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Inaugural cohort from Ukraine graduates with dual degrees during wartime

American University Kyiv graduates earn degrees from Thunderbird at ASU

Eight American University Kyiv (AUK) graduates including Yulia Shtaltovna, Taras Dumych, Ruslan Hutnikov, Kateryna Karavan, Roman Makarchuk and Anna Omelchuk attended Thunderbird spring 2024 convocation exercises at Thunderbird Global Headquarters in downtown Phoenix.

Eight American University Kyiv graduates attended Thunderbird spring 2024 convocation exercises at Thunderbird Global Headquarters on ASU's Downtown Phoenix campus, and met with Thunderbird Dean Sanjeev Khagram (fourth from left). The graduates (from left) are: Sofia Mysak, Kateryna Karavan, Natalia Iskovych, Roman Makarchuk, Valeriy Lemesh, Elina Bodzhek and Oksana Tkachuk. Photo courtesy of Cintana Education

May 13, 2024

The American University Kyiv opened its doors in February 2022, just three weeks before Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Despite the tremendous challenges that followed, the school and its students persisted. Just over two years later, 32 students are graduating with their Master of Leadership and Management from the Thunderbird School of Global Management.

Built in collaboration with Arizona State University, the city of Kyiv and Cintana Education, the school aims to provide Ukrainian citizens access to higher education based on U.S. standards. Students enrolled at AUK have access to Thunderbird's MLM curriculum and exchange programs, and they will receive dual degrees from both AUK and ASU. 

Of the 32 new graduates, eight attended the ASU commencement ceremony and Thunderbird convocation exercises in person this spring — marking an important milestone for the school and a significant achievement for the graduates.

“I've had the privilege of being the founding president of American University Kyiv,” said Rick Shangraw, president of Cintana Education and professor of practice in the School of Public Affairs at ASU. “Witnessing these remarkable students walk across the stage, their journeys fraught with challenges, yet illuminated by unwavering perseverance, fills me with joy and deep admiration. They have redefined the very essence of fortitude.”

Having traveled to Arizona to attend graduation, Natalia Iskovych highlighted the profound influence of Thunderbird in equipping her with both the skills and the determination to make a meaningful impact in her community.

“Thunderbird has played a pivotal role in paving the way for the next stages of my educational and professional journey,” Iskovych said. “The knowledge and experiences I have gained here have prepared me academically and instilled a robust sense of purpose and commitment to applying my skills where they are needed in my country.”

Pursuing a degree during wartime presented a unique set of challenges. Students had to travel frequently and experience disruptions in their routine.

“The war made it difficult to find a stable and conducive environment for learning. However, this only amplified the importance of obtaining a degree during this time,” Iskovych said. “Obtaining a degree represents preparedness and resilience in the face of adversity. With an education, I will have the tools to contribute meaningfully to rebuilding and strengthening our nation.”

The ability to work anytime, anywhere was imperative to students during this time, especially when they had to endure blackouts. 

“We would often have rolling blackouts across Ukraine, but because of the online platform I was able to get my work done during other times,” said Ruslan Hutnikov, MLM graduate and Thunderbird Dean Circle award recipient. “Without that flexibility, I probably wouldn’t be here today.” 

For many graduates, earning their degree reflected a significant personal achievement and an opportunity to make an impact in a time of great need. 

“My life changed dramatically when Russia invaded Ukraine, and I could not just sit by and do nothing,” Hutnikov said. “I wanted to study so that I could develop myself and, as a result, help to develop my country.” 

For many of the graduates, this opportunity was once in a lifetime, and they credit Thunderbird faculty and staff for their support.

“The decision to join Thunderbird was easy,” Iskovych said. “The fact that they were in Ukraine developing initiatives and helping students during a full-scale invasion was remarkable to me. Thunderbird’s esteemed reputation and significant network of partnerships within Ukraine were also critical for both my educational and professional growth.”

The students found and fostered a deep sense of community within their cohort — proving to be an invaluable resource during their time in the program.

“Having people from other cultures and backgrounds was a significant learning advantage. We learned how to listen and respect each other’s different perspectives,” Hutnikov said. “Leadership is about listening, asking questions, gaining new knowledge, improving yourself and learning from other people. It’s also about seeing strength in others and helping them reach their full potential. Our cohort gave us the opportunity to practice that in real time.”

The graduates were also impressed and appreciative of the time and attention the professors gave them.

“The professors were so willing to adjust their schedules and accommodate time differences to help us,” Hutnikov said. “At one point, I shared my concerns about my private consulting practice with Tom Hunsaker, associate dean of Global Challenge Lab at Thunderbird, and he took the time and shared a lot of meaningful insights with me. It meant so much.”

Many of the MLM graduates have plans to move forward in their careers or education journeys. Iskovych, for example, intends to use her degree to make an impact both in her community and globally.

“As co-initiator of Support Ukraine Now, I will use my education to expand our initiative and bring new investment opportunities and initiatives to my country,” she said.   

Hutnikov also plans to use his degree to make an impact in Ukraine.

“I want to be a top manager in the creative industry in Ukraine to show the world the beauty of Ukraine and shape the industry on a global scale,” he said.

Charla Griffy-Brown, acting dean and director general of Thunderbird, said, “The graduation of these 32 Ukrainian students from the AUK-ASU/Thunderbird dual-degree program is a remarkable achievement that demonstrates resilience, determination and a commitment to their education. These graduates have shown that education is a powerful tool that can help individuals make a difference in their communities and contribute to the rebuilding and strengthening of their nation.” 

Congratulations to spring 2024 AUK/ASU-Thunderbird awardees:

  • Yulia Shtaltovna, Founders Award and Dean's Circle.
  • Taras Dumych, Dean's Circle.
  • Ruslan Hutnikov, Dean's Circle.
  • Kateryna Karavan, Flag Bearer.
  • Roman Makarchuk, Dean's Circle. 
  • Anna Omelchuk, Dean's Circle.

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