Since the establishment of the Fulbright Scholarship Program in 1946 by President Truman, MSU has carried a proud tradition of hosting the best and brightest from the international community of scholars. Past MSU Fulbright alumni represent a wide range of professions; many serve as current or former heads of state, ambassadors, members of Congress, university presidents, journalists and professors. MSU's newest Fulbright Scholar is no exception, and follows in the footsteps of many great international leaders who attended the University and went on to pursue successful careers. Michigan State maintains a proud tradition of hosting Fulbright Scholars with the number attending MSU steadily increasing to its current class size of fifty this academic year.
For Andrej Tikhonov, one of MSU's newest Fulbrights, Michigan State is a place of independence, intellectual challenge, and opportunity to pursue a future in education while building on his success as an educator. Tikhonov was born and raised in Arkhangelsk, Russia. As a student with a visual impairment, Andrej experienced different challenges than other Fulbright Scholars that have emerged from Russia and other countries. Here in the United States, there exists more opportunity for blind and visually impaired students to adapt to their needs, given the availability of technology in schools and universities. In Russia, Tikhonov says, "Especially in the northern part, it's more difficult to get assistive technology. In my town, it's not easy to get help because it's not large."
At Pomor State University in Arkhangelsk, Russia, Tikhonov struggled with reading textbooks because the university lacked assistive technology such as the screen readers and e-Text technologies that are available at MSU. A local charity foundation assisted Tikhonov through a donation of a laptop with screen-reading technology enabling him to hear what was on the screen.
The ability to get assistive technology and support is standard practice for visually impaired students at Michigan State. The Resource Center for Persons with Disabilities has helped thousands of people in its 38 year history. Tikhonov utilized the assistive technology of screen readers and other visually accessible technology from his first day on Michigan State's campus. When he was accepted to the Fulbright Scholars Program, he was asked if he required any assistance. Tikhonov requested a laptop with screen reading technology to aid his ability to read and grade papers as well as to communicate effectively via email with his peers and students.
The RCPD Media Access Specialist, Tom Hwang, and Information Technologist Al Puzzuoli worked with Andrej to help prepare him for his work at Michigan State. With guidance from Puzzuoli, Tikhonov mastered the JAWS assistive technology program that allows information from the screen to be read aloud. Puzzuoli installed a Russian synthesizer for the JAWS program that would allow Tikhonov to understand what was read in his native language. The RCPD also assisted in finding a cell phone for Tikhonov that would allow him to hear who is calling in addition to hearing what is presented on the screen. Hwang was particularly helpful for Tikhonov in navigating the MSU campus. "I was very impressed that he can remember where everything is with only two practices." Hwang assisted Tikhonov in learning the route from his residence in Owen Hall to his office and classrooms in Wells Hall. Tikhonov is also an experienced pianist and violinist so Hwang demonstrated the route to the Music Building, as well as the IM Sports buildings for swimming and exercise.
The Race Is On
Tikhonov has one academic year here at Michigan State on the Fulbright Scholarship program, and he plans to make the most of it. He serves as an advisor for the Russian Club on campus, where he provides students with language practice and first-hand stories about his experiences and home in Russia. This November, Tikhonov assisted with preparations for the Global Festival and played an instrumental procession as entertainment.
In May 2009, when Tikhonov's scholarship is finished at Michigan State, he plans to return home to become a teacher, either in English or music. Moreover, he hopes that in the future he will be able to find more opportunities abroad. Tikhonov says, "MSU [has been] a great place to learn life skills and gain independence that will help me in the future. It has helped me learn and improve my teaching skills, and I've gotten to meet different people from different places and learn many new things."