Indiana State University Newsroom

Indiana State marks 20-year partnership with Russian university

November 2, 2015

Haley Cawthon understands the value of learning from another culture, having traveled to Vietnam last spring as part of a study abroad experience through the Bachelor of Social Work program at Indiana State University. Now she will be one of four second-year students in Indiana State's newly-accredited Master of Social Work program to see where the social work department's international experiences first developed during an eight-day study abroad trip to Tambov, Russia, Nov. 21-29, in celebration of the 20-year partnership between Indiana State and Tambov State University.

"This will give us an international element and broaden our understanding of how culture affects our practice," said Cawthon of Cayuga, who will present research on geriatric social work in Russia. "You often go into trips thinking you have so much to teach the people you meet, but honestly, the people we meet teach us so much and humble us with their quality of work."

Traveling with Robyn Lugar, associate professor of social work who developed the partnership, students will present research at a two-day international conference, meet the students in Tambov State's social work program and visit with social service providers.

A veteran of the U.S. military, William Little of Danville, Ill., will present research on the role of social work in veteran care in the U.S.

"As a veteran, I made a real connection with a social worker when I was on active duty and it pushed me in the direction of studying social work," said Little, who will be accompanied on the trip by his son, a junior at Terre Haute South High School.

It's a trip that has the power to change teenagers too, said Katie Lugar of Terre Haute. Having tagged along with her mother and Indiana State students to Russia several times growing up, she is excited to present her own research on sexism on college campuses during the conference. "It's nice to get a different perspective on how another culture does social work," Katie Lugar said. "Russia does social work differently than we do in the United States because it's based on the needs of their people, so this will allow us to learn from each other to better serve the people in our countries."

What Indiana State students witnessed 20 years ago on the first visit trip to Tambov - a group of women going out on their own to provide services - was what the U.S. would have witnessed 100 years ago, Robyn said.

"The woman who made it all happen (in Russia), Raisa Kulichenka, is a testament to how one person can make a difference and change everything by developing an entire profession in Russia when there was very little there," she said.

Robyn Lugar took the first group of 12 Indiana State students to Tambov, Russia, in 1996. They spent four weeks working in various social service agencies, including orphanage, residential facility for elders working with veterans and mental health facility.

The two-decades-long partnership has sent a ripple through Indiana State with visits to Tambov and published research by faculty, as well as through the community when Terre Haute and Tambov became sister cities under former Terre Haute Mayor Judy Anderson.

Robyn Lugar and the six groups of students she has already taken to Russia have made a lasting mark by donating $5,000 and 2,000 pounds of supplies to a local orphanage since the partnership began.

Three Tambov State students have also graduated from Indiana State in the last two decades, including an alumnus now employed with United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in Moscow and a professor at Auburn University.

Robyn Lugar hopes this year's visit to Russia will provide an opportunity to develop an online social work journal where students from Indiana State, as well as partner institutions in Korea, Russia, Vietnam and Morocco, can publish research.

"We're going back to celebrate the 20th year because our experience (working with Tambov State) is what led us to get involved in other institutions abroad, like Korea and Morocco," she said. "We are truly ambassadors when we're over there and we're making connections with colleagues and friends."

Photo: - Indiana State Univesity representatives, including Robyn Lugar (top row second from right) and Katie Lugar (second row third from the right) stand with orphans in Tambov, Russia in 2005. 

Photo: - A young Katie Lugar delivers a stuffed animal to a Russian orphan during Indiana State's 2005 trip to Russia. (Photo provided by Robyn Lugar)

Contact: Robyn Lugar, associate professor of social work, Indiana State University,

Writer: Betsy Simon, media relations assistant director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-7972 or


Story Highlights

Indiana State department of social work will take four second-year students in its master's degree program to Tambov, Russia, Nov. 21-29, in celebration of the 20-year partnership between Indiana State and Tambov State University.

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