How FSU’s Ukraine Task Force Is Making A Difference

April 23, 2024

Those interested in learning more about FSU’s Ukraine Task Force and how to help can contact Dr. Vilma Fuentes directly at


As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine wages on, faculty and researchers at Florida State University are continuing to develop ways to support education in the country through FSU’s Ukraine Task Force.

Established in 2022, FSU’s Ukraine Task Force was initially created to forge partnerships between FSU and Ukrainian scholars and educate the FSU community about Ukraine. The charge was to explore mechanisms and actions whereby the university can provide meaningful help locally, nationally and internationally to affected students, scientists and academics.

FSU Provost Jim Clark recently reaffirmed FSU’s commitment to the task force by placing it under the purview of Learning Systems Institute (LSI) at FSU and appointing a full-time program director.

“We don’t know the eventual impact, but I think first of all, we’re going to signal to the university community that as a large public research university, we have a responsibility to try to identify needs in the world and try to make a difference,” said Steve McDowell, FSU’s assistant provost for international initiatives and member of FSU’s Ukraine Task Force.

Earlier this year, FSU appointed Vilma Fuentes to lead its Ukraine Task Force. She comes to FSU after concluding a 20-year career at Sante Fe College in Gainesville, where she served as the assistant vice president for Academic Affairs for the past 12 years. As program director of FSU’s Ukraine Task Force, Fuentes is responsible for facilitating connections between Ukrainian universities and FSU faculty through LSI.

“It’s unique and exceptional to have a major U.S. research university care this much about Ukraine and specifically about engaging Ukrainian universities, academics and scientists,” Fuentes said. “I think we have a unique opportunity to leverage some of the major facilities that FSU has and to extend a warm hand of friendship to academics and scientists in Ukraine who at this point just need to know that somebody cares.”

"Dr. Anna Romanova standing behind a podium during a lecture"

Fuentes has collaborated with LSI since 2014 on a U.S. State Department initiative called the Community College Administrator Program (CCAP), which is designed to enhance international understanding of the unique U.S. community college system. Months after Russia’s 2015 invasion of Crimea — a Ukrainian territory occupied by Russian forces — Ukraine was selected to participate in the CCAP, and Fuentes traveled to Ukraine with several other program administrators for a site visit.

“Quite honestly, I thought, are they crazy?” Fuentes said. “What do they mean, they’re sending us to Ukraine? This isn’t safe. There is a ‘do not travel’ warning that the U.S. Department of State is issuing. But I ended up going and it was phenomenal. I fell in love with the country, with its people, with their struggle for independence and freedom, and it has only increased since then.”

Fuentes has traveled to Ukraine five times since that initial visit. In 2017, she earned a Fulbright Specialist Award to Ukraine and was hosted by the Kyiv College of Applied Science.

In Florida, Fuentes has co-hosted several visiting delegations of Ukrainian higher education officials since the CCAP. Many alumni of the program are currently focused on the war efforts and are already making a difference in the country. A handful of Ukrainian CCAP alumni will be invited to visit FSU Aug. 3-10 to learn more about the university’s emergency management program and services for military veterans.

FSU’s Ukraine Task Force is also preparing to host four Ukrainian faculty on-campus this summer as part of the BridgeUSA Ukrainian Academic Fellows Program. The program aims to help Ukrainian universities educate and train professionals critical to the country’s recovery and reconstruction through lasting, productive collaboration with U.S. institutions of higher education. During their month-long visit to FSU from June 25 to July 25, Ukrainian faculty will observe classes in their field of study, develop new courses or course material, deliver presentations and lectures and explore U.S. higher education administrative policies and culture.

“There’s a lot that we can learn from Ukraine,” Fuentes said. “They have had to learn how to maintain continuity of operations amid a war. How do you do that? How do you educate students during emergency situations when sirens can go off at any point?”

LSI’s undertaking of the FSU Ukraine Task Force is a natural fit. Founded in 1969 to improve learning and human performance globally, LSI focuses its efforts on how individuals and organizations perform complex tasks and how to help them achieve their performance goals. Researchers at LSI are currently working on projects in Lebanon, South Africa, Mexico, Malawi, Egypt, Rwanda and Zambia.

“LSI has the history of working in dozens of countries around the world to strengthen education systems,” Fuentes said. “Right now, we have an opportunity to continue that institutional engagement with Ukrainian partners and take it a step further and see what else we can do as the country continues to reform and improve its education system.”

Fuentes has already identified several actionable items that FSU can engage in, such as virtual conferences with Ukrainian universities and grant opportunities to bring Ukrainian academics on-campus. She is connecting FSU faculty with counterparts at Ukrainian universities in disciplines like chemistry, cybersecurity, education, emergency management, engineering, fine arts, mathematics and psychology.

FSU engineering and science faculty have had several meetings with engineering faculty at O.M. Beketov University and Kyiv National University of Construction and Architecture. FSU counterparts have included Bruce Locke, chair of the Chemical and Biological Engineering department; Youneng Tang, professor of civil and environmental engineering; Amy McKenna, manager of the Ion Cyclotron Resonance Facility at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory; and Laura Greene, chief scientist at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory and former chair of FSU’s Ukraine Task Force. They are planning to organize a virtual water symposium with peers in Ukraine later this year and exploring ways to collaborate on water purification and management systems.

Michael Shatruk, a professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry who was recently named a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and Irinel Chiorescu, professor in the Department of Physics, have been regularly communicating with Ukrainian scientists. They are planning to participate in a virtual quantum science series organized by scientists in Kharkiv, a large urban center in Eastern Ukraine that has suffered extensive missile and drone attacks."Ukraine CCAP group posing inside a classroom in front of a projection screen"

FSU students and faculty participated in a virtual philology conference with National University Poltava Polytechnic on March 21 thanks to the leadership of Robert Romanchuck, Pribic Family Associate Professor of Slavic Studies in the Department of Modern Languages and Linguistics. On April 11, Anna Romanova, a former member of Ukrainian Parliament and current visiting associate in research at LSI and member of FSU’s Ukraine Task Force, gave the lecture “The Truth Behind Ukraine’s Statehood: Dispelling Myths and Misconceptions” to a packed audience at The Globe Auditorium.

Romanova will present with Fuentes at a virtual psychology conference organized by O.M. Beketov University April 24-25. They will explain how American universities provide mental health support to students.

Beginning Fall 2024, FSU’s Department of Modern Languages and Linguistics will offer Ukrainian language courses, making FSU the first university in Florida to do so.

Those interested in learning more about FSU’s Ukraine Task Force and how to help can reach out to Fuentes directly at . For more information about LSI at FSU, visit