarship to spend 21 weeks teaching at Bashkir State University in Ufa, Russia, a southern Russian city more than 700 miles from Moscow and with a population of more than 1 million people.

The Fulbright Scholar Program selects 800 people to receive a scholarship. It only reserves five spots for community college instructors each semester.

“I am very humbled to be chosen for this opportunity,” Mills said.

Although he won’t be leaving for nine months, Mills is already in the process of preparing for the trip. He will be teaching in English, but he still hopes he has time to learn Russian.

“I am thinking of buying a computer program to help me learn to speak Russian,” Mills said.

Mills is also hoping that he can bring along his wife and 12-year-old son.

“We will have to think through my wife’s job. She also teaches at Minnesota West, but administration has been very supportive,” Mills said.

“We will also have to think through my son’s schooling, but I am sure we can also figure this out.”

The Fulbright experience started when Mills went to discuss community college teaching to graduate students at North Dakota State University in Fargo, N.D. Here he met Rustem Khabibullin, a Fulbright scholar from Bashkir State University, who was also visiting NDSU. 

Mills expressed interest to Khabibullin in applying for a Fulbright scholarship, and Khabibullin offered to write a letter of invitation for Mills. He then sent an application that included his proposal and Khabibullin’s letter. 

“The way a Fulbright works is you have to tell the Fulbright folks what it is that you want do,” Mills said. “You have to propose a course of action.”

Mills proposed that he would teach one or more courses on American history and culture at the university. He would give presentations to leaders of the university and community on the American community college system, and he also proposed collaborating with a Russian scholar on a book about the Cold War. 

He said he hopes that he and the Russian scholar could compare and contrast topics that may include civil defense and media depictions of the other’s nation during the Cold War. 

In July, Mills will be headed to Washington for an orientation to help him better prepare for the move to Russia. 

“I’m mostly nervous about things like getting lost with limited language skills,” Mills said. “But they’ve been doing this program since 1946 … so I can make myself nervous and wonder about every single detail, but I’m sure it will go pretty smoothly.”

Even with all the unnswered questions that linger in Mills’ mind, he’s very excited to head to Russia and travel the country.

“I’m not going to spend my weekends inside an apartment looking out the window,” Mills said. “I’m getting on a train and going places. I’m going to get out and meet folks and go to restaurants and grocery stores.

“The whole idea behind the Fulbright is cultural exchanges where we don’t have these stereotypes of these folks.”

Mills is proud to be representing Minnesota West at the Russian university and a part of the community college here in Worthington.

“There are a lot of faculty members from Minnesota West that are doing some pretty cool things,” Mills said. “Our faculty is really doing some fun and innovative things that I think goes above and beyond of what you think would be necessary or required. You have some people that are really passionate about what they do, and it is an honor to work with them.”

Mills will be teaching at Bashir State University in the spring semester of 2016. He will arrive in February and teach into June.

“The Fulbright Scholarship is very competitive and I never dreamed that I would actually get one,” Mills said.