Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Monday, November 3, 2014

La Follette professor, student consult with Kazakhstan university officials

Sam Matteson, Susan Yackee and David McDonald at a park in Almaty. They traveled to Almaty first to talk with people at Kazakhstan National University, then went on to Nazarbayev University in Astana. Sam Matteson, Susan Yackee and David McDonald at a park in Almaty. They traveled to Almaty first to talk with people at Kazakhstan National University, then went on to Nazarbayev University in Astana.

La Follette professor Susan Yackee and MPA student Sam Matteson got a firsthand look at the process of building a public university from scratch during a weeklong trip to Kazakhstan in October.

They and University of Wisconsin–Madison Russian history professor David McDonald are part of a campuswide project to advise Nazarbayev University faculty and administrators as they development the new university. "It is really fascinating to see the on-the-floor wholesale creation of a university, with all the trials and tribulations," Yackee says. "It is really fascinating."

The two professors are consulting with Nazarbayev University's School for Humanities and Social Science. "We were brought on board to discuss e-learning and teaching and innovations in the classroom," says Yackee, a professor of public affairs and political science. "We spent time in the classroom to observe their instruction methods and see what resources they might be interested in adding. We also each gave a research talk."

Matteson, whom Yackee and McDonald hired as a project assistant, says they are helping evaluate the School for Humanities and Social Science, to help faculty and high-level administrators develop NU into one of the top 200 universities in the world.

The firsthand look at a new organization also was fascinating, Matteson says "I have worked with a lot of new organizations, how they start, their behavior and culture. I see the same structures in the U.S. and at NU. Organizational theory applies to all countries."

While in Astana, Matteson lectured to a class of about 40 freshman in political science. "I talked about equity in public education," he says, "and what that means in the United States. They shared with me about their experiences with public education and education equity, which was interesting because they are among the best and the brightest in the country, going to the university for free."

Matteson also talked with aspiring graduate students about western graduate schools and their admissions process.

Overall, Matteson says, the project assistantship is giving him good experience using his administrative skills. "I do a lot of memo-writing to Susan, David and the administrators at NU," he says, "so my professional and technical writing skills are essential. In addition, what I have learned in performance management and public personnel has been essential as we advise NU administrators on faculty hiring processes, retention and other issues."

This academic year is the School for Humanities and Social Science's fourth year, so it is just getting ready to graduate its first class, Yackee says. All of the instruction is in English. When Kazakhstan decided to establish the university, they set up different schools, including a School of Public Policy, School of Science and Technology, and the School for Humanities and Social Science. "The model they followed was to look across the top 20 universities in the world in each of these different fields," Yackee says, "and identify partners for each school. UW is the Humanities and Social Science partner."

La Follette School Professor Emeritus John Witte was part of the original UW delegation that went to Astana several years ago to see if such a partnership would be feasible. He later served as the interim dean of the School for Humanities and Social Science.

"We are providing faculty guidance to Nazarbayev University, plus some UW administrators, like the registrar, are also helping," Yackee says. "The people in the School for Humanities and Social Science have a lot of cohesion and sense of mission in creating the university, which our public management concepts expect us to see. That cohesion makes for an interesting work environment, which I, as an expert of bureaucratic planning, find very interesting."

Last modified on Thursday, November 13, 2014