Skip to main content

Oxana Prokhorova grew up in Moscow, Russia and earned M.A. with Honors in Chinese Studies from Moscow State University. She also holds M.B.A. in International Business from Xavier University. She speaks, reads and writes Mandarin Chinese, English and Russian. She has been successfully working in global education, international trade and multi-cultural business consulting for almost 30 years. 

As a Director of Global and Corporate Engagement at University of Cincinnati, Oxana brings a wealth of experience and a broad global perspective to higher education as she sees the tremendous power in global education experiences. Her work emphasizes the significance of preparing a global workforce educated and ready to tackle the challenges of today and tomorrow. Here she shares her personal story as well as her thoughts about global education and why it matters. 

GROWING UP SOVIET 

Oxana, can you share with us a bit about your background and how your upbringing in Moscow, Russia influenced your interest in global education? 

I grew up in a very globally-minded family. Both my grandparents and parents were engaged in international trade, traveling across the world and bringing home some hints of the colorful universe outside of the “iron curtain” – photos, cards, ritual masks, carvings, spices. I grew up collecting coins and stamps with writings in unknown languages and depictions of unfamiliar sights and curious places. As long as I can remember, I’ve always dreamt about traveling to these faraway lands and seeing it all for myself. 

Books and literature were an important part of life, both in our family and in the society. People were judged by the quality and the size of their personal library. International literature was no exception. From Arabian fairy tales to Rumi, Rabindranath Tagore, Saint-Exupery, Kipling, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Emil Zola… All literature was translated and available, which provided wonderful cultural exposure and often a mental escape from a predictable and mundane daily life.   

Historically, the Soviet Union was a cultural melting pot – on a crossroads between Asia and Europe, a part of the ancient Silk route with trading access to Central Asia and India. Fifteen republics composed the Union and each had its own flag, emblem, language, cultural traditions and holidays. There was a sense of curiosity rather than distrust about a culture different from my own. 

This gave me an early understanding of differences that were interesting to explore and it was enriching. It created the desire to ask questions, learn languages, travel, see a situation from a different cultural perspective, and to connect. It set me on a global path. I have taken Chinese, English, Japanese and German in school and university. I’ve lived and worked overseas in Sri Lanka, China, USA and traveled the world most of my life. 

GLOBAL PERSPECTIVE: EDUCATION MATTERS 

It’s fascinating how your early experiences laid the foundation for your global outlook. When you arrived in Cincinnati in 1998, how did your assumptions about cultural diversity in America align with the reality you encountered? 

When I first arrived in Cincinnati in 1998, I assumed America was composed of millions of immigrants and their descendants who would be equally if not more open-minded about cultural diversity. Through years working with American businesses, I have met people with a high level of cultural competence, but I’ve also met too many who think that different equals wrong. Cultural competence is not something we are born with. Like intolerance, it is something we learn as we grow and mature. And learning it now is more important than ever. 

In your view, why is cultural competence particularly important in the current landscape, considering the impact of technology and the interconnectedness it brings? 

Technology is changing the life and work landscape, blurring the borders, and connecting everyone through the World Wide Web. Someone from another culture and country is just a click away. Many companies, in order to survive and grow, are moving their operations to different countries. While technical skills and subject knowledge are important, cultural competence and what it takes to develop it is often overlooked. We need to be learning about other cultures and the world around us as we are learning operating and technical skills. Study abroad, cross-border student projects, internationalization of campus teaches critical cultural competence skills and cultural open-mindedness. Not only does it allow students to perform better in the global job market, but it also changes them for the better. Studying different cultures and customs helps one to understand our own cultural behaviors and implicit bias. Studying real history through interaction and travel, not just dates and events from the book, helps one to understand the present, to navigate world problems and to change the future. Global learning increases awareness about social issues and is proven to encourage personal action. It dramatically improves communication skills with increased cultural awareness and enhances problem solving skills. It opens better career options. It builds invaluable global networks. It allows students to appreciate diverse perspectives, understand the connections and responsibilities they have to the world, respectively and effectively communicate, collaborate across cultures and countries, and use disciplinary and interdisciplinary knowledge to investigate and act on issues that matter to them and the others. It gives them the tools to succeed in the global economy and become true global leaders and curious problem solvers all employers are looking for. 

REPLICATING MY EXPERIENCE 

Your emphasis on the importance of global learning is evident. How did your extensive experience in global business and consulting lead you to the role of Global Engagement Director at the University of Cincinnati? 

After decades of working in global business and consulting I decided to make a direct impact on preparing the global workforce. Ten years ago, I took the position of Global Engagement Director at the University of Cincinnati. My job is to create a global Universities network with focus on Engineering that would support research and academic collaboration and opens opportunities for UC students to travel overseas for study abroad or experiential learning like research and internship, as well as to recruit global talent to come to UC.  My previous international business experience and skills are very useful as I build these partnerships and collaborations, negotiate terms and find win-win solutions.  

Can you share some success stories or examples of international collaborations that have been particularly meaningful during your tenure at the University of Cincinnati? 

We have students going both ways from University of Lorraine and Bordeaux, University of Basque Country and University of Trento, Future University in Egypt and Chongqing University in China, Zurich University of Applied Science and Technical University Dortmund. We have tremendous success in Taiwan with almost 10 Universities where Taiwanese students pursue a dual degree in Master of Engineering and UC students spend a semester doing research in Taiwan. We also have an international co-op program where students not only spend up to 8 months working at a company overseas, but they also go through language and cultural competence training.  

Oxana, it’s evident that industry-university collaboration is a cornerstone at the University of Cincinnati, particularly in fields like engineering, design, and architecture. Could you elaborate on how your role in corporate engagement contributes to strengthening these partnerships and solidifying UC’s position as a leader in research and innovation?  

Industry-University collaboration is a true trademark of UC, a founder of cooperative education in the USA, and is fundamental to the way we teach engineering, design, architecture. We have many “generational” students, whose parents went through co-op program and can’t phantom any other form of education for their children. My role in corporate engagement, interactions with industry leaders and government bodies all over the world brings global angle and helps solidify UC as a thought leader in research and innovation. I help open up international co-op and career opportunities for UC students and assist companies in finding outstanding global talent through co-op rotations. All this is bridging the gap between academic pursuits and practical, real-world applications. A true synergy. My business background gives me understanding of the critical corporate needs, the problems companies are facing and the importance of close collaboration with academia in talent preparation and R&D. 

Additionally, could you share an example of a successful collaboration or initiative that highlights the synergy between academia and industry, such as your work with Altix Consulting on the Industry 4.0/5.0 Institute? 

Most businesses have no idea how to approach Universities, where to start or how to work with these big and very siloed organizations, and often Universities are not equipped to operate at the speed of business or even speak the common lingo. You need people who can understand both to create successful outcomes.  Altix Consulting was a very valuable partner to UC when we were conceiving The Industry 4.0/5.0 Institute, helping us design the entity that would be industry-facing, now a very successful example of how business can effectively tap into the University research and talent pool to maintain its competitive edge in the rapidly changing environment. Here is a link to more information. https://www.uc.edu/news/articles/2022/12/new-uc-institute-partners-with-industry-to-solve-most-pressing-tech-problems.html 

I see how my experience and skillset is helping to enrich the educational landscape and the global business community alike and it’s beyond gratifying. 

The impact of such programs on students seems substantial. From your observations, how do students typically change and grow after participating in study abroad programs? 

Time after time I witness students change and grow after a study abroad tour. And in them I recognize myself, decades ago, going on my first study abroad trip that set a different trajectory for the rest of my life.  

Our world is becoming increasingly not just interconnected but interdependent. We do not simply work with other countries and in other countries. Our own communities are becoming more and more diverse. Our global problems can’t be solved with a one-sided approach.  We are in dire need of a new, young generation of leaders who are possessing the abilities and cultural skills to correctly assess, analyze, and solve domestic, regional and global challenges with a full understanding of historical, cultural specifics and demographic trends. If we learn to respect, value, and utilize our cultural differences and work together for mutual benefit, we will come up with better, just, and sustainable solutions and we all will live in a more prosperous and safer world. 

As the mind opens to different perspectives, this transforms one’s psyche to be more tolerant and less fragile, to be more resilient and industrious. We will be finding better and more harmonious ways to communicate and find solutions. 

I want to finish with the quote by one of the first Russian sinologists, a 19th-century scholar, Professor Alekseev, about acquiring another culture: “He is happy who can hold two worlds within.” All it takes is a curious look at someone different than you. 

Thank you, Oxana, for sharing your incredible journey and insights into the importance of global education.  Your vision for a harmonious world is truly inspiring.